August has never been one of my favorite months. It always heralded the end of summer's freedom and the fast approaching school year. Even though it's been many years since I had to buy new school supplies and clothes, when the calendar page flips to August, the memories come rushing back.
This weekend was a "sales tax-free" holiday in Oklahoma. For two days shoppers were given the opportunity to purchase certain clothing and shoes free of state and local sales tax. To be exempt each item had to be priced at less than $100. For large families this benefit could mean saving hundreds of dollars. And it may mean a few more kids start school with at least one new outfit.
Do you remember how important it was to have that new outfit? Do you remember the confidence those new clothes gave you? In those new shoes or new jeans, anything seemed possible. As a kid my new school clothes were always "winter" clothes. Wool jackets and skirts, sweaters, long sleeved shirts, vests, etc.
When the new Sears or J. C. Penneys Fall Catalog came out, I'd pour over the fashions (this was pre-mall days), marking the pages that held the cutest clothes. I don't remember ever being able to order more than one or two items, my Mom and grandmother made most of my clothes. But the catalogs told me what clothes were "in" and what the normal pre-teen would be wearing when the leaves turned gold. But late August in Oklahoma is hot. Very hot. And when I was in school, the rooms were not air-conditioned. I wore my new clothes anyway, despite my parents' protests. The second day I'd be back in cooler clothes, but the first day was special. Okay, hot and sweaty, but special.
I saw on the national news this weekend a report about a school in Texas which plans to punish dress code violators by making them wear school purchased "prison-garb type" jumpsuits. I’m sure that will work out really well. Not. The kids are already talking about making the wearing of the jumpsuit some kind of rite of passage. And if you read the entire article you'll see the jumpsuits aren't just to cover immodest clothing choices – they're also a punishment for boys who wear earrings or have facial hair or wear t-shirts instead of the required collared shirts. Ever notice how dress codes always seem to morph from reasonable to super finicky really fast?
I guess this would be where the perennial school uniform debate would come in. But I'm not going to go there. I believe kids need to learn how to make choices and appropriate school attire is one of those choices.
Parents have to be involved with helping their "own" children make those choices. Often these strict dress code rules in public schools are less the result of the public norm and more the result of the "tyranny of the majority" on the school board. And when the makeup of the majority on the school board changes, the dress code changes. I imagine these jumpsuits will be gone by next year, if not sooner.
Do you think the school board has considered the cost of keeping all those school-owned jumpsuits cleaned and pressed? When schools have trouble paying for books and desks and fuel for school buses, is this the best use of public funds?
What about teaching kids to read? Improving math scores? Encouraging students to learn history, science, and geography? School boards and administrators have more important things than shirt collars to worry about.
And so do I.
Does J.C. Penneys still send out a Fall catalog?