Should students wear school uniforms?

That we live in a time of tremendous inequality is now almost a truism. As an example, Oxfam claims that the annual income of the hundred richest people in the world could end world poverty four times over. In schools, inequality is also commonplace, whether it takes the form of grades, money, or possessions. Given the assumption that the most important aspect of school is the activity of learning, inequality in the form of how teachers treat their students is then a crucial ill to tackle. This is where school uniforms prove to be important. It is my opinion that school uniforms should be worn as a symbolic reminder to teachers (and students) that discrimination due to perceived inequality should never be acceptable.

It may be an ugly fact, but it is a fact that teachers are human beings, and are therefore naturally biased creatures, even when they try to be completely fair. We witness this when teachers decide that certain students are ‘bad’ or ‘badly-behaved’ individuals. I have witnessed students who, rightly or wrongly, are labelled as troublemakers, and are henceforth found guilty for any wrongdoing that they could conceivably be blamed for, whether or not they actually are in the wrong. This produces a vicious cycle where these students decide to be troublemakers anyway, since they will be treated as troublemakers whether they are innocent of any wrongdoing or not. A student who expands energy on this unfortunate social phenomenon will always have less energy to commit to the task of learning.

The school uniform, in the above-mentioned phenomenon of the “troublemaker-bias”, can be used by students to convey the sense that they are not troublemakers, and do not deserved to be labelled as such. Human beings are often superficial creatures, given to rapid judgements based on outer appearances. Students can take care to obey school rules with regards to the uniform, and thus convey on the outside what may be on the inside — the desire to obey the rules and hence be treated the same as everyone else. Consider how different the situation would be if students did not wear school uniforms. Street clothes would have the effect of reminding teachers of the differences between students, instead of the similarities, and would have the potential of further reinforcing whatever biases are within the teachers.

In contrast to street clothes, school uniforms serve as a reminder of the similarities that students share. While students may not be completely uniform, they all deserve the same amount of compassion, attention, and care from teachers. The Telegraph recently reported that teachers give their favourite students higher grades, which is a very clear example of unjust treatment. Teachers may unconsciously decide that students with richer or more successful parents will also be more successful than their peers, especially if students show off their parents’ success via expensive clothing. With the school uniform, there is less opportunity for the ostentatious display of wealth. The school uniform is also a lesson for students that as human beings, we share more similarities than differences.

While it is only one weapon in the fight against discrimination, the school uniform is too valuable to do away with. The value of the individual, as opposed to the group, is also an important lesson to learn, but I believe that this lesson is continuously taught anyway, in this era of social media and irreverent social commentary. The school uniform is sometimes seen as a tool of subjugation, but all it takes for it to be an empowering tool is a shift in mental attitude, to view it as a symbolic commitment to justice and learning, instead of some kind of metaphorical prisoner’s garb. People who argue for the abolition of the school uniform have to deal with the problems that I have outlined above, with all the opportunity for differences in wealth and sartorial ability to be displayed. As I have explained, inequalities can affect the activity of learning, and the school uniform has the power to mitigate these problems.

Looking at the bigger picture of the development of the human being, the school uniform is perhaps pale in comparison to issues like justice and equality. However, with the right mental attitude towards the school uniform, we can use it as a tool of progress instead of viewing it as a straitjacket. All I ask is this: that designers update uniforms for schools regularly, and to give boys the option to wear long pants if they so choose.

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You are not alone

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
— Sir Isaac Newton

Whether you identify yourself as a student, a teacher, a young parent, a child, or whatever it is, know this: you are not alone. There have been those who have come before you, who have blazed trails before you, who have left lessons for you — if only you have the eyes to see them.

Continue reading

Reading may be awesome, but not all books are good for you

Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.

The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

From “Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’

 

The study quoted above confirms what bookworms have known for generations: reading is good for you. But I’d like to clarify something. When we bookworms say that reading is good for you, we don’t mean that all books are good for you. If I could boil it down, I’d modify my reading creed to this. Read what you find fascinating, for your mind will be invigorated. (invigorated = energised)

I hope we’ve all had that feeling of in-the-zone learning. That feeling where you encounter something that “blows your mind”, that gives you an entirely different perspective on how you can exist in this world. For many people (of my generation), that happened when we watched The Matrix for the first time. When we were confronted with the idea that reality could be questioned, many of us were absolutely gobsmacked (utterly astounded, shocked beyond words, etc). That’s what learning feels like, to me.

Of course, we can’t always be having daily OMG moments. When I learn something new that’s not completely astonishing, I still feel a small sense of “wow!” or “aha!” that accompanies that learning process. For example, I recently read a book that challenged my own attitude about my relationship to entertainment. I was forced to consider that spending an hour on YouTube or Buzzfeed isn’t entirely innocuous (innocuous = harmless), and that it might have political, psychological, and moral implications. I was forced to consider that when taken to excess — as I frequently do — I might be falling victim to a process that would make me less thoughtful and intelligent (or more stupid, considering your current opinion of Mr Seah).

What does this have to do with reading?

Well, to go back to the study’s claims that reading boosts your brain function, it probably is true if you read things that fascinate you, that help you to learn. When we read a good novel, we frequently come away with a new way of thinking about the world. For example, if you read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, you might come away questioning the very basis of how we organise society.* If you read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you might come away questioning the basis of Christianity (though you could always read another book to strengthen your faith, if you are a Christian). If you read any of Philip K Dick’s brilliant novels (A Maze of Death is a really fun place to start), you might come away questioning your own reality. Those are definitely new ways of looking at the world!

However, if you read something that’s not suited to your intellectual or reading level, your brain might suffer for it. It happens to many of my fellow literature graduate friends, for example, when we read something absolutely daft (daft = silly/foolish). Many of my friends who have slogged their way through the Twilight series have reported that they have lost a few IQ points. I don’t think they are exaggerating. I think that being lulled into an intellectual slumber really does make people stupid.

So get off the internet, go find a cozy corner, and go curl up with a good book. It strengthens your brain!

 

*You probably will end up asking a whole lot of other questions about the world. Soma, feelies….. yikes. We’re there, people.

 

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