To legislate or relate; that is the question.
At a Christian school we try to work through applying principles, but so often things degenerate into a negative list of rules: Don’t wear your hair longer than the collar! Don’t wear a skirt that is two inches above the knee! We end up following the pathway of the pharisees, and like them we do it all in the pursuit of righteousness. On the school leadership team, I have seen the descent from a neat set of one or two rules to fifteen, to thirty, to … You can get to a place where “Logo sweatshirts are permitted, as long as they are worn to and from the classroom or to play outside. The logo itself must not be offensive, agressive or violent (oh dear, here’s another set of clarifying rules waiting to happen!). An exception can be made for sweatshirts that were bought on school trips (why this exception and why not others?).“
The key to defeating this problem is to look beyond the details to the principles. Why would we not wear a certain article of clothing? What are the positive values that we want to promote with our clothes? We need to move away from a legislative, “What can I get away with and not get canned?” to a relational, “What can I wear that would promote unity, harmony, and community?” The focus should be on the latter. The discussions about dress with students shouldn’t be reduced to, “I am the authority and I say this is not appropriate!” We shouldn’t make a list of rules to try and catch every little thing that we don’t approve of. There should be a patient dialog with a student to find out why they are wearing certain clothes. Classes should discuss why fashions become popular. We should look at pictures of student age icons wearing various clothes and say, “What is this icon communicating?” The discussions should be appropriate to age.
The questions that drive our education should lead to an understanding of why certain behaviors, attitudes and concepts are prevailing. Once persuasive arguments founded in strong student teacher relationships have broken down,we should only use legislation as a last resort.