Techniques Magazine Techniques January 2011 : Page 10

L EADERSHI p M AttERS The Student Dress Code Debate Editor’s note: Schools and school districts face the challenge of monitoring students’ modes of attire in a bid to promote order, an environment conducive to learning, to ward off gangs, and the list goes on. School districts across the country have adopted dress codes governing the way students dress for school. The U.S. Department of Education reported that about one in five public schools, including early colleges, required students to wear uniforms during the 2007-2008 school year. This is the first of a two-part article by family and consumer sciences educators looking at the relationship between dress and behavior among high school students. The second part will be in the February issue of Techniques . PHOTO By ISTOCK.COM By Melinda Swafford, Lee Ann Jolley and Leigh Southward SCHOOL SYStEMS ACROSS tHE UNItED StAtES are faced with numer-ous concerns regarding student dress. Schools often address these concerns by enforcing dress codes, which are some-times referred to as Appropriate School Attire (ASA), or by mandating school uni-forms. The basis behind a school system implementing dress codes or school uni-forms ranges from modesty concerns, to health and safety issues, to attempts to en-sure that the school’s classroom environ-ment is conducive to learning. The issues surrounding a school system’s decision to mandate student dress are controversial and, in our view, worthy of careful consid-eration of adolescent developmental issues. Additionally, we propose that a review of research studies that have attempted to ei-ther validate the importance of mandating school dress or discredit their importance is helpful to school systems faced with making such decisions. Understanding the Mindset of Teens The teen years are often depicted as being full of conflict, turmoil, alienation, reck -lessness, risky behaviors and challenges. Conflicts and challenges often surface over issues of dress between parents, school administrators and students. Adolescents may view these conflicts and challenges as a violation of individual rights (Freeburg, Workman, and Lenzt-Hees, 2004). Clothing choices are especially im-portant for adolescents as they interact and make the transition to adulthood. Adolescents view dress as a symbol of identification, self-expression, as well as a regulator of expected behavior. Accord-ing to Papalia, Olds, and Feldman (2009), Erikson identified the chief developmental task of adolescence as the confrontation of the crisis of identity versus identity confu-sion or identity versus role confusion. In order to mark progress toward the resolution of this crisis in development, an adolescent seeks to develop a sense of self, determine goals, values and beliefs, and explore what role he or she will play in life. This exploration of life possibili-ties leads to changes in self-concept and provides the basis for the development of a personal identity. Since peers are an important influence, and forming peer re -lationships is a major developmental task of adolescence, they tend to conform to the most obvious aspect of peer culture— dress. Workman, Auseneau, and Ewell (2004) suggest that the developmental task of adolescence may be resolved or hin-dered by clothing choices, as these choices are a reflection of individual expression and are important in peer integration and acceptance. “Adolescents can use dress (e.g., mes-sage T-shirts) to condone attitudes, behav-iors, beliefs, values, and group affiliations that simultaneously communicates their identity, autonomy, peer group integra-tion, sociopolitical awareness, individu-ality, and self-perception”—Workman, Auseneau, and Ewell. Therefore, adolescents’ clothing choic-es may intentionally or unintentionally re-veal information about their personalities, backgrounds, interests and contribute to the establishment of a reputation. Work-man, Auseneau, and Ewell’s study sug-gests empirical evidence to justify a school www.acteonline.org 10 Techniques JANUAR Y 2011

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