Wednesday, 24 September 2008


One of the contributors to the Convention of the Left session on education this afternoon touched - in passing - on a topic I believe recieves far too little attention from the popular movement. That topic was school uniforms.

The context of the mention was the current government drive to convert as many schools as possible into the new Academies, which they claim provide choice but which are in fact merely a means of class segregation - although government-funded, they are in fact private and require a hefty fee. The speaker's words, as I remember them, were a satirical take on the admissions policy: "Oh sure, we'll take your the way, the uniform tie will be £250."

That immediately brought me back to my time in high school, which was largely the beginning of my activism, focusing at that time on issues within the school and specifically on the issue of the uniform regulations; the main justification the headmaster gave for those regulations was the question of fashion - he claimed that allowing students to wear their own clothes led to bullying and elitism by the better-off students on the basis that their families could afford more expensive clothes. While an otherwise somewhat valid point, it was made completely null by the presence of non-uniform days which facilitated the creation of a pecking order anyway, and more significantly by the fact that the uniforms were easily as expensive as the most expensive fashions any of the students could afford anyway; then it crossed entirely into the realm of doublethink when you consider the regulations themselves, which prohibited any form of personalisation to the point of an untucked shirt or a loose tie being a detentionable offense, and to which the current financial fortunes of the family had no relevance whatsoever.

However, the issue goes far beyond an ambiguously well intentioned initiative with shattered foundations. In fact, the concept of a compulsory uniform for students was first introduced by Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany, who intended it as a contribution to the process of indoctrination - kill their spirit through uniformity, and encourage a uniform pattern of thought, so that the students become simply cogs in the machine.

Churchill's ministers and patrons loved this idea, of course, and in today's British schools the uniform acts to transform students into cogs in the school's battle machinery for its fight to attain favourable reports by the Ofsted inspection agency and positions in the league tables. This in turn encourages the mentality that the teacher - and by implication, any authority figure - is right by default, regardless of the logic of the situation (actually, this was an explicit doctrine in my school, which I was forced to - superficially, of course - formally accept before I was allowed to return to classes after my second suspension). The teacher is always right. The manager is always right. The politician is always right. The police officer is always right. The supervisor is always right. The stockholder is always right. The oligarch is always right.

The uniform is the embodiment and seed of the corporate identity; more than that, it is the key to Orwellian society (behind maybe Newspeak and the Thought Police, anyway). We in the popular movement should give far higher priority than we do to fighting its prevelance in our schools.

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