Thursday, May 10, 2007

School Uniforms and Compulsory Military Service

Whenever stupid shit like this happens, someone brings up the idea of school uniforms. I have a similar problem to school uniforms that I do to universal compulsory military service: one-size-fits all solutions inevitably screw anyone who the solution doesn't actually fit.

When someone proposes school uniforms, I always want to know what are these uniforms going to look like? Will girls' outfits and boys' outfits be different? What fabrics will they be made of?

There's no better way of teaching boys and girls stereotypical ideas about sex roles and that they shouldn't try to adopt the roles of the other sex is by making girls wear dresses while boys wear pants. If a little girl isn't allowed to wear pants, then why should she think she can be a scientist either?

And I want to know what the uniforms will actually look like and be made of, because I grew up unknowingly suffering from what psychiatrists term "tactile defensiveness." In my case, what that meant is that certain fabrics and types of clothes drove me (and still drive me) absolutely batshit crazy. For instance, for most of my life, any piece of clothing that touched my neck made me crazy. I just couldn't stand it. It was just the most damned uncomfortable feeling you can imagine. And before someone says, "No one likes wearing a tie," for a long time I couldn't wear a shirt with a collar at all because I then couldn't do anything but worry about the collar brushing against my neck.

The difference between how I felt wearing something touching my neck and how most people feel is like the difference between tickling a ticklish person and a non-ticklish person. To the ticklish person, the exact same sensory impulse that doesn't bother the non-ticklish person at all is extremely uncomfortable, solely based on how the brain interprets the sensation.

I went through a long period in high school where I could only comfortably wear two particular T-shirts I owned and nothing else. I've gone through other periods where I couldn't wear T-shirts at all, because of how they touched my neck (and to this day before I don a T-shirt I stretch out the neck). When I worked at a job where I had to wear a tie every day, I used to have trouble getting to sleep at night because I was so disturbed by the thought.

And lots of fabrics have been issues for me at different times. I have never been able to comfortably wear stiff cotton, including stiff or heavy cotton T-shirts. I had a denim jacket in high school that I had to stop wearing because the feeling of the denim against my arms started driving me crazy.

For these reasons, before I even consider solving the "problem" of kids wearing inappropriate clothing to school by instituting school uniforms, I want to know what, exactly, the uniforms will physically be like. And I want to know how the school will deal with kids who have issues or problems (including ones I didn't have, like allergies to certain fabrics) with the uniforms. I don't think it is right to solve the problem of group of kids X wearing inappropriate clothing to school on the backs of kids Y, who weren't the problem, who now have problems because of the solution, the uniforms themselves.

We always forget that when we change things, we often just shift the burden of who suffers from one person to another.

In the same way, those who advocate compulsory military service of the sort required in Israel, where most everyone* is required to serve two years in the military, are only considering the good it will do for some, not the harm it will do to others. Because, the fact is that the military is a very particular kind of environment in which only certain people thrive and others wilt. And you're going to have people who can't function in that environment and end up getting into trouble they never would have had otherwise, and that can ruin lives. Getting jailed for insubordination or getting a dishonorable discharge follows you forever. And some people who would have been able to function perfectly well in other settings will not deal well with military life and end up being marked for life because of it.

Not everyone is cut out to be a surgeon, or an air-traffic controller, to be in customer service, or to work in retail. We don't expect everyone to be able to do any job in the civilian world. Why would we expect everyone to be able to adapt to the military, which is really just another particular type of job?

So I'm very wary of these one-size-fits-all solutions to our problems. Typically those proposing them are people who either would do well in the new regime, or who never had to discover whether they would but assume they'd do great. They don't take into account the variability in peoples' dispositions and consider what the solutions they propose can do.

Maybe this is just me and I'm whining from personal experience of having trouble fitting in when faced with various circumstances in life. But I still think it's important to say, so I'm going to say it.

*Certain religious groups, such as Orthodox Jews who believe fighting is a sin, are exempt, but there are only a few such exceptions and temperament, as far as I know, isn't one of them.


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