June 25, 2012 | last updated June 25, 2012 10:02 am
THE ARTFUL STRATEGIST

Kindergarten dress code a bid for false perfection

The ghost of Antonio Tabucchi, the famous, complex, funny, intellectual Italian novelist and professor who died in March, will haunt the school corridors in East Haven for years to come.

Although he wrote and thought about a great many things, Tabucchi had a special place in his heart for the oppressed — and the school kids in East Haven are now officially oppressed.

In truth, I wasn't a big fan of his novels, which were a bit complex to take with you to the beach for an easy read. But one thing he wrote popped into my consciousness as I pondered the East Haven school board, sitting there in May, deciding that the kindergarten kids needed a dress code.

That's right. A dress code for 5-year-olds. You know how those toddlers are. The girls dress like tramps, with low-cut blouses and short skirts and five-inch heels. The guys have those pants that show too much butt, with muscle shirts that reek of no respect for the teachers or general decorum. How are kindergarteners supposed to learn theoretical physics, when they dress like that?

In fact, the new East Haven dress code applies to all the elementary school students, but I would have guessed the kindergarteners could have gotten a pass. First year of school. A bit nervous. More discipline than they are used to. And then, just for fun, let's get them all tense about their wardrobe.

That being said, the East Haven school board busy-bodies may be on to something. What better time to teach the kids contempt for power, authority and ridiculousness than in their most impressionable years?

When Sally, the best kindergarten student in East Haven, who can read, spell hard words and offer up a pretty good interpretation of most of the Old Testament, gets screamed at by an assistant principal for the way she dressed, the other kids will have learned an important lesson.

And this is where the wisdom of Tabucchi comes into play. As he put it so well, “it's the job of intellectuals and writers to cast doubt on perfection.”

What a remarkable inspiration that would be for the five- and six- and seven-year-olds in East Haven, as they contemplate why, exactly, the perfect school uniform is, well, perfect, when the name of the game is learning and acquiring wisdom as opposed to dressing in a way that reassures insecure school officials that they really are important and all-powerful.

It could be an essay assignment for the kids, when writing first enters their curriculum. They could be told to cast doubt on perfection, when perfection comes in the form of a dress code.

Interestingly enough, East Haven decided not to apply a dress code to the high school kids, who, perhaps, would have been more vocal and expressive in their contempt for such stuff. And again, you do run the risk of suspending the valedictorian for improper display of flip-flops.

Goodness knows, there are many school systems with dress codes. There was just something about the smugness with which the East Haven school board members congratulated themselves (as the school board chairman put it: “it's going to improve the learning environment and the school culture …”) and the dress-code details, down to the color of the shirts the kids can wear, which made the East Haven case stand out like a polka-dot colored skirt, no higher than two inches above the knee.

According to reliable sources at the Hartford Business Journal, I am a “freelance writer,” which means that I can write columns in my pajamas, culture and environment be damned.

Laurence D. Cohen is a freelance writer.

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