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Freedom at school

columns Updated: Feb 19, 2011 20:03 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya
Soumya Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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Trouble is brewing in a school near Liverpool in England about a 12-year-old girl's right to wear a nose stud to class. The school does not allow students to wear ear or nose studs to school. Parents sign up to this rule when they admit their children.

"Pupils are not allowed to wear piercings to school, and are always challenged when they do so. That rule exists on health and safety grounds because, in a busy school where there are a lot of pupils, there is a very real risk of accidents," the school's principal, Jan Levenson, told The Guardian.

But Donna Tucker, mother of the student who was hauled up, thinks it's an infringement of personal freedom and free will. "We'll fight the school over it, as it's a human rights issue. I do not know what the big deal is, she is not turning up with drugs or a weapon," Tucker was quoted as saying in The Guardian.

If you ask me (and, even if you don't, I'm telling you, given that I am allowed the self-indulgence of this column), Ms Tucker is blowing things out of proportion here.

Parents will have differences of opinion with school authorities, and must choose wisely which battles to fight. Getting all worked up about whether or not your daughter is allowed to wear a nose stud makes little sense; simply ask your girl to take it off and get on with things, I should think.

But the matter of uniforms — and, therefore, uniformity — in schools is a fraught one. It is also a subjective matter.

In a London school, The Guardian reported this week, a 15-year-old pupil turned up with her hair dyed red. Her teacher told her to dye it black. So is dyeing hair unacceptable? Or is dyeing it any colour other than black unacceptable?

And who is to say that black — in a city like London — ought to be the norm?

Many schools have no uniform. Some do, but aren't as particular about it as certain others. I know from experience that a school my daughter used to attend would allow earrings, but only of a particular kind. It's hard to make rules cast in stone about all this; an element of subjectivity always colours the issue.

I know of a Mumbai school which objected to an eight-year-old turning up on a sickeningly flooded day in overshoes that weren't black.

The authorities made her take them off, and forbade her to wear them to school ever again. At the very same school, I know of pupils who turn up in jackets or sweaters that are definitively not part of the uniform.

Having uniforms, we all know, erases differences, builds pride among students in the school and is an effective tool for enforcing and maintaining discipline.

Once parents sign up for what the rules about school uniforms are, they should be reasonable enough to not let their children flout them.

But the school, too, needs to be consistent and meticulous in its implementation of those rules.

If it responds in different ways to instances of violation of the rules, it defeats the entire purpose of having school uniforms.

What do you think?