Tuesday, February 28, 2023

School Dress Codes


Remember Flat-Tops and Bobby Socks? 

My brother, Class of 1954

Are you old enough to remember the shoulder pads of the 1980s, popularized by the television show Dynasty?  I am, and whenever I see current fashion trends that I find unattractive, I remind myself of those shoulder pads.  Yes, I did have a few of those in my closet.  However, even with that reminder, I can't understand the current popularity of "gym" shorts in the middle of winter.  Flannel pajama bottoms as street wear seem to have subsided, but at least they were warm.  Yet, today I have frequently seen bare legs beneath short jackets in near freezing weather.  Those shoulder pads I wore looked stupid, but they didn't give me pneumonia.  

When I was in high school we did have a dress code.  For girls, dresses were required except for Fridays, and maybe then only if it was a game day.  For boys it was jeans and shirts.  Perhaps in my school days the enforcement of dress codes fell on the parents; however, I have seen enough 'first day of school' pictures posted on face book by proud mothers to know that my parents would not have let me out of the  house (let alone dressed for school) in something that tight or short.  Styles change and so do what parents find acceptable, but I was not aware of the turmoil that appropriate dress has caused in some schools.  I guess other disputes in schools are filling more headlines than reporting dress code disagreements.

Today, the suggestion to "Dress appropriately" isn't very helpful for adults or children.  Whether it is a wedding, a dinner party, a baby shower, or a brunch, if the hostess doesn't drop a hint, it is difficult to know what to wear, so how are adults supposed to keep up with proper attire for their kids?  A survey found that since 2000 the number of public schools with a defined dress code increased 21%.  That survey found that only 2% of schools reported no dress code at all. 

Some of the requirements and prohibitions would seem unnecessary, like the need to wear shoes.  Others seem more related to particular problems in a community, like no gang insignia.  Yet others seem related to modesty, like no bare shoulders or deep cut blouses, shorts of a certain length, or excessively tight clothing.  The modesty requirements often draw criticism that girls are being more restricted than boys.  

A recent government report indicated that 93% of school districts have dress codes or policies, and some of those schools have ignored differences in student cultural or physical differences, such as ignoring that curls or kinky hair may not easily comply with restrictions on "excessive curls" or hair no deeper "than two inches when measured from the scalp."  (That reminded me of the back-combing styles of my high school era. I doubt that some hair-dos  would have met the 2" requirement!)

On the positive side, uniformity of dress can reduce clothing being a visual division of students, reducing the socioeconomic status of students.  It may even create a sense of belonging, being part of a team, and for kids with a limited wardrobe, uniforms or less emphasis on clothing may make them feel more as if they can fit in.  In communities where keeping strangers out of the building is important, dress codes can make intruders more apparent.

On the negative side, freedom of expression may be limited, minority students may resent being forced to accept styles of others, and if the dress code is so strict that personal taste and traditions are prohibited, some may feel alienated.  

Even if dress codes are not imposed in a community, reflecting on some of these issues may bring a fresh perspective to what is going on in today's schools.

Blogger Michelle Riddell suggested in her blog about High School Dress Codes that since part of teaching should be to prepare students to make responsible choices, perhaps collaborating with students on a dress code policy might be a way to get them to dress appropriately.

One of Riddell's comments made so much sense to me, pointing out our society's obsession with image and its direct link to the irony that "students get harangued for wearing the very clothes they are targeted to buy.  Yet, someone else designed, advertised, manufactured, and sold the styles we blame on youth culture--and then unilaterally [with school dress codes] decide to ban."

Educator Suzanne Capek Tingley suggests three simple ideas:  1.  Make sure kids know what's expected.  2.  Avoid embarrassing dress code violators.  3.  Understand your students' concerns.

Since this blog was inspired by my discomfort of seeing bare legged young people in cold weather, has my research on dress codes taught me anything?  Let me apply Tingley's "simple" guides:  1.  What is expected

? That educated young people should realize that bare legs in near freezing temperatures is foolish.  2.  Avoid embarrassing:  Their bare legs are not my responsibility.  3.  Understand their concerns:  Once I was young and foolish too.  

I'm not sure I passed Tingley's test!

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

An Imaginary Letter to the Ghost of Emily Post

    I hope that readers can find a few giggles in this imaginary letter to the woman who once knew all the answers to proper etiquette, as  some of us try to stumble our way through changing times... 

Dear Emily Post,

     Where are you when you are needed?!  Does a successor to you even exist?

    I know you may have heard me complain about how some group of education experts decided to eliminate the teaching of cursive writing, believing it was no longer needed with the shift to computers.  Yes, I love the many positive ways I use my computer--although it is getting troubling when it impolitely begins changing things I was just beginning to understand.  And, if it is so smart, why can't it recognize those intruders that try to sign us up for things we don't want or need.

    But, back to my reason for writing, why didn't you explain to those education experts that we might miss the pleasure of receiving a handwritten thank you note.  An email is just not the same thing.  Yes,  it is true that I appreciate the convenience of ordering gifts online without having to get dressed before noon--a bad habit I acquired during covid when all of us were stuck at home, but that is beside the point.  The point is that a personal thank you note would be nicer, and nicer still would be the ability to read the note.  Truely, I do appreciate getting an actual thank you note, but the penmanship is difficult to read, and that is sad since I know that the writers did their best.

    If those experts thought that teaching cursive was no longer necessary, why did they ignore spending just a little more time showing students how to make printing legible.  And, was there some purpose for encouraging them to crowd their writing across the top of the page, as if they meant to write more and were interrupted.    

    I don't mean to sound whiney, but whose idea was it to advise brides and grooms that they had 6 months to finish their thank you notes.  Yes, I know that notes were once the responsibility of the bride, but now, with both the wife and the husband working, don't they share the task of writing the thank you notes? That would seem fair, and with both of them writing, shouldn't they finish sooner?  If 6 months is now the acceptable time couples have to send thank you notes, I'm afraid I will no longer remember  what I gave them.

    It is nice that now the bride and groom often have websites that tell me what they would like to have and how to order it.  I especially like those websites that notify me when my gift is received, so that I don't worry that the gift was lost in the mail.  But, is that notification the modern version of a thank you note?

    And Ms. Post, since I am writing, could you please remind the older generation that it is very difficult to know how to prepare the refreshments for a party when invited guests fail to return the stamped reservation cards enclosed with the invitation. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are also ignored, and I don't understand what those funny little squares with the squigly dots are for.  It is very embarrassing to run out of food, and humiliating to have a table full of food and only a handful of guests that choose to come.

    And while I am writing you, I must share my concern about what is appropriate attire.  Once we knew exactly what to wear when we received an invitation to an event, but please my dear Emily, could you revise your advice about proper attire for occasions.  The old rules don't seem to matter. It is very awkward for those of us 'of a certain age' like you and me, to navigate the social world today.  The more I think about it, perhaps you are as confused as I am.  Perhaps all the answers you had for us died with you in 1960, although it was thoughtful of you to leave behind The Emily Post Institute to carry on your work.

Sincerely, A Confused Fan (of a certain age!)

    Emily Post was born in 1872 and died in 1960.  She was the daughter of a wealthy architect, and her mother was the daughter of a wealthy coal baron.  Her biographer described her as "tall, pretty, and spoiled."  She married a prominent banker and had 2 sons.  They divorced after 13 years because of her husband's affairs with chorus girls and fledgling actresses.  She began writing when her sons were old enough to attend boarding schools, and her work included magazine serials, travel books, books on interior design and novels.  Her first etiquette book was written in 1922 to great success, and led to numerous editions, as well as radio programs and newspaper columns on good taste.  She was not the first nor the last to write about etiquette, but her influence extended beyond her death and her name remains a synonym for good taste.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Confusion of the News

    It seems lately that too many of the lawyers on television aren't necessarily the best examples of the profession.  You may have asked yourself why any honest person would want to be a lawyer.  To counter some of the impressions those lawyers may have given you, let me begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln:  "Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles in her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges;  let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in almanacs, let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice."  Obviously, Lincoln saw the need to educate all Americans of the meaning and importance of our laws.

Quoting Lincoln again:  "Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others."

Today, on television and the internet there are lawyers who purport to express their legal opinions, and there are non-lawyers who also express their opinions about the law, and there are those who express their opinions as if it were the law...  There are also those who are lawyers that  intentionally misrepresent the law.  What is a person to do in such a world of information and misinformation?

Lincoln's advice that all Americans learn to revere our laws and know what they say so we are less easily hood-winked is great advice.  I will also add some excellent advice from Barbara Jordan: "It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decisions."  

I will add my own opinion about those whom I generally disregard.  Those who shout, who call others names. who refuse to listen to anyone else's ideas are unlikely to gain my respect.  It seems to me that if you have a good idea to share, the best way to do that is a respectful conversation.

Should you judge lawyers by the clients they represent?  Sometimes, but not necessarily.  If ethical lawyers represented only the innocent, we would no longer be able to uphold our American belief that those accused are to be considered innocent until found guilty.  People would quickly learn who represented the good guys and who represented the bad guys, and the presumption of innocence would mean nothing!  

Just as lawyers gain reputations through their conduct, so also do news reporters.  Those of you old enough may remember the CBS evening news moderator, so widely respected that he was often referred to as "Uncle Walter."  In that era of television reporting, it was expected that the news would be delivered without bias, well checked before it was aired.  

Today the goal seems to be post "Breaking News" first, with less emphasis on accuracy and getting the full content.  That race to get the news first inevitably results in errors and incomplete information.  Just as bad, and maybe worse, is the delivery of  'news' by commentators who make no apology for their bias.  There is a difference between reporting the news and commenting an opinion. 

Dole Institute, copyright Lyn Fenwick

Just as reporters are expected to gather accurate information and report that, lawyers also have ethical requirements.  I have explained why guilty defendants deserve reputable lawyers, and now I will explain the importance for lawyers to follow ethical rules.  Lawyers may not "engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation," nor "engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice." American Bar Association/Rules of Misconduct

Recently the misconduct of lawyers has been in the news, and unfortunately more such news is likely.  Although a lawyer must defend his client, that does not mean the lawyer may ignore his own responsibilities.  In representing a client, a lawyer cannot "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trust worthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects."  ABA Rules of Misconduct

Civics is no longer taught in many high schools.  It is certainly not "breathed by every American mother [into] her lisping babe" as Lincoln urged.  Many, if not most, Americans have not read the Constitution, nor do they understand the responsibilities of lawyers.  Perhaps in coming days, the brief information in this blog will be helpful in understanding current events.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Valentine's Day Past and Present


Larry's Toys, Copyright Lyn Fenwick

I often make special cards as gifts for my husband.  (Aplogies for the dark image.  It was taken through the glass of the framed image and is darker that the actual drawing.)  This particular gift for him has many childhood memories included in a single colored-pencil drawing. including several of his toys, wooden blocks with his initials displayed, his childhood cowboy boots, marbles, the rug his mother bought on a family trip, and his grandfather's three-drawer chest.  But in the center of the drawing is a Valentine card with a cowboy, given to him by a classmate at a grade school valentine exchange.

I do not remember if this art was a gift for him on Valentine's Day, but with the valentine in the middle of the drawing, perhaps it was.  If so, the drawing on paper would be a traditional gift, for in the 1700s, gifting handwritten notes and letters on Valentine's Day on paper began.  Beautiful penmanship in that era was highly regarded, for both men and women.

A student at Mount Holyoke College, whose father was a stationer, is credited with introducing Valentine cards in the United States.  Cards had become popular in England, and when the girl received an English Valentine card, she got the idea of making cards to sell in her father's stationary shop, where they became very popular.

By Mid-1850 manufacturers were making Valentine cards.  The New York Times criticized the growing tradition, saying, "The custom has no useful feature, and the sooner it is abolished the better."  Less than a decade later Valentine cards had boomed, noticeably after the Civil War.

The tradition has continued to thrive, so much so that it is a significant revenue source not just for florists and restaurants, as well as chocolatiers, but also Perfume & Lotion shops, and lingerie stores.  Other merchants have also recognized the Valentine market with such items as a waffle iron shaped like a heart, and kitchen pots and pans in red enamel.  

Ladies should not forget the gentlemen in their lives, for there are gifts now particularly for men.  Wine, and accessories for wine are favored, as well as games and men's socks.  In that category, there are also Valentine Slippers for both men and women.

My husband and I do not overlook Valentine's Day, but long ago we gave up the tradition of crowed, noisy restaurants, where you may be rushed to clear your table for the next seating of customers.  Decades of gifting has accumulated more things than our shelves and drawers can hold, and we are content without the newest trends.  That is not to say that we no longer regard Valentines Day as special, and if you peeked in our window that evening, you might see flickering candles and a meal we prepared together.  Reminding friends and lovers that they are still appreciated should never go out of fashion, and although social media has eclipsed cards and phone calls, you might make an exception for Valentines this year.    

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Cheating Ourselves?

 This is not the first time I have blogged about my feelings that eliminating cursive penmanship from school curriculums was a bad idea, although I realize beating that drum is a lost cause.  This time, however, the joke is on those professors who decided that with most correspondence being done on laptops, penmanship was no longer needed.  It has turned out that bypassing handwritten assignments has made cheating easier.

Reading Great Books rather than a summary

Watching the interview of a professor on television, I learned that technology has now advanced so far that it is nearly impossible to assign such a unique topic that it can stump the technology.  He described how even a unique subject can be entered online, with a request to produce an essay of the assigned length on that topic, and the internet will promptly supply a suitable composition.  Without requiring the paper to be written in the classroom, how can the professor know whether it is the student's own work, Unless the students' phones are removed, there are still temptations available during classes.

That professor didn't seem very happy about the prospect of requiring the students to write their essays in the classroom by hand.  Given the penmanship of most students today, I can understand why a professor might hate grading hand written papers!

Recently I blogged about the ability to create art by entering a few details about the subject, with a few additional details to use in the composition--such as 'a golden retriever hunting quail in a field of harvested corn at sunset.'  With that much information, assuming a computer with access to thousands of images entered into its resources, a computer could create an attractive composition using artificial intelligence. 

Seeing a sheep being sheered instead of a computer describing it

A few days ago, I learned of the ability to use computers filled with enough information to create that  person's image so that the person's voice could be imposed on the image to create what appeared to be a live talk.  In short, the old saying "Seeing is believing" is no longer trustworthy.   

So, here is the problem:  While we can create professional papers on about any subject in minutes, create art that is beautiful, and appear to be delivering a recorded live program, are we really teaching  and interacting?  Are those using technology to supply the content of an assigned essay, or the art student using artificial intelligence to create a composition, or the speaker and his audience truly interacting?  Are we neglecting the development of our own minds, our sensitivity for observing and creating beauty, our skill of interacting with others by listening not just to their words but also body language and drawing out those hesitant to speak.   

Decades ago when I was teaching, I discovered cheating by my students.  When I expressed my disappointment to an older teacher, he replied:  "Cheating isn't bad, cheating badly is bad."  I was astonished by his comment.   Unfortunately, I fear that since that teacher's comment was made to me years ago, the honor system has plummeted.  It does seem to me that technology has opened up an entire new world for cheating.  However, isn't it possible that in many cases the person we are cheating is ourselves?