At first, it seemed trivial. Over the course of the last several years, I have gotten notes from school requesting my child wear a specific set of clothing to demonstrate school spirit. While it was somewhat inconvenient, I really didn’t think there were any significant ramifications. Then, this year, my youngest son was asked to wear clothing of a specific color to assist him and his fellow kindergarteners to learn their colors.
Coinciding with this, I was also exploring the ramifications of our desires for acceptance. We all want to feel accepted and loved for who we are; but, because this doesn’t always happen, many of us sacrifice aspects of ourselves in an attempt to gain that acceptance. In some ways, this does have positive benefits. Activities deemed illegal or immoral by the society in which we live are reduced by our desires for acceptance. However, sometimes the activities deemed illegal or immoral are based on unfounded prejudice. Furthermore, sometimes we do things that we deem illegal or immoral to gain this acceptance. The drive to be someone acceptable may have serious, long-lasting, and destructive consequences.
School children can be very cruel to one another, as I know from personal experience. There’s often a pecking order and significant pressure to conform to the students’ standards, regardless of whether those standards are based on ethical conducted. It occurred to me as my thoughts and this particular experience aligned that perhaps we should not reinforce children’s tendency to judge each other by their clothing by making clothing part of school spirit or learning exercises.
While school spirit does have some benefits, it should not be fostered at the expense of children who cannot or do not choose to participate. Perhaps instead of actively reinforcing the tendency to sort people based on their clothing and judging their worth based on the category they best fit, we should teach our children that school spirit and other “group memberships” should be based on personal merit and genuine worth, not external attributes. Then again, concepts like school spirit and “group membership” are often interpreted as vehicles of conformity. Perhaps school spirit isn’t something we should foster at all.