Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The need to be uniform
When I was three, I was sent to Miss Mc___’s kindergarten and elementary school for the dramatic arts, or something on those lines. I wore a grey skirt and blazer, a white shirt, a tie, and on my head I wore a grey felt hat. I’m sure I looked very cute. The uniform must have cost a fortune.

I was very happy at Miss Mc___’s. There was a spaceship in the yard, a proper one you could go inside, all covered in tin foil. It was 1969 - space travel was all the rage among pre-schoolers. We had ballet on the curriculum. I regarded myself very poor because I couldn’t do what I think was known as ‘The Splits’ (for my Hebrew speaking readers, this is what we call ‘shpagat’), but I absolutely adored tap dancing classes, because we wore old-fashioned royal blue cotton dresses and red tap shoes.

I often tell incredulous Israeli audiences, as an anecdote of my weird English upbringing in early childhood, that I could tie a tie-knot when I was three, or maybe it was four. They find it hard to grasp the concept of sending children to kindergarten in something akin to ‘madei aleph’ (army dress uniform), but far more restraining and strict. So do I.

To wrap up the story of Miss Mc___’s excellent establishment, where I participated in two grandiose dramatic productions (one of them was called, I believe, ‘Rocket to the Stars’, proof of my previous point about the era we were living in), I was just getting to feel at home there, and nearing the elusive life goal of managing to do ‘The Splits’, however painful, when I was unceremoniously yanked out, and moved to the local Jewish school. New uniform, just as grey and severe. No spaceship.

The world lost a tap dancing phenomenon (not).

My personal experience of the, at first painful but eventually liberating, switch to the inventive world of Israeli school un-uniforms, a few years later, will perhaps be the subject of another, longer, post. Or maybe I’ll write a book about it. Anyway…

… a few days before school started last week, Youngest mentioned that her friend ‘Wave’ (Just checking to see if you remember what that is in Hebrew. Hint: Gold medal…) has already got her new school uniform. Panic. What school uniform? ‘Oh, didn’t I tell you?’


Not to worry, though. No felt hats, no blazers, no ties (no navy blue knickers, no white or grey socks only). The new uniform consists of a T-shirt, in whatever color you want, as long as it has the school emblem on it. I rushed to the store, which was like a madhouse (mine obviously wasn’t the only child to forget to tell), and grabbed one pink one and one purple one to tide me over. I’m going to get a few more this morning.

It’s the new fad in Israeli schooling. T-shirt equality. They seem to reckon that if all the kids wear more or less the same T-shirt, then they won’t notice that some have expensive NIKE sneakers, and some…er… don’t. Silly, but they mean well.

It crosses my mind that school uniforms are antithetic to learning, to creativity, to individualism, especially in the guise of the crazed, enforced uniformity of my toddlerhood in the North West of England. But then, so are schools (antithetic to learning, to creativity, etc).

School uniforms could be conducive to discipline and order, but strictly enforced discipline and order, as opposed to discipline and order that come from within (how do we create that non-violently?), are also antithetic to learning, to creativity, and to individualism, in my mind.

In short, I’ve no idea, and I’ve spent far too long on the subject. Time to wash the dishes.