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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Teachers — and lawmakers — have more to worry about than clothing

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Sep 22, 2023

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Meg Sanders

Years ago, when I put every ounce of effort into raising my first kid because I didn’t know any better, I attended a parenting seminar at Weber State University with Alfie Kohn as the keynote. A lot of what was discussed is lost in a haze of time and my then survival mindset. One particular example from Kohn’s life still holds a vivid spot in my brain. As is usually the case with kids, the idea of getting up in the morning for school was torture to his son. They battled daily over getting up and getting dressed. The child decided to meet his dad halfway, right before bed he would dress in the clothes he planned to wear for school the next day. That way, when the alarm rang, he could just pop out of bed with one less thing to do. Kohn said he realized in that moment, what was he fighting for? He decided it was a battle he no longer wanted to wage. It was a peaceful compromise.

This is the case with the newly adopted dress code at some schools. Tank tops exposing shoulders, midriffs exposing the holes left from an umbilical cord, and hats found at every store in the mall were banned in most Utah schools because of sex and gangs. Banned until this year. While I don’t know the solid reason why the dress code was changed, I can hazard a guess after having a teenage daughter. Teachers spent their time dealing with dress code violations, kids missed class because their umbilical hole was in view and parents missed work as they angrily drove to the school with a spare T-shirt to cover said hole. Dress codes are a battle not worth waging.

Much like my stance on reading graphic novels and comic books, if a kid is showing off shoulder or wears baggy pants as they sit in class learning, just be glad they’re in the seat. Dress codes have been a fixture in schools for decades. My mother just attended her 50th reunion for Weber High School, where women discussed being forced to wear a knee-length skirt that administrators would measure with rulers. She can remember skirt checks, where female students knelt on the floor to see if the hem touched the floor. Dress codes always have to keep those wild girls in check. Times are changing, as it’s not just females wearing skirts to school anymore, gender stereotypes are just as irrelevant as dress codes. If you think it was better 50 years ago, you are also irrelevant.

Our school systems are starting to recognize that stringent dress codes are superfluous to the task at hand — so goes with our Congress. Mitch McConnell and Diane Feinstein both wear beautifully tailored suits on the House and Senate floors, looking sharp, but not being sharp. They can wear designer duds, but can they get the job done? Despite not being code, the dress code for the Senate is enforced from security at the doors. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that dress code will no longer be enforced.

Critics of this idea say it will detract from the decorum of the Senate, but an insurrection wouldn’t, I guess. The primary reason this change is happening is to accommodate Sen. John Fetterman from Pennsylvania. He prefers to wear hoodies and basketball shorts, something his constituents knew when they voted him in to represent the state. When Fetterman shows up for votes, he does it from the chamber doors because of his dress, yet he’s an elected official. What he wears is based on preference; his ability to vote on behalf of those he represents is based on the Constitution. His vote is what matters.

The archaic dress code for Congress also requires women to cover up those sexy shoulders in case they stop the legislative business of the day. Some traditions just aren’t worth having. Dressing “appropriately” is based on how others view you. If I were invited to the Senate floor, even here in Utah, I would put on my best outfit because of how others will view my credibility. I want to come across as professional, respectful and self-aware. We’ve all heard the saying “dress for the job you want.” It doesn’t work when you’re already a senator. Fetterman doesn’t care how he comes across; he cares if his constituents are happy with his decisions and actions. Depending on the feedback, he may be wearing a suit next week if constituents make a fuss, not Republican senators. I should note, according to a local news poll out of Pennsylvania, Fetterman has one of the lowest approval ratings as a senator. Mitch McConnell’s is worse, suit and all.

I fully support the change in the dress code policy. It allows educators to focus on the job at hand instead of spending their day handing out pointless punitive discipline where students take truancy over changing a shirt. The school district found a way to make our schools more harmonious as students feel comfortable approaching teachers and administrators to discuss dress code concerns rather than resorting to truancy or rebellion. This more relaxed approach encourages students to express themselves with reasonable limits.

Every day is a battle of wills with someone. We each have the choice whether or not we want to enter the Colosseum or seek peaceful compromise. If we fight every battle, constantly entering the ring with our fists raised, it will never be clear what is really worth fighting for. The battles distract us from the work, from the progress we all want to achieve in the end. Belly buttons, shoulders, suits and sweatshirts are not worth the battle when families are fighting to put food on the table or to afford a shirt long enough to cover their kid’s stomach.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.


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