The Thinking 

Dress and Learning, cont.

November 5, 2012



VINCENT C. writes:

Mr. Smith’s commentary about the German school’s dress etiquette for teachers might leave the impression that such rules for dress were long forgotten in the school systems in the U.S. Speaking from personal experience, it is beyond cavil that those “teacher dress codes” began to unravel in the 1970s with the ascendency of the counter-culture’s belief, now indelibly etched in our custom, that “clothes did not make the man,” but were merely an external and inappropriate system of judging anyone, including a teacher, and which played no part in his/her performance or success.

The class pictured here, taken about 1966/67 was of 12th year students (17-18 years of age) taking their second part American History course in preparation for the state examinations – called Regents in New York State. There was no warning that such a photo would be taken; hence, neither the teacher nor the students dressed any differntly than they normally did.

I submit that this picture demonstrates that a well-dressed teacher and student promote an atmosphere of learning, woefully missing in today’s educational free-for-all. I live near a high school in northern Virginia, and aside from the principal, I see very few males in coats and ties, and women almost exclusively in pants. That is the standard, not the exception, in today’s classroom, and I very much doubt if much “learning” is going on either. There is one other story about men’s dress, this one told to me by a Professor at the University of Virginia, that is worth re-telling.

When this professor, then much younger man arrived at the campus in Charlottesville in the early 1950s, not only were coat and ties required for all teachers and students, but at no time during the course of the class was one to remove the coat or the tie, regardless of the weather, and classrooms were not air-conditioned. In the afternoon, the young professor went to the men’s room, and in the process removed his jacket to wash his hands. As if sent there by an avenging angel, the chairman of the department entered the lavatory and saw the young professor without his jacket. He nodded, and left.

The chairman’s secretary called the young professor, saying that his presence was required in the chairman’s office. Having no idea why he was called, the young man entered and the chairman closed the door behind him. Without so much as “Good Afternoon,” the chairman then stated: “Professor …, you are aware of the University’s policy about not removing one’s coat during the day. I wish to remind you that the rule applies in all rooms of the university. Please see to it that such an incident does not happen again.”

It never did.


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