AUGUST is a wicked month for back-to-school advice, and not for one minute would I even contemplate adding to the pressures that many parents are currently facing kitting out their offspring for the new term and devising a healthy lunch box. But I do feel that I have to say something about the school uniform and the green flag – though not in the same breath, I hasten to add.
Firstly to the uniform, the abandonment of which I wouldn’t even countenance. As far as I’m concerned it was the best idea since they introduced the toga to the Roman forum. I’m certainly not one of a growing band of commentators who believe that being dressed the same stymies the individuality of the pupils. I don’t know why that matters anyway, because the education system as I see it is more inclined towards sheep production than the production of dissident voices. But I would have thought that being dressed the same as everyone else when you were young would make you want to stand out in the crowd for the rest of your life. But, on second thoughts, that might be counter-productive.
Some of the complaints about the cost of the uniforms are justified, because some schools insist on unique colours and styles, and then give the order to some high end store. But, thankfully, most schools in this region have adopted a parent friendly colour scheme available for a fraction of the cost at the large chain stores. I’m actually amazed at how little the mass produced uniforms cost, although the crest does pose a problem in some cases. But why they don’t all dispense with their silly made up crests, I don’t know.
I have to say, however, that the school beret I wore throughout my secondary education cost relatively more than what a whole primary school ensemble in a chain store would cost today. The thing is it lasted for five years. Thankfully, there was no cause for a swelled head at any stage of my schooling, otherwise I’d have had to cut a slit at the side of the cap, because I wasn’t getting a new one and that’s for sure.
But when it comes to the school uniform, there is always something to crib about. Some people are turned off a particular colour for life and blame their paranoia on the uniform they wore at school. Parents can be even more obsessive. One mother I know, who used to get into a tizzy over the cost of a child’s school skirt, can now buy one for seven euro in a chain store. Relatively speaking you’d only have got a box of hankies for that in my day. But she’s still not happy. She doesn’t like the polyester. “It gets shabby quickly, the pleats fall out and the stitching is poor,” she says. She’s not fully convinced either that the same garment wasn’t manufactured in the Far East, using child labour. The jumper, she adds, loses its shape in the washing machine and, as well as that, she thinks the synthetic material might be a source of irritation to her child’s skin.
As she spoke, I suddenly got a brainwave. I like to think that at this stage of my life, I can still get a brainwave, although some of you might describe it as nothing more than a quick rush of blood to the head. I thought to myself why not promote the production of indigenous school uniforms. Restore the homespun quality of yesterday to the school uniform of today. Dump the polyester and bring back the gabardine and the tweed, and while you’re at it, re-invent the knitted jumper.
“But what about the cost?” you may ask.
Look, my grasp of economics is even weaker than my grasp of the Gaeilge, but demand for quality and durability should keep costs down. To make doubly sure of affordability I would also suggest that, at the very least, every primary school in the country should have the same uniform. Let them find some other way of expressing their individuality. Anyway, I would imagine myself that the demand for school uniforms could sustain a grant aided cottage industry in several centres around the country. I’d start up one up myself if it weren’t for the fact that I have a terrible dread of sewing machines, having once ran the needle over my finger when I tried to straighten out a hem that had taken a sudden right hand turn when I wasn’t concentrating.
There’s employment potential in the notion as well, and you know something, I’m beginning to think that maybe I should be Minister for Jobs.
Now to the Green Flag! I’m not suggesting for a minute that anybody should wrap the green flag round themselves, but I’ wondering about its usefulness when the hedges on roads leading to a few green flag schools I know, are constantly strewn with the debris of youth – empty coke tins, burgher cartons, plastic bottles and sweet wrappings.
The rubbish is thrown from passing cars, not by the older generation who never saw a green flag flying over their schools, but by young people who were at school when the first green flags were hoisted with great ceremony. I’m not sure if they’ve forgotten the whole environmental lesson that earned them the flag in the first place, or if they ever really learned it at all.