Thursday, December 17, 2009

Four Year Old Suspended For Long Hair

In recent news reports I read about a four year old pre-kindergarten Texas boy who has been suspended from school for having long hair. Say what? Is this 1959 or 2009? I thought that the right of male students to wear long hair had been settled years ago. Indeed, when I was in high school in the 70s, I wore long hair with nary a comment from the school, as did my son when he was in school in the late 80s into the 90s.

Boy With Long Hair

Taylor Pugh, who attends school in Mesquite, Texas, was given in-school suspension because school officials say that his hair, which long on the front and sides, covering his earlobes and shirt collar, violates the school district’s dress code policies. According to the district dress code, boys’ hair must be kept out of the eyes and cannot extend below the bottom of earlobes or over the collar of a dress shirt.

On the website of the Mesquite Independent School District, it makes reference to its dress code by saying:

“students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live.”

Oh, really? The Mesquite school district apparently has no problem with female students who wear long hair and do not believe that long hair on girls is inherently messy or ungroomed, nor does it doom them to being future societal losers. But it would seem as if they believe that the same hair length on a male student automatically turn the same hair into a dirty mess, not to mention marking such boys as future bums or even criminals.

The school district’s rule about male hair length has nothing to do with hygiene or safety issues, as if it did, the same rules would apply to both boys and girls. Requiring neat and clean hair for all students is a reasonable rule — requiring short hair for one sex only is blatant sexism.

So far as hair length determining character and being a “constructive member of society” goes:

George Washington
You’ll note the ribbon behind his head for his ponytail!

Ben Franklin

Though a bit thin on top, it’s long in the back!

I don’t think anyone would deny that George Washington or Ben Franklin were contributing members of society, long hair and all.

Likewise, short hair is not an inherent indicator of good character or potential to contribute positively to society:

I’m sure this style would be acceptable to Mesquite schools!

The point is, that male hair length is no reliable indicator of character or potential to contribute to society in a positive manner. Hair length is simply a matter of personal preference, thus is an invalid thing to regulate when forming dress codes.

I’m not saying that dress codes in and of themselves are invalid, but they must be based on common-sense criteria that is applied equally to everyone and ideally be based on matters of safety and actual hygiene, rather than on matters of fashion.

In 1996, Bill Clinton made the following comment about school uniforms:

“I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.”

While I don’t necessarily agree that clothing styles are necessarily linked to character, I do agree that rules pertaining to clothing are valid for employers especially and also for schools to a lesser degree. The reason I make the distinction between required/banned clothing and that of hair styles is that clothing is something that can be changed at the end of the day when the person is no longer at school/work. It’s not a permanent change, as people can wear what they prefer on their own time. And nowadays, rules about clothing are generally applied equally to both men and women, considering that women are now able to wear pants.

But hair length is a different matter. It’s a 24 hour a day thing. A male who prefers long hair can’t grow it back at the end of the day after school or work.

In conclusion, schools should have a single standard about students’ hair that applies to both boys and girls: that is be clean and neat, with no reference to length.


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