I've been thinking lately about President Clinton's notion that there'snothing wrong with our country's schools that we couldn't remedy if all ourchildren just wore uniforms to class.
The belief that a dress code can spark a cultural revolution strikes a chordwith many businesspeople. It's also a subject I know something about. Of my 17years of formal education, 16 were spent under the watchful auspices of theRoman Catholic Church, which is very big on uniforms. Every day for the first 9years, I went to school in a white shirt, a navy blue tie, and matching bluepolyester pants so glossy you could comb your hair in the reflection.
As you might imagine, the fashionable little non-parochial-school heathens intown teased us mercilessly, but otherwise I didn't mind the getup. The uniformsimplified life. I can't ever remember worrying, as my daughters in publicschool do, about arriving in class looking any more geeklike than anyone else.
And, for the most part, I behaved like a good little Christian soldier. I didmy homework, was respectful to my teachers, and never once thought of bringinga handgun to school. If anybody in my sixth-grade class was "carrying," it wasSister Mary Ellen Constance, whose six-foot rosary beads could have beenclassified as an assault weapon.
With all due respect to the president, I've always assumed my good behavior wasa result of factors other than the uniform. There was, for example, the smallmatter of culture--2,000 years of it, to be exact. And there was fear. Thingshappened to boys who messed around in the schools I attended. You could beslapped around (a bad thing). You could get a meeting with your parents (a verybad thing). You could be suspended (a very, very bad thing). You could be expelled (the worst thing, since you then became a fashionable littleheathen).
Of course, I may underestimate the influence of clothing on my behavior. Myfriend Bill thinks so. He's a New York lawyer and a firm believer in thetransformational power of the wardrobe. The people he's trying to transform atthe moment are the associates in his firm. They're just technicians, he says,waiting for him to come up with the imaginative approach to a case or thebrilliant concept needed to bring in a new client. "Frankly, I'm tired of thepressure," said Bill recently, looking not the least bit tired to me. "What Ineed are lawyers who are, well, entrepreneurial. So we're changing theway we operate. For one thing, we've instituted Casual Friday. I sent out amemo telling people it's no longer a matter of choice. They have to wearjeans on Friday. It's company policy.
"But I'm not sure I've gone far enough," Bill went on. "I think we need to domore. Maybe we need a mascot, like those companies you guys wrote about--youknow, like that Manco company that has a duck. What do you think would be rightfor a law firm?"
"How about a pit bull in heat?" I suggested.
I don't know--perhaps I'm a bit too jaded about all this. There are moments, Iadmit, when I'd like to think that President Bill and Lawyer Bill are on theright track after all--that things like dress codes really do have thepower to change behavior. Then an image comes to mind, and I realize I'mforgetting something.
It's Sister Mary Ellen Constance and her six-foot rosary.