Short of moving to a desert Island and eliminating the use of electricity, we will never successfully eliminate the influence of the outside world on our community. We and our children are bombarded with inappropriate ads at every bus stop, newsstand and store window.
Shopping with teenage children is often difficult and arguments about sleeve length, hemlines, nail polish, hairstyle, make up and top buttons erupt. Schools are having difficulty with enforcing many areas of Tznius, such as the length of uniforms, demanding they not be too long or too short, and they have resorted to fining students (which often means fining the parents) for infractions.
As the tznius issue becomes more problematic, we tend to try and solve it by enacting more rules, allowing for less individuality, consider home circumstances less and begin to police both our student body and even our staff. The question is: Is this helping us deal with the problem?
Chaim, a well spouse, had a large family. He lived in a small apartment with only one bathroom. Chaim’s oldest child, Tziril, was a teenage young woman who helped out more and more as her mother’s disease progressed. Because of the scheduling of the support staff for bathing and dressing her mother, the only time Tziril could access the bathroom comfortably to shower and wash her hair, was just before school. The problem arose when Tziril was sent to the principal’s office for tznius infractions, as the school did not allow their students to come in with wet hair, feeling it was not tzniusdik since everyone would know you had just showered.
Fraidel also had a mother who was chronically ill. She was the youngest of the family. All her clothing – including her school uniforms – was handed down from her sisters. But Fraidel was heavier than her sisters and had trouble with the collar-button (called the “tznius” button) of her shirt. If she could get it closed, it chaffed her neck and she felt choked. And, though her uniform covered her knees, because of her weight it was certainly shorter on her than it had been for her sister at the same age. And though Fraidel tried to dress appropriately, it seemed to her that she was constantly hauled out of class and fined for tznius violations.
Malky’s parents were, Baruch Hashem, healthy. No illness had invaded her home and caused havoc. But Malky was the youngest of 10 children. Without special circumstances, mornings were a fragile time in the household. Just getting everyone up, dressed, fed and off to school on time was a major event. No one noticed that Malky’s uniform was no longer four inches below her knees or that her uniform was getting a bit tight. Meanwhile, Malky was running up a bill at school for tznius infractions.
Shoshy had healthy parents. In fact she was an only child. Her parents sent her off to school appropriately dressed. However, by the time Shoshy arrived at school she had on make up and nail polish, her skirt had miraculously gotten shorter and her collar-button somehow managed to fall off, even though her mother sewed on a new one almost every night. She, too, became a regular in the office for tznius infractions and fines.
Whether because of exceptional circumstances or by desire, a particular school’s definition of tznius is not always followed by many of its students. For many schools, that seems to mean imposing more fines, establishing harsher punishments, or suspending a student for a day. Frustrated teachers and administrators may respond to the growing infractions with more rules and tighter regulations. Instead of curing the problem, this may cause its escalation. Teachers are now expected to add policing skirt length, cell phone and iPod infractions to their teaching duties.
In some cases, even teachers’ clothing has come under scrutiny and wearing colors that are too bright or too contrasting turn into reasons for poor teacher evaluations. As the list of what is not acceptable increases, the school may no longer feel like a safe, positive place to be for some. Instead, many may feel it has become a dreaded environment in which to work or learn and both students and teachers are looking over their shoulder fearful that someone will report them – or worse, their reputation in the community will be sullied.
Not being able to come to a consensus on the issue, a breakaway school may even result. This not only divides the community further but can cause a competition between the schools over where to send your child. Not wanting to be considered “less than” many parents may want to send their children to the school that is considered to have the more restricted and therefore “higher” standards, only to find that their children are not “acceptable” to the new institution. Reasons like the type of head covering a person wears or how many hours a day a parent learns may be the new criteria of enrollment, as a desire to have your children with only students who keep the same level of observance is seen as the best and safest way to raise your children.
Some suggestions on dealing with the issue next week.