It’s Monday morning and you are 12 years old and you walk into school, homeroom, the lunchroom, or the auditorium and everywhere you see so many of your peers wearing the same color sweat shirt marking the occasion of a bar or bat mitzvah from the past weekend. And the scene repeats itself virtually every Monday throughout the year.
For years I have made an appeal to parents, and even directly to students, to avoid wearing shirts, sweat shirts, or pants given out at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. In a school with a large population of students who will reach this milestone, this makes for many Mondays of students who were obviously included and many who were not.
My appeals in the past have been largely ignored. To be sure, every year I have parents who remind me to remind parents about this practice. I have others who thank me for speaking up about an issue about which they clearly feel uncomfortable. An occasional parent will argue the point. Most parents tell me that they are unable to stop their kids because “everybody else is doing it.”
I have seen how damaging this practice can be and how badly some students feel because they were not included, perhaps never invited. This weekly event becomes a distraction from learning. Our students should be one student body, and we need to create a culture where we care about the feelings of others.
I always believe we can do anything if there is the will to do it. I cannot ban the wearing of such clothing because there is nothing offensive about the clothing itself and it does not violate any part of our dress code. But it is a practice that divides and hurts…repeatedly. It fosters a culture of exclusivity and at times a competition for the greatest number of friends, all during a difficult developmental period where students are defining themselves and creating an identity in relation to their peers.
Middle school kids are experiencing challenges on every front, cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally, marking it as one of the most turbulent growth phases in the life cycle. It should be a time for building bonds and achieving goals.