Old School & Alma Mater
I may be stating the obvious, but the classic Left-Right spectrum is irrelevant. Libertarianism was, for a long time (say from 1945 up to late 1970’s) confided to to a narrow circle of intellectuals and academics (one of the most prominent being Aynd Rand). The economic recession, as well as the ideological vigour of right-wing libertarianism in the post-industrialized world locked things up for the forthcoming decades. I realize I am using crude generalization, but evidence is overwhelming in the sense that individuals enjoy near-unfettered freedom. The younger population in Morocco is torn between the cosy, conformist way of family life, or the adventurous life of free individuals.
I am evoking these concepts (linear political spectrum and the libertarian/authoritarian axis) because there was a tweet-discussion (twitter really should expand their 140 characters-span) on boarding school and uniforms. That’s the trouble with left-wingism is Morocco: there are a few principles upon which there’s little room for dissent, such as constitutional reforms, the need for genuine democracy, but there’s a wide range of opinions on other issues. There’s a blur on policy matters relating to the economy, education and even on individual liberties, the likelihood of consensus on these matters is quite slim. Now, going back to the education policy. My side of the story is that compulsory school uniforms and optional boarding school can have good results on improving the failing standards of our education system. Also, there is no claim that these policies alone can address the problem. It is, so to speak, a matter of principle -that find themselves some practical issues.
Education in Morocco is a shambles. Huge sums of money have been channelled through to the education department, but to no avail. A large number of civil servants work there. 2009 budget figures show the following: 63% of personnel expenses, that is 26% of the total budget. Reports dating back to 2004 show that about half the total civil service work force is allocated to the education department. total expense was about 7000MAD/pupil, and yet, in terms of world standards, Morocco is way behind the crowd. The crippling effects of rigid bureaucracy are exacerbated with gung-ho style policies that are swept aside too soon before their effects are felt, and so education in Morocco, failing and wasteful, looks like an unfinished workshop, all of which is mother’s milk to the private education lobbies. What’s school uniform doing here then? Wouldn’t such a policy put a heavier burden on families and public finances? Wouldn’t it be a hypocritical veil to social inequality? And finally, isn’t it an infringement on the very individual liberties I am keen to defend against State intrusion?
All these arguments are receivable, in the sense that they point out the shortcomings of school uniform policy. And that’s always the trouble when higher matters cannot be implemented in commensurate higher policies. What are the arguments then? Bourdieu produced fascinating work on education, and how it plays as a plug for social inequalities. The fact is, school is considered to be socially ‘neutral’, a buffer zone where individuals are graded for their intellectual performances and not their social background. Instead, it cannot help it but ‘ensure the transmission of cultural capital across generations and to stamp pre-existing differences in inherited cultural capital with a meritocratic seal of academic consecration by virtue of the special symbolic potency of the title (credential)‘. It is therefore of little effect to introduce mandatory uniforms.
In broad terms, school uniforms help achieve the following objectives:
a/ Halving violence and misbehaviour problems;
b/ Strengthening school unity and spirit;
c/ Alleviating social pressures and neutralizing status differentials;
d/ Increasing student self-esteem and motivation;
e/ Saving on pupils’ parents income (clothing expenditure);
First, the motivation behind compulsory standardized clothing items; Now, there are some of us that believe in private education, and it is perfectly valid for parents that are unhappy with the public curriculum to put their offspring in private schools that fit their preferences. They would forfeit any public support, but that remains a private choice. On the other hand, when parents put their children in public school, authorities have some rights over the pupils. It is true parents are also taxpayers, and they do have a saying in how the money is spent. However, public education also means that certain private rights need to be forfeited because it’s a collective good, just like students and pupils are compelled to attend classes and show up on time, there is little additional infringement if they are also required to wear standardized clothes.
It is important to do away with the individual rights’ objection, as it is the main one: Individuals do live in society, which implies losing some rights in order to benefit from those offered by the community. Just as taxes are an infringement on the right to earn high income, taxes are, at the end of the day, the price to pay to remain in a civilized society. School regulation requires students to be on time for courses and not disrupt them needlessly, that’s another infringement on individual rights, and yet libertarians remain distinct from anarchists. Point is, mandatory uniforms are certainly no significant threat to fundamental rights, and they should be compared in magnitude to the little infringements that we all bear without particular sense of annoyance.
Now, let’s turn to the effects on the pupils themselves. Uniforms would avoid the everyday frictions on clothing, and the social symbol they carry. It does not prevent the wealthy to gloat about their latest holidays or the brand new gizmo their parents bought them, it’s damage control. Also, it avoids issues arising about specific dresses (fundamentalist and… non-fundamentalist). It might be a surprise to those who do not keep in touch with school universe, but the main issue that sparks trouble is not the latest PS3 or Mobile phone, it’s clothing. (I wish there was some survey about it, so let’s take it at face value). Also, how much pride would one feel when, decades after, the would go back to their old school, wearing the school’s tie? Is it that harmful for young minds to feel they are part of a community?
Boarding school is a bit more delicate. My stand is that the Education department should provide serious funding and infrastructure for boarding schools, but they remain optional, or as a crack policy to battle poor academic results among working classes. The idea is to provide young pupils with adequate structures and through demanding and closely monitored curricula, catch up with their well-off fellow classmates. It also provides opportunities for outstanding pupils from rural areas to have the opportunities to study in cities without going through housing difficulties. This is already the case with high and prep-schools in Morocco, and it helps to extend the policy to secondary schools as well, and even some pilot classes for primary schools pupils aged 9 and above.