OPINION: School boy’s hairstyle – racist or instilling discipline?

30 July 2017 - 17:06 By Ellapen Rapiti*
Classroom. File photo.
School desks Classroom. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

The decision by Wynberg Boys’ school to insist that one of its learners conform to the school’s regulations when it comes to hairstyle has sparked off a huge emotional debate on social media whether it is racism or discipline.

The question that we should be asking is: would permitting the “stepping" style hair-do veer the school towards allowing children to indulge in fashion when it comes to school dress codes? If the school does allow their pupils to indulge in fashion in its school attire‚ it could open up the flood gates to other styles like Mohawk and I suppose a host of other styles. This could eventually lead to changing the entire attire.

If the aim of uniformity is to guard against subtle but damaging fashion competition and to institute discipline‚ then there might be merit in stipulating what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to school dress code.

If all other black and coloured children and their parents are happy with the school’s rules then it is going to be difficult to make an exception for one child.

Mr Najaar‚ the principal of Spine Rd High‚ once mentioned to me once that his school does not allow females to wear pants to school. His reason was that they tend to misbehave like Tom boys. He based his view on evidence and research. I am not an expert in the field so I respected his views without labelling it as sexist.

If abiding by the generally accepted dress code is aimed at instituting discipline from a young age‚ can it be a bad idea‚ I wonder?

Instilling discipline is vital for an individual's development and character building.

I recall listening to an American psychology professor talking about a vitamin that our children are not getting‚ which is the cause of so much ill-discipline amongst our children and youth.

He called it vitamin N for "No".

He cited the example of how easy children get what they want because they lack discipline.

If they don't get the latest phone‚ they would kick up a tantrum and break the phone. The guilty parents feel that they have done something seriously wrong so they go out and buy the latest phone and in this way‚ the child wins all the time.

Such a child becomes ill disciplined as an adult because he/she has always been getting it his/her way.

We don't have to look too far: just look our matric balls.

Parents on the Cape flats can spend between R10‚000 to R15‚000 for matric balls‚ which have absolutely nothing to do with education but the same parents will not pay school fees or have money for text books.

About 25 years ago a poor single mom brought her child to me asking me to speak to him because he demanded a pair of "pepe" jeans to wear to his matric exams because everyone else was going to wear it. He did not want to feel out amongst his peers.

His mother worked in the leather industry and earned a meagre R300 a week under difficult conditions so she could not afford to buy such an expensive pair of jeans but the child was adamant that he must have it.

I tried my best to instil into the young man’s mind the principle that clothes should not determine who you are and that his poor mother was struggling to keep the family alive because his dad disappeared from the scene. I am not sure whether the child took my advice but that consultation remains very vivid in my mind till today.

I personally have never supported the trend of expensive matric balls and I am pleased that both my children agreed with me that it is a waste. I know many others would disagree with me‚ especially the super-rich father in Gauteng who spent R50‚000 for his daughter's matric dress and said he was very happy to spend it on his queen.

We must stop making children feel like victims when we are trying to instil discipline into them; a failure to instil discipline from an early age will cost us dearly and make brutes of our children when they become adults. Dress code is part of discipline. Pilots and police have to be in uniform as a sign that they are in charge.

Finally‚ school rules should be written by governing bodies made up of parents from all races to ensure that the rules are just and equitable.

* Dr Rapiti is a family physician

- TimesLIVE