Monday, September 8, 2008

A uniform from the get-go

You occasionally read about how some American parents are uncomfortable with the idea of sending their children to schools where uniforms are worn. It's seen as the first step to a sinister groupthink, where free expression is discouraged and the spark of individuality is snuffed out.

Boy would these parents explode if they visited Sonny's infant care centre. In our son's cohort (ooh, that sounds militaristic already), nobody is older than 18 months, and everyone sports the same green and white uniform. It's a romper - easily soiled, if truth be told - in a cotton fabric for easy washing. Parents bring their children in dressed in civvies but pack two sets of the uniform; centre staff bathe the babies before each kit change.

Now, why might babies need to wear uniforms? There are arguments, of course, for why schoolchildren should be dressed alike: It gives them a certain pride, cancels out differences in parental income since everyone looks the same and reinforces shared values (the uniforms typically sport the school crest, or motto, or the like). But none of these would seem to be very relevant to infants and toddlers, most of whom are still trying to learn the forbidden secret of crawling.

Rather than doing anything as conventional as asking the centre, we've figured out a couple of possible explanations. For one thing, the centre is linked to an adjacent nursery and kindergarten. These older children wear uniforms of the same colour combination, so there would simply be a pleasing consistency and continuity in tricking out even the 'pre-kindergartners' in essentially the same get-up. It's probably also a case of branding: Other parents might notice the striking uniform, replicated across the age spectrum, and make inquiries. In less time than it takes to darn a sock, they might become paying customers!

And what do we, Mum and Pa, think about the uniform requirement (since, as we've observed before, we chose the centre primarily because it is sited next to our condominium, and not because of its reputation, activity mix or the like?) Well, mainly, we're a little annoyed. Since all the children wear the same uniform, and everyone gets two baths and uniform changes a day, the clothes get mixed up. Our nice set of fresh rompers has already been confused with those of other children who've obviously been at the centre longer, so that we've ended up with crinkly, spotted clothes belonging to strangers.

Thank goodness the caregivers are going to be stencilling Sonny's name onto his romper soon (though maybe it's too late). Even though that sounds suspiciously close to wearing name tags - and so marks a further step down the road to militaristic Big Brotherism.