THE Mercury of 30 January, 2006, carried the following item from AAP:

The Western Australian government will ban jeans and other denim clothing from all state schools from next year.
State Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich says denim is associated with “having a good time” and has no place in primary or secondary schools. The ban will be enforced by excluding students who defy it from social activities and excursions. The ban was suggested by former education minister and now premier, Alan Carpenter, in September 2004.
“When students are at school I want them to be dressed appropriately, ready to concentrate on the day’s work ahead, not be preoccupied with the latest fashion accessory,” Ms Ravlich said yesterday.

Have you ever heard or read such unmitigated drivel?  It makes the presentation of the Tasmanian Education Department’s “Essential Learnings” initiative look like the essence of rational, wise and understated policy development. God help the children of Western Australia while Education Ministers like Ms. Ravlich are strutting their stuff.

Ms. Ravlich informs us that denim is associated with “having a good time.” Who says? I wear denim trousers in the garden and under a neighbouring shearing shed gathering bags of sheep poo. Gardening may indeed often involve having a good time but not always and it is certainly not having a good time when one is bumping one’s hairless skull against a shearing shed floor while — doubled over, with a bad back, sweating and swearing — filling up old “super” bags with sheep dung, holding the bag open with one hand while wielding a heavy shovel with the other.

Besides, what is wrong with having a good time? Aren’t students in primary and secondary schools supposed to enjoy their studies? Millions of Australians are wearing denim every day of the week in schools and in public and private sector work places throughout the country. People wear denim in restaurants and doctors’ surgeries and universities and factories and offices and shops and wineries and just about everywhere else. And overwhelmingly they are people who look neat, clean, tidy and proud. There is fashion denim, work denim, rough denim, elegant denim. It is in pants long and short, skirts long and short, shirts, caps, bags and sundry other items. Denim pervades our society and if you don’t like it don’t buy it and don’t make neo-fascist school rules about it.

Perhaps it is in the jeans

It will be noted that Ms. Ravlich’s proposed ban was apparently canvassed initially by her predecessor as education minister and now premier, Alan Carpenter. There must be something in the water over in the West that causes politicians to come out with such nonsense. Or perhaps it is in the genes. Or the jeans.

And what is this business of requiring school children in WA to be “dressed appropriately” and “not preoccupied with the latest fashion accessory.” I would have thought that to be dressed appropriately for school is to be dressed in clothes that are clean and tidy. To go beyond some such very broad guideline could in some circumstances be intrusive and insensitive having regard to family circumstances which will vary across a broad spectrum of affluence or otherwise, marital circumstances of parents, religion and other such considerations. Besides, I would remind Ms. Ravlich that, on the best advice available to me, denim is one the least expensive and most serviceable fabrics on the market. But then if you’re on a Western Australian ministerial salary you probably don’t reflect on such a pedestrian matter as what something might cost.

The sting in the tail of course is that “… the ban will be enforced by excluding students who defy it from social activities and excursions.” George Orwell and others wrote books warning us against this sort of stuff. Perhaps it never occurred to Ms. Ravlich that some children, whether highly intelligent or just ordinary students, may only have the denim option because of family circumstances and they are thus wearing hand-me-downs or the only item in the right size that was the cheapest price in the OpShop.

Obviously, if a child arrives at school with a large stain in his pants and reeking of faeces then intervention is clearly desirable. Even a trainee teacher would quickly — or reasonably quickly — conclude that the poor little turkey had coughed in his rompers and that this required immediate intervention. Beyond that and other exceptional circumstances school dress, in the absence of obligatory uniforms, should be left to the parents and children and guided — as far as the school is concerned — by considerations of cleanliness and tidiness.

Given the extent to which Australian public education authorities have been vacating some traditional roles in droves — such as actively encouraging and assisting in extracurricular activities like sport, music etc. — I am surprised they have become so po-faced about denim clothing. Perhaps it reflects a renewed interest in certain political movements that enjoyed a brief decade or so of prominence prior to being extinguished in the first half of the 1940s.

I am truly staggered by this nonsense. It appals me. And it frightens me. All we need is a new home-bred line of bloodless functionaries devoted to policing the clothes worn by school children.