Fifteen years ago, when I began at my current school, the rules were clear. We had a dress code: Shorts and skirts could be no longer than your knuckles when arms hung by your side; tops had to have straps two fingers wide; no underwear could be showing. And, of course, NO HATS.
Much of this has gone by the wayside. The short shorts and skirt issues, plus ones around cleavage, were disproportionally enforced on girls with curves (the first graders had crazy short shorts, but their teachers wagged their fingers at my middle schoolers). There was also some body shaming going on. Our focus has shifted to clothing disrupting the learning process (profane or offensive, or really shiny) and being unable to participate in activities (dumb shoes).
Except for hats.
We have debated hats on a number of issues–many surrounding learning social norms and cultural currency. The fact is that if you don’t wear a hat no one cares, but if you do some people will hold it against you. Not everyone is convinced that it matters, and, as a result, enforcement is lax. A rule that is not enforced is not worth having. Still, I fight the battle.
But I am a person of data. Is there, I wondered, a reason for banning hats that is supported with data? When I thought about my own dislike of students wearing hats (against the rules) it came down to a gut reaction–students who wore hats (and were constantly flaunting the rule) always seemed to be in trouble in some other way.
Was this true or was it just an impression?
Method: After a year with a grade level, I broke students into several groups: Behavior problems, No behavior problems, and Recent behavior problems. Then, I tagged those who generally wore hats (against the rules) and those who did not. Here are the results:
Behavior Issues; Wears Hat: 20.6%
Behavior Issues: Does Not Wear Hat: 17.5%
Recent Behavior Issues; Recently Began Wearing a Hat: 7.9%
No Behavior Issues; Does Not Wear Hat: 3.2%
No Behavior Issues; Does Not Wear Hat: 50.%
Conclusion: Not all students with behavior issues wear hats, but nearly all kids who wear hats have behavior issues.
Why? I see the wearing of the hat as the canary in the coal mine. If a kid cannot come in and follow that basic rule, why would we expect them to follow other rules? Those with recent behavior issues are the most interesting because their wearing hats coincided with the change. Perhaps baseball is a poor influence?
Besides wearing hats being anachronistic, the argument I hear is that we have other battles to fight. My response is that if a student will not adhere to this basic rule, why do we think they will respond to others? It has been argued that, “if they get their work done, what does it matter?” By that measure, students who get work done don’t have to follow any rules. There are students who don’t even need to come to school and they’d be fine! It is extreme (I’ve been told), but how many rules are arbitrary when measured with production? Hats are arbitrary (beyond cultural norms), but they are also a useful nod to being part of a larger community.
Bonus: Paul Young is a music teacher who wrote a nice post on hats and music performance etiquette. Here, he measures a hat-ratio. Check out “The No Hat Rule” here.
And try your own experiment as I did. Were the results the same? I’m curious about classroom and schools that have no hat policy–do the results hold even when hat wearing breaks no rules?