In local Nashville politics, there’s a controversy over the attempt of the Metro school board to mandate standard school attire for children in all Metro Public Schools. There are a number of elements to the battle that are interesting—most notably the articulate public statements made by several area students and the vocal reaction of the local blogosphere. Indeed, those interested can find a wonderful articulation/summary of the arguments in the midst of an original statement by NashvilleIsTalking’s Brittney Gilbert (I strongly encourage you to read this if you have any interest in pubic education, school attire, or local controversies).
There’s been enough said about the topic itself that I have little to add. However, there’s a lesson to be drawn from the arguments in general that I think should give us all pause. It’s a lesson we’ve all learned before, a mistake we’ve promised not to make again: the pitfalls of common sense. In short: when one looks at the arguments involved in this case, a great number of people—especially those supporting standard school attire (think school uniforms)—have taken a position based on common sense rather than on research. In doing so, they ultimately support a position that may have little to do with their ultimate goals.
On this very issue, I can serve as an example. When my son, who is now a Junior in the Metro Schools, was a student in the fourth grade, there was some discussion of implementing uniforms at his individual school. While my son predictably protested, I liked the idea on the grounds that: (A) it would encourage students to behave and tone down; (B) it would level class distinctions in clothing; (C) it would add a sense of seriousness to educational proceedings. Why these arguments came so readily to me, I don’t know. I do know that I simply asserted them and did very little research to see if I was right. Turns out, as Brittney and local blogger/columnist/Vandy Professor Bruce Barry have shown, the case isn’t clear at all. A little research goes a long way.
The lessons we draw from this shouldn’t end at the local level of this controversy in this city. Rather, this case can serve as a reminder to all of us that while common sense is often a valuable guide to our decisions, reliance on it alone encourages us to overlook additional options and dead-ends. In short, we err when we, as individuals, make participation too easy. If we vote, or answer surveys, or take public action, without the least reflection on common sense, we’re simply asking others to make our decisions for us.