Much ado about hairdos and freedom of choice
What is the point of allowing schoolchildren to wear their hair as they choose if the system itself still doesn't provide a decent education?
Are we giving hair more credit than it deserves? One school of thought defends the education minister's intention to "liberate" students by scrapping a rule on crewcuts for boys, whereas the other camp insists that students have been made to live within some kind of "box" for good reason. Both sides have produced sound arguments, but the bottom line is this: does hair really matter that much?
The Education Ministry may have come up with a good concept about self-expression, but it should begin with the much more important factor - the curriculum. It doesn't matter if students are allowed to sport seven-inch punk spikes or made to shave their heads every week as long as the approach of educators doesn't change. As far as children and education are concerned, "liberation" should begin with "how" they learn, not the way they dress for school.
A hairdo reflects self-expression, yes, but then again, it is also about youngsters' rebellious nature. Order them to wear their hair long and some will certainly go for a crewcut. Kids mock or evade rules not because the rules are bad, but simply because they are there. To the anti-rules camp, be careful what you stand for. The liberty to do anything with one's hair is the same as the liberty to wear a skirt so short that it ends nearly where it starts. If you support long hair, make sure you are prepared to support something more outrageous, like sex in school restrooms, or smoking, or liquor at parties for 13-year-olds.
Students will keep pushing the limits whatever the rules. We have seen it all - tight outfits, loose outfits, low waists, high waists. School rules are there to be violated by "independent" minds. And even the most independent of minds will find it difficult to live without rules. A debate in America involves a boy with spiked hair that his school deemed too extreme. His friends signed a petition to support him, but he was barred from class. Even in a "free" country, freedom has its boundaries.
To be sure, Thailand's school rules - such as crewcuts for boys - might need a rethink. But the rethink must come from a sincere attitude toward change in the adults who are responsible for education. It must come from a heartfelt admission that the "box" in which kids have had to stay has to be dismantled, and that hair should probably be the least of the ministry's concerns.
We have seen little indication from our politicians that they are ready to revolutionise the education system. The hair issue is symbolic at best and irrelevant at worst. It will be worth nothing if the ministry frees up the dress code while keeping children's minds locked because of a poor curriculum. And it's laughable if a minister who wants to be a champion of student freedom is removed in the next Cabinet reshuffle, as is routine the Education Ministry.
To some, a hairstyle reflects who you are. To others it's just a showcase. Some see the crewcut as a symbol of a draconian society, while others see it as a reminder to youngsters that there are times when they have to live within rules. To some, any kind of "uniform" is bad, because it takes away a degree of liberty. To others, shouldn't soldiers wear uniforms?
Shouldn't protesters be allowed to wear any colour they want? If you are pro-choice, you must be ready to go all the way. Being "liberal" is easier said than done, and one is more likely to end up being dubbed a hypocrite. Being "selectively liberal" won't do anybody any good. The education minister has won some fans thanks to his "brave" hair policy, but if he stops at hairstyle and does nothing to liberate students' brains, what is his point really? In other words, does his hair policy reflect who he is, or is it just a showcase for publicity?