School uniforms are back in the news. The school board of the nation’s largest school system, that of New York City, voted unanimously this March to recommend uniforms for elementary school students. President Clinton endorsed the notion, though Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York City Civil Liberties Union, predictably threatened to sue if any student is forced to wear a uniform or ostracized for not doing so. When asked about the changes that occurred in schools in Long Beach, California, after uniforms were instituted in 1994—suspensions fell dramatically and the number of fights was reduced by half—Siegel said, “In Long Beach, they did a lot of other things that were educationally sound in addition to dress.”

Perhaps some personal experience could shed light on this debate. In 1935, I was student at a Transylvanian lyceé. The town belonged to Rumania (having been Hungarian up to the Versailles Treaty) and the schools taught in Rumanian (although there were sections in Hungarian, too). We all benefited from the French lyceé system that I still regard as the best in the world. As far as the relationship between Rumanians and Hungarians, it was aloof, generously sprinkled with hostility . . . like everything else in Eastern Europe, then and now.

In 1935, a liberal politician, Petre Petrescu, was assassinated in Bucharest, most probably by nationalist students. In a matter of weeks, the government decreed that henceforward all students in the country must wear a uniform (by the way, a very becoming one); it was also decreed that between six and eight P.M. no student, in uniform or not, may walk the length of the Corso, the usual promenade of the population. Neither of these rules affected girls, so we boys were mad that we were not allowed to escort them during those precious hours.

The uniforms, however, we did not mind. First, they equalized our respective states of wealth or modest condition—although well-to-do boys had theirs prepared from better material. But none of us minded wearing a uniform, and the more mature ones understood the wisdom of the government decree. Moreover, it was exciting to avoid detection from six to eight, and the girls secretly appreciated that the boys were running a great risk—for them.

End of story. Such are my memories when I read about the silly cries of “human rights” or that “uniforms are not democratic” in our media. Their machine- minded authors know nothing of what boys and girls really think. They are still children of Dr. Spock.