PERSPECTIVErnIt Takes a Villagernby Thomas FlemingrnOne of the most popular fads in public education is thernreintroduction of school uniforms. In some Americanrnburgs, the proposal is greeted with general approval. In many,rnhowever, school boards, administrators, parents, and pupils arernput through the usual paces of reform, going from unfoundedrnoptimism through a stage of unreasoning resistance, and finallyrnto irreconcilable parhsanship.rnThere is a problem, real or perceived, of declining attendancernand worsening conduct in the schools. The problem isrnsometimes, by no means always, associated with an influx ofrnthis or that minority, because of immigration or desegregationrnor urban decline. Someone—an administrator or board memberrn—comes back from a taxpayer-supported conference at DisneyrnWorld with the bright idea—school uniforms, with or withoutrna boot camp program for young black males in need of rolernmodels—and puts it before a board meeting. Communityrnleaders of all ethnicities rise up to endorse the concept, citingrnall the successes in Milwaukee or some other place no one hasrnbeen to, but before long the local chain newspaper outlet beginsrnreporting on boys who do not want to cut their dreadlocksrnor pony tails and girls who regard dressing like a slut as anrnexpression of their inner self (They are probably right.) Weakfacedrnparents come forward, whining on talk radio that childrenrntoday are different from earlier generations of students—rnthey cannot be ordered around. After all, they have rights. Orrnperhaps it is not school uniforms but an 11:00 P.M. curfew or anrnanti-drug program that authorizes routine locker searches or arnmandatory program of community service that sends suburbanrnteenagers, like so many Lady Bountifuls, into the benightedrninner cities where they expect to find servile colored aunfiesrnwho will hug them and call them “honey chile” for instructingrnthem in the mores of the middle class.rnAt some point, someone will inevitably hire a lawyer, and beforernlong the outside interests will send in their hired guns tornstand up for the rights of people they have never met before,rnlooking for the court case that will put them on the front pagernof the New York Times. You have seen it in your hometown,rnand if you have not, then you are wise enough not to read therngeneric chain newspaper that has bodysnatched the DesrnMoines Register or the Nashville Tennessean.rnAfter spending nearly 50 years as student and parent, teacher,rnheadmaster, consultant, and pundit, I have reached the notrnvery momentous conclusion about education in America thatrnschools, particularly public schools, are not places where learningrntakes place so much as arenas where children, their parents,rnand the agents of the state engage in a three-way battle of opposingrnrights. Here in Rockford, where we have had the usualrnposturing over school uniforms, the combat of rights is playedrnout under the nose of the emperor, the federal magistrate whornoversees the desegregation order he imposed on an unsegregatedrncity. In the nearly ten years this battle has been going on, Irnhave listened to charges of racism batted back and forth acrossrnthe Rock River that divides the east side from the west, I havernendured endless talk of equity in funding, I have heard aboutrnhow the poor kids in west-side schools had to use old textbooksrnand sit at desks their parents used (as if old textbooks were not,rnin most cases, superior to their replacements and old desks arnmore palpable connection with tradition than any living muse-rn10/CHRONICLESrnrnrn