Our constitution – correctly regarded as one of the most progressive in the world – puts great store on the human rights of a person.
Sometimes, though, the ethos of “it’s my human right” can be pushed too far, as happened, we believe, in the past week in the pupils’ protest over “skinny” pants at the Pretoria West High School.
Reports indicate that a minority of the school’s pupils incited a boycott of classes to demand an end to a dress code which forbids tight trousers.
The protesters claimed the school uniform came from the apartheid era and was being forced upon them. But some other pupils admitted the pants “do not look good on us, they look like a parachute”. Politics or fashion, the protest was enough to gain traction in the media and attract the attention of the Gauteng department of education.
And it forced the school governing body to hold a vote on the issue. And there, we feel, is the nub of the issue: should a small group of legally underage people be able to force their beliefs on others, and on the actual system of education, by starting a protest action?
Old-fashioned as it may sound, a school is a place for learning and where the valuable traits of discipline and hard work are inculcated in a young person.
For a school to function, there have to be rules; fair rules to be sure, but rules nevertheless.
A school uniform is part of that disciplinary structure, not to mention being a great leveller between the poor and the well-off, as youngsters will not be stigmatised because they’re not clothed in the latest fashion.
If this sort of behaviour is condoned or others see it is successful in changing the status quo, we will see even more protest-driven damage to our already ailing school system.