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No uniform solution to crack problem

Word is, South Gwinnett High School has a crack problem.

No, I'm not talking about narcotics but about teen fashion - specifically, about jeans that are either gravity-defyingly baggy or exaggeratedly low cut, either way exposing a significant portion of the wearer's backside.

When I was in high school, we had a word for kids who dressed like that. We called them "poor." If classmates looked like they were wearing oversized hand-me-downs or last year's outgrown jeans, it was usually because they were.

Nowadays, such excess has become a fashion statement. And while the logic behind this current trend may be incomprehensible to adults - how can such pants possibly be comfortable? - the real question remains, what are we going to do about it?

By "we," of course, I mean adults, those of us who have moved beyond the equally ridiculous fads of our own youth - anybody else remember elephant-leg bell-bottoms? - to approach (one hopes) something resembling good taste and a sense of propriety.

The solution being proposed by South Gwinnett's administration, and by school systems across the country, is to require students to wear uniforms. If we can't control how they dress, by golly, let's just make 'em all dress alike.

Clearly, school uniforms are the easy answer, in the sense that they ostensibly solve the problem while requiring a minimum of attention and judgment on the part of parents, teachers, and administrators. But are they the right answer?

I understand the arguments in favor of uniforms. Kids will take more pride in their appearance. There'll be fewer distractions in the halls. Socio-economic distinctions will become less visible. And without all that free advertising, Abercrombie and Fitch will have to increase its marketing budget.

Even so, I have two major objections. The first is that uniforms reinforce one of high school's most negative roles: fostering conformity while discouraging individualism. That's why kids dress in these silly styles to begin with - because they want to look like their friends. Should we really embrace, as a solution, the very group-think mentality that creates the problem?

My second objection is that school uniforms provide yet another example of the American penchant for punishing the innocent majority - and make no mistake, most kids will regard uniforms as punishment - for the behavior of a guilty few. Consider gun-control legislation and airport security, for example. The fact is, most students don't dress offensively, and it's fundamentally unfair to penalize them because others do.

Ultimately, the answer to the "crack problem" is simple, which is not to say easy: Devise a fair and reasonable dress code, with input from parents and students and then enforce it strictly.

Ah, enforcement. There lies the rub. Then again, that's when school principals earn their six-figure salaries: when they really have to crack down.

E-mail Rob Jenkins at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.