Since I began blogging, the topics I've chosen to cover have a tendency to follow my somewhat liberal principles. It's still to do with hair, (this being the very nature of my blog), but I like to explore ideas like avant garde style and grassroots inspiration and if topical issues do arise, suffice to say I'm not afraid to show opinions and, (perhaps on occasion), bias. With that in mind, my blog turns two years old today, and although I do have a couple of pieces of research on the back burner, I have an issue to explore that has been niggling for a while.

A particular kind of story comes to my attention on average about once per month, and the following three incidences are from March alone. At West County High School, Missouri, high school junior Savannah Keesee was suspended from school because she had dyed her hair 'bright orange', despite the fact that the colour she chose was named 'auburn'. In Huddersfield, 13-year-old King James's School pupil Alana Harrison was put into isolation for dyeing her hair an 'unnatural' colour (also red). And at Henry Whipple Primary School in Nottingham, more than 20 primary school children were sent home because they had put in red hairspray for Comic Relief.

Alana Harrisson was placed in isolation for this 'unnatural' colour.

This isn't about red hair; that's simply down to coincidence. It's about the judgement passed by schools and their teachers on the choice to have hair colour at all. Of course, the reasons given by teachers and headteachers are all based on a similar mantra: "rules are rules". But why are these rules in place? What possible effect can hair colour really have on a child's ability to learn? When does the need for authority match or even surpass the need for teaching?

King James's head teacher Robert Lamb said that the rule on hair colour - "unnatural colours are not allowed" - is in place to ensure that nothing "detracts children from what they are there for, which is to acheive their potential". In my mind this raises the question of how much a hair colour even can detract from somebody achieveing their potential. I've had every hair colour you can imagine and I don't think it has ever held me back. And in fact, on the occasions that my hair colour was challenged, I felt both victimised and held back from expressing myself. My potential as a person includes the potential to take pride in my image and my individuality.


Pupils at Henry Whipple Primary School were sent home
after spraying their hair red for Comic Relief.

The above cases also come with more-or-less a similar defence from those in authority. Henry Whipple head teacher Cari Burgess said, "Since I became head teacher we have not allowed children to come in coloured hairspray", with Lamb echoing, "our rules on this are very clear hand have not changed in the time I have been the [head teacher], which is over 12 years". And in the case of West County High, school superintendent Stacy Stevens said their rule had been "in place for decades". What does this mean? It means that decades of change in the way we look at personal image are going unrecognised by archaic rulebooks.

All well and good if that's the intention of the school system - but when the current government came into power back in 2010, a Schools White Paper was published entitled The Importance of Teaching. In it, then Education Secretary Michael Gove worte a foreword saying, "it is only through reforming education that we can allow every child the chance to take their full and equal share in citizenship, shaping their own destiny, and becoming masters of their own fate ...[education] allows us to become authors of our own life stories".


Savannah Keesee was told by teachers that her
"orange" hair was unacceptable.

Surely the style or colour of our hair, like piercings or tattoos, should be just as much a part of our life stories as the things we know or the job we do. Yes, there are many employers who see things differently, but school is not employment. Of course it can teach us the skills, knowledge and responsibilities we will utilise in the workplace, but it plays a compulsory and therefore vital part in our personal development, and regulating something like hair colour is ultimately going to do more harm than good. Telling a classful of primary school children that spraying their hair red for charity is not allowed is bound to have some deeper impact on what those children see as right and wrong.

The public agrees. In polls posted on both of the UK news stories, readers came out decidedly against the schools' decisions. The Metro asked of the Henry Whipple case, "was the school right to send the children home?" A resounding 86% said "no", believing that the children were doing no harm. The Mirror asked "should dyed red hair be allowed in schools?", and two thirds agreed it should.

The problem with looking to the DfE for a perspective on whether this should be allowed in schools is that it's largely irrelevant. One of the priorities of the Tory/Lib Dem cabinet is to grant schools with more 'autonomy', which I think is simply passing the buck. Sure, schools are more able to react organiclly to their students and communities, but on the flip side it's easier for them to push at the boundaries of acceptable policies without government intervention. It also means that they're able to fine tune school cultures to please PTA members and governers. Put simply, if you're operating in a very conservative community whose main priorities are to cultivate the rich side of the rich-poor divide, the simplest way to ensure longevity of that situation is to instill your values in the next generation through the school system. (I told you this would be opinionated).

But times are changing, and the tension felt between progressive liberals and conservatives is weakening. Education is investing more than ever in vocational studies that prepare people for creative industries. Alternative and even avant garde style is on the rise from the streets right up to mainstream entertainment. We are becoming more diverse, more colourful and more open-minded. If the education system continues to stifle this evolving culture, all it will serve to do is cause oppression and, in turn, rebellion. If the classroom were instead a safe place to explore your sense of identity without fear of being chastised or ridiculed, this would help to strengthen character, give more confidence and promote tolerance and free thinking. None of these are bad things; indeed, many are vital for the workplace, especially in entrepreneurship.

So yes, my blog is about hair. But the reason I do hair is that it allows people to make choices about how they want to represent themselves. If you are asked to describe somebody who isn't in the room, chances are you start with their hair. It has become something we think about in a very personal way; and so to enforce rules on the way our hair looks is an encroachment on our personal choice.

I will always speak out against that.




SOURCES:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/schoolgirl-banned-classroom-because-dyed-5273226

http://metro.co.uk/2015/03/14/school-suspends-primary-children-for-having-red-hair-for-comic-relief-own-clothes-day-5103541/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/12/teen-banned-dye_n_6859118.html

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175429/CM-7980.pdf