Haute couture at Reed High

Someday, when my brilliant daughter writes her memoir, she’ll probably sum up her high school years with my oft-repeated remark: “You’re wearing that to school?”

She doesn’t tend to answer. Just looks down at her faded D.A.R.E. T-shirt, 58 necklaces (at last count) barely visible under an untamed mop of dreadlocks, IGT technician blouse (embroidered “Heidi”), hand-crafted skirt (made from a piece of canvas left in my car by an auto mechanic) and tennis shoes held together with, yes, duct tape.

You can’t buy clothes like that at the mall.

My 16-year-old goes to Reed High School, where a stiffer, harsher dress code is all the outrage.

Despite the building of new high schools to take some of the load off, the school is still above its capacity by a couple hundred students. Still the biggest high school in the kingdom.

Reed High hasn’t had huge issues with dress codes before. In the past, it seemed administrators were worried about more subtly inane things like drugs, alcohol, learning disabilities and attendance.

They’ve obviously got a grip on all of the above. Or they wouldn’t be wasting time making sure kids aren’t showing an inch of tummy skin.

To be fair, it’s not the trouble-makers who seem to be getting suspended, my daughter says. It’s the nice kids who don’t cut classes, who stay up late at night doing homework instead of loitering in the park.

Weird. I guess when you’ve solved all those other epidemics like low test scores, teen pregnancy and kids dropping out of school, you can turn your attention to the finer details of the academic experience like baggy pants, bandannas and boobs—or the cleavage thereof.

Maybe we just don’t expect enough from our teens. Waking them up at 5:30 a.m. for a full day of school, followed by extracurriculars and the obligatory evening job, then a late night of homework and a weekend crammed with assignments and more work and more extracurriculars just isn’t enough anymore. It’s not enough for the media to pump them full of unrealistic expectations about how their bodies should look and what clothes they should wear, what music they should like, what kind of car they should drive. The little slackers must have too much time on their hands, or they wouldn’t be so worried about the meaninglessness of the rat race.

They need to really feel the pressure of 21st-century living. Heck, we ought to saddle them with a house payment and see how they deal with real stress.

Gosh, do you think we’re sending mixed signals to the kids? Yeah, those Britney Spears types make lots of money, honey, and we enjoy looking at their tummy skin enough to put them in magazines, newspapers and TV commercials. But if you dress like Queen Superstar, we’re kicking you out of school.

What do teens want? At Reed, it seems students simply want a say in the dress code. They want to work together with administrators on a compromise, something realistic that most would agree on.

Sounds dangerous. Students might end up feeling like they have a voice in the system that has so far controlled a huge chunk of their lives.

Students might even learn more. Getting suspended isn’t academically useful. Sitting home, watching reruns on the Comedy Channel won’t do much to bump up Reed’s test scores. We must not leave even a scantily clad child behind.

In Michael Moore’s movie, Bowling for Columbine, Moore interviewed Marilyn Manson, asking the rocker what he might have said, given the chance, to the teen shooters at the upscale suburban high school. Manson said he wouldn’t say anything.

“I would listen to them,” he said. “And apparently that’s something nobody did.”