“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
I look down at my workbench. I have a number of tools available to me, to make the sculpture happen. I pick up the chisel and the mallet. They are solid in my hands. Weighty. They hold authority. I want to shape this sculpture quickly, so I need to make confident strokes. I check the end of the chisel. The chisel I have picked up is blunt. I need a sharper tool. There is so much pressure to make miracles happen, that I feel the need to move fast, and shape things quickly. Do I even have time to think about my blunt tool? And then I wonder whether maybe the material in front of me isn’t more like clay, than like a solid lump of rock that I have to chisel. Perhaps my best bet is to move softly, gently. See what potential lies here. Not me, but us.
It is not really about the thing that you decide to use, as a symbol of how you want your relationship to be with your children and their families – what you want your setting to ‘feel’ like. It could be uniform, if that’s the route you want to take, although things closer to the heart of learning and relationships are perhaps a better choice. It is more, I think, about how you use the thing that you decide to use. No matter how frustrated you get at people’s tendency to be awkward, do you manage to stay kind? It is actually possible to use uniform differently, if that’s what your community says they want to do. You can make it something that people decide to do, together. Although uniform wouldn’t necessarily be my choice many people are emotionally wedded to the idea. And an ethos is not about what I want, it’s about what the learning community as a whole would like.
At preschool we have an optional uniform which is comfy, practical and cheap, because that is what our parents (who also help to manage the preschool) decided, in a democratic vote. Staff decided that they wanted to wear a uniform as well because it makes them identifiable, it helps them feel like a team, and because things can get awfully messy in the early years. Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about any uniform debate, is how people are so drawn to this as a cultural concept. There is something about a group identity that pulls people in. But anyway, uniform doesn’t have to be a fault line, in the debate about how authoritarian we should be. It doesn’t have to be school versus parents, or management versus everyone else. (Talk of no excuses makes my brain buzz with the contradictions.) You don’t have to impose expectations on people; to use them as a blunt tool. You can also do things gently, shaping your ethos along the way. When people are happy with what you do, then they will mostly do what you ask them to. The angel is already in the marble. Your job is to set her free.