I told the kid about to take exam that if he could write an essay successfully justifying why he chose to wear his unusual hat and kept it on indoors, I would give him five extra credit points. It was a black, bumpy, skull-grabbing thing that appeared to have been extruded out the backside of some angry fowl.
He did not write the essay.
I told one student that I wanted to ask him a question but that I couldn’t look directly at him because his vivid florescent green sweater hurt my eyes. The sweater had a zipper in the front, which was open to reveal a wrinkled “message” t-shirt (which I couldn’t read). But aren’t all t-shirts message shirts today?
This is relevant because as another student was handing in his exam, I told him, “I hope you studied, else your t-shirt is going to be accurate.” It read, “Colege. The Best Seven Yeers of My Life [sic].” He chuckled, but did not admit to studying.
Just in case you thought I had any compassion, I can tell you that I asked another student how long did it take him to get just the right angle on his baseball cap? It was neither front-to-back nor back-to-front, nor, even, side-to-side. If I had to guess, I would say the bill was rotated about seventy-two degrees to the right of his nose. He, too, just chuckled.
I asked a similar question to another young man whose hair was gathered in the center of his head, spiked up Mohawk style and glued there with copious amounts of grease. I told him that I worried he would not have time enough each day to fit in studying and sculpting.
At the beginning of the semester, a veteran professor told me to pay attention to the students’ dress. She said that in the first week, all the females would be primped, painted, and pretty, and that the males would be wearing “their best t-shirts.” But by Thanksgiving, even the females would come class directly from bed, clad in either pajamas concealed by coats or the same sweatsuit. The males would be wearing whatever t-shirt was at hand.
This professor was wrong only in the timing: it is not quite Thanksgiving, but the standard of dress could hardly sink lower. It is kept to an artificial high only because of the weather, which is turning chilly, thus forcing the students to at least wear pants.
Is it the students’ fault that they dress so badly? Or have they learned their bad habits from their elders? Kerry Soper says that it’s because of professors’ that students have no sense of fashion. Soper has compiled a guide to faculty fashion that is required by all academically interested readers. He envisions icons which students could use to best describe each sub-genre of professorial dress.
The Espresso Cup. The student here is saying, “I can see that you have a coherent style going on there: an array of black and gray clothing that has a vague, critical-theory hipness to it. And good job on finding the right kind of severe glasses and retro haircut to fit the look. Personally, I find this aesthetic dull and pretentious, but it is fun to see you strike self-conscious poses at the whiteboard, like some kind of morose poet in a Sears catalog for existentialists.”
The Cassava Root. The student is acknowledging that “you do, indeed, seem to be a well-traveled, open-minded, and culturally sensitive person, with all of that colorful clothing you wear from various ethnic traditions. Your pale skin color and Midwestern accent place you somewhere north of Des Moines, but from the look of that dress, you may also be an honorary member of a West African tribe. Way to go.”
I am happy to report that some schools are attacking this problem directly; but so far, only in China. The Nanjing government issued Fifteen Etiquette Recommendations for Nanjing Primary and Secondary School Teachers, all seemingly directed at female instructors, of which some are:
Laziness is no excuse for wrinkled clothing; Clothing that reveals the breasts, shoulders, back, midriff, or thigh should not be worn; Outer clothing may not be too thin or translucent; Scoop necklines cannot be worn; Skirts may not be too short; Clothing that wraps the body too tight is inadvisable…They may not wear heavy makeup or oversize jewelry, may not have long fingernails, and may not dye their hair in strange colors.
As much as the male students in these classes will regret these edicts, they are probably for the best. The first stipulation alone will help guide students on the proper path, so that by the time they arrive at college they won’t look live they’ve fallen of the back of a truck and left to lie in a damp ditch for four days.