Monday, August 01, 2005

Control of Hair in Schools to Be Lifted

The Taiwan News reports that students will be permitted to have their own hairstyles, leading to fears that a loss of control will result.

The minister not only personally granted a meeting with student representatives but also announced the following day that all public schools would have to abolish mandatory hairstyle restrictions beginning in September.

While students were pleased by the ministry's stance, teachers and parents expressed concern that students would spend too much time on their hair.

Teachers were also worried that once rules on hairstyles were eased, students would then push to allow tattoos and skin piercing, leading to a breakdown in school discipline.
This article is interesting on so many levels it is hard to even touch on them all.

Hair, of course, has long been seen as a locus of power and individuality. Samson's power was hidden in his hair, and the reason the military shaves your head is to emphasize that you have given up your power and individuality in submission to the discipline of others.

During the martial law period in Taiwan, hair length for males was controlled and long hair could get you in trouble if you walked down the street sporting it. Naturally, control of hair length in the schools was an important component of shaping the students, and disciplining them to accept authoritarian control.

Another interesting aspect of this article is how it avers that the rules were changed in 1987 but nobody paid the slightest attention to that. I have often tried to understand those enthusiastic articles from the 1980s, culminating in Robert Wade's Governing the Market, that explained Taiwan's growth in terms of government guidance and control. The appearance of the government induced growth theory appeared at an interesting juncture, when the ruling KMT was attempting to use economic growth as a source of political legitimacy, and as in the West the Reagan and Thatcher administrations were claiming that government was hopeless and privatization was the key. In a country where the government announces rules and no one listens, what does it mean to say that the government guided economic growth?

Yet another fascinating attitude is the Taiwanese attiude toward control. The West, and Americans especially, made an important stride when we decided that the opposite of control is freedom. But in Taiwan the opposite of control is anarchy. There is no template for understanding social decisionmaking where control declines and freedom expands like two balloons pushing each other around; rather, there are only two states, controlled and uncontrolled. Hence any relaxation of control can only result in anarchy, as here, where differing hair lengths are perceived as leading to a loss of discipline. Note again the two-mode framework for understanding human behavior, one either has discipline or one does not -- it is not a scalar quantity. The result is not a society where everyone has autonomy, but rather, a society where everyone is either directly in submission to discipline or in rebellion against it, and in either mode -- still controlled by discipline.

I certainly hope that students can display a little individuality, and that parents and teachers can learn to experience control and autonomy as scalar quantities rather than states that one flicks back and forth between. Taiwanese may not have many templates with which they can learn to explore and express their own autonomy, and it is good to see one being constructed, however apparently trivial it may seem.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a concept! Imagine, a teenager having something else to be concerned with other than his schoolwork! I too sincerely hope that this will lead to increased self-esteem among our students. I know I'm gonna hi-five every crazy hairstyle I see.