Skirtroversy in Korea

Short-skirted students are a common sight in Japan, but a new thing for Korea. As the skirts get shorter, governments look for innovative ways to accommodate the trend. Rarely before has 'innovative' been the appropriate word. They are seeking to redress the situation without asking students to re-dress.

GANGWON-DO, South Korea -- As kids, one of the first lessons we learn is to take on a problem at its source. And, more often than not, if you can get to the root of what’s ailing you, then you can remedy it and all of its repercussions.

Or, so we were told.

In response to the ever shortening skirts worn to school by Korean middle and high school students, the local assembly in Gangwon province will put the cart before the horse. Or, in this case, the board before the students.

Rather than forcing female students to lengthen their uniform skirts, they have instead proposed spending around $700,000 installing boards in front of some 50,000 desks to block any hint of a view of student's legs in the classrooms.

To be sure, it’s a confusing remedy. Does this say more about student’s skirt length or the school board’s worry of the wondering eyes of district teachers?

To the governments credit, they are employing this unusual redress without asking students to re-dress. This all in the name of avoiding an infringement on the ever expanding freedoms that Koreans are enjoying for the first time since the country’s founding in 1948.

Over the decades, Korean citizens have been some of the most socially repressed people in the world--at times resembling Islam’s harsh Sharia law, with police once roaming the streets in Korean cities with scissors in hand ready to cut the hair of any man who exceeded the government imposed limit, or looking to cover any woman whose skirt crept too far above the kneecap.

Anyone that has lived or visited Korea over the years can attest to the change. Alas, we have science. One survey by an independent group claims that school girl’s skirts have risen 10-15cm (4-6 inches) in the last decade. And, as skirts rise, so do tensions along with them.

The Korean Federation of Teachers Association (KFTA) is not at all pleased with the move to customize 50,000 desks -- they see it as a waste of taxpayer money that could better be spent on better educational tools. Their remedy to the situation is to simply require students to wear longer skirts and be done with it.

“What we need is to promote longer skirt lengths by adopting stricter dress codes,” Kim Dong-seok, a spokesman for the KFTA, told the Korea Times. “The education office is now neglecting its duty to properly educate students.”

He also labeled the fashion statement as dangerous. “Shortened hemlines can make female students vulnerable to crimes, and most importantly it’s not the proper dress code for students from an educational point of view,” Kim said.

Which came first? The chicken or the leg?

No matter where you fall on this issue of how far the skirt falls, it is refreshing to see the government putting such thought and consideration into how students wish to express themselves. After all, the parents are the ones buying the uniforms.

The question of class dismissed.

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