A uniformed hierarchy

13 01 2019

It was easy to miss or to dismiss: a private school decided to let its students wear whatever they wanted, one day a week, for six weeks or so. By this, they meant that, on the day, students were not required to wear a uniform.

Uniforming them early

It is common to see Thais in uniform. Royals have hundreds of them, even for pets.

This reflects a society that is rigidly hierarchical and that has been militarized. School students are regimented and uniformed at every level of education from kindergarten to university.

The school said the one-day exercise was so students could “wear casual clothes to express their individuality and creativity…”. Such notions are anathema to Thailand’s ruling elite and especially to military types.

Presumably they are also somewhat surprising for average Thais who have internalized militarized notions that uniforms make for an orderly society.

Training “good” royalist lads at Vajiravudh College

Roger Crutchley usually writes a Bangkok Post column that humorous reflection on an older Thailand. This week, however, he reflects on the uniform “revolution.” He observes:

Reports that Bangkok Christian College is allowing students to wear casual clothes once a week might seem a trivial tale, but it could cause a few ructions in Thailand. This is a country where even university students wear uniforms and any thoughts about breaking out from this conformity are frowned upon. After all, it might spark “self-expression” which will send shudders down the spine of the education establishment. The next thing they know, students even might start asking meaningful questions.

Orderly and uniformed

Morally unacceptable but still a uniform

The policing of school uniforms in Thailand has been more rigorous than teaching the basic subjects. Regimenting students – uniform, hair cuts, parroting fascist slogans and inculcating hierarchical values and subservience – is, for many in the ruling class, absolutely critical for the maintenance of their privilege. It is as if policing uniforms is necessary for maintaining a moral, upright and ordered nation.

Unacceptable uniforming causes moral panic.

But even unacceptable uniforms seem superior to no uniform at all. No uniforms seems to mean the collapse of the world as the ruling class knows it.

Prachatai reports that following the first day of the Bangkok Christian College experiment, the Ministry of Education have sprung into action and want to “halt the experiment and stop other schools from copying it even though the rules say it is OK.”

No rules broken, except for the rule of hierarchy that all Thais are forced to inculcate and follow. To maintain hierarchy,

Maintaining hierarchy

The Office of the Private Education Commission (OPEC) has sent an official letter to Bangkok Christian College, a famous private school, asking it to review its initiative. Mr. Chalam Attatham, Secretary-General of OPEC, said that OPEC is worried about discipline, orderliness, the expense for parents, teachers’ responsibility, the Thai social context and social problems that might arise.

Chalerm wanted the school to restore order and maintain the hierarchy. He opined:

Bangkok Christian College must consult its board and report back to the Ministry of Education, because what students can wear in private schools still comes under the 2008 MOE Uniform Rules. We understand that the school’s executive team and teachers have consulted each other and want to do research on student uniforms for 6 weeks, but we want them to look deeper than that into what effects it will have during the experiment. After all, the MOE, if anything happens, has to reconsider this. If other private schools want to do anything, they should think carefully about the consequences of their actions. A school board has to be strong about this….

The junta’s Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin immediately jumped into the fray. After all, he knows what uniforms are about as he wears them and serves men wearing them. He reinforced the hierarchy, saying:

The reason we must have uniforms is because wearing uniforms is a matter of tradition and culture since the time of Rama V, who said that apart from setting discipline, having student uniforms narrows the gap between the rich and the poor.

Discipline, tradition, hierarchy, maintaining the social, political and economic power of the ruling class. Of course, the military knows how to deal with recalcitrant students and has, several times, violently intervened to maintain those values of the ruling class.

Students in 1976 (a Lombard photo)

The current military junta has maintained strict control of universities and has changed the curriculum in schools to maintain its “values.” This has involved “training” students with military discipline.

Controlling students

In fact, one of the junta’s tasks in “returning happiness” to the people has been to reinstate “orderliness.” Erasing challenges to the monarchy – the institution at the top of the hierarchy – has been critical. The military knows that monarchists are more submissive to the hierarchy.


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