A close shave with progress

Hair-trodden children of the public school world unite! There is movement from the Ministry of Jurassic Education, showing signs of life and change. So there is a thought process going on within its ancient walls of perpetual hibernation, after all. And the latest is that someone has questioned the antiquated rule of regulation haircuts for young schoolchildren and whether it's absolutely necessary for the intellectual development of a child. There are complaints that it is against our constitutional rights.

During my lifetime I've grown up with, and continue to see enforced, these most unbecoming hairstyles for boys and girls.

I think even visitors to our country have noticed them: the 5mm crew cut for boys and the bob-that-skims-the-earlobes for girls. Very severe, very antisocial, very unflattering, very militarian indeed.

It is said that these hairstyles were introduced during World War II when the Japanese occupation disrupted the normal life of the Thais and children became infested with lice. The authorities then adopted the hairstyle of the Japanese soldiers in an attempt to eliminate the lice, and it has remained the regulation haircut for schoolboys ever since.

If my history is correct, then World War II started more than 70 years ago. Coincidentally, the Ministry of Education was established in 1941, the same year as the beginning of the Japanese occupation of Thailand, which lasted until 1945.

I'm sure the Japanese would be quite amused to know that they did leave a lasting legacy for us, whether they knew it or not.

Admittedly this rule is enforced strictly only in government schools, while private schools usually set their own rules. My daughter's school allows girls to have long hair if it's plaited, and boys can have longer hair on the sides (unless they're undergoing the requisite military training, of course).

I was in a private school until senior high when I attended Triam Udom Suksa School when I had to submit myself to the earlobe bob cut. When you're 16, your hair is as precious to you as Rapunzel or Samson. Vanity is a normal part of the teenage psyche, and we all wondered what this severe hairstyle had to do with what was going on inside our heads. We were a class of nerds already, and we didn't need nerdy hair to ram home the point. We looked pathetic enough in a school uniform, and we looked even worse in civilian clothes. Have you ever tried to look pretty in a party dress when your hair is cut in that harsh bob?

We couldn't even have cute pixie crops. Oh no, that would have given us too much of a personality.

The hair and the uniform were not just an equaliser, but also a way to suppress individual identity, and creating an army of robots that looked and thought alike, and by that I mean we thought whatever the school curriculum felt we should think. Marks were awarded on the basis of our ability to memorise the standard text. We were robots that looked alike and talked alike, spewing out the same lines of poetry or scientific plant names. We all knew which moons orbited Jupiter, we could quote verbatim entire passages from the obscure Samakkhibhet Kham Chan, we knew all the French irregular verbs.

But if you asked us a question that required an opinion, we would have given you a blank stare.

But let's get back to the hair. I remember wearing a hair clip to school one day. It was a tiny blue apple attached to a black hairpin. Don't ask me why the apple was blue. I didn't have an opinion then, remember? The blue apple was against school regulations which didn't allow anything other than black pins. The Thai language teacher confiscated my little blue apples, and I never got them back. So much for stepping out of line and trying to exert my individuality.

And if you think short hair has prevented the outbreak of lice, you'd better think again. In Prathom 4, my friend warned me, "Don't sit too close to me. I have lice. I don't want you to catch them."

That was my only close shave (excuse the pun) with lice. But even today you hear about outbreaks of lice every now and then. Has the crew cut or earlobe bob helped to curb the problem in any way? I hardly think so. Better training in personal hygiene might help more than a crew cut, I would suggest.

When are the authorities going to accept that they should concentrate on what goes on inside the head, not on top of it? When are they going to start teaching young kids to think rationally rather than just regurgitate information like a parrot? Garbage in, garbage out, essentially.

But the dinosaurs are stirring. There is a glimmer of hope, a sign of a kindling fire in the cloistered hallways of the esteemed ministry. Let's hope they don't get snuffed out first.

Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the Features Editor of the Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Usnisa Sukhsvasti
Position: Features Editor