This winter, if you've noticed your kid complaining a little more about the chilly temperature in school, don’t go hating on your superintendent. He or she is just joining the club.
According to a 2008 study conducted by the American Association of School Administrators, 62 percent of superintendents surveyed have already resorted to “altering thermostats” as a way to reduce costs during this economic downturn.
Now, some may regard this trend of turning down school heat a sad sign of the times. Me, I welcome it, as another step in the Great Sweater Comeback.
“Comeback?” you ask. “When did sweaters ever leave?” Well, as a high school teacher, I can assure you: sweaters have fallen out of favor among adolescents. And I mean way out of favor: not only do many teenagers claim they don’t own sweaters, a disturbing number don't even seem to know what sweaters are.
After an informal poll of the sweater-wearing habits of the students in my school, I was able to divide teenagers into the following categories:
(1) Students who deride sweaters as Nerd Uniforms.
(2) Students who don’t mind sweaters but prefer “hoodies” (“sweatshirt,” in teen lingo). Said one young man: “If I’m wearing something heavy, it better have a hood. It’s like sitting on a couch without a remote—it just feels awkward.”
(3) Students who claim they don’t own sweaters.
(4) Students who believe they do wear sweaters, when in fact, they’re wearing sweatshirts.
I don’t know what to say about the first two categories; I may not agree with them, but—hey, it’s a matter of taste. The third and fourth groups, though, baffle me. Students who don’t own a single sweater? Could it be possible? I work in a pretty affluent town: do you mean to tell me these kids’ grandmothers didn’t buy them sweaters at some point? (Actually, I’m guessing Grandmas are buying sweaters, but the kids—indignant they didn’t get an iPod, Guitar Hero game, or a Lexus—immediately banish them to the back of the closet.)
Even more bewildering to me is the sizable percentage of students who can’t distinguish a sweater from a sweatshirt. Is the truth that unknowable? Look, if what you’re wearing has pockets, a hood, and the words ‘G. Unit’ across the front, it’s probably not a sweater.
Now, some may say, “Sweaters aren’t out of style, because they were never actually in style.” Personally, I don’t believe that. Think about all the pop-culture sweater references from just a decade ago: on TV, Chandler Bing tried to do for the sweater vest what the Fonz did for leather jackets; and on the radio, the Cardigans polluted the airwaves with that despicable “Lovefool” song, while disenchanted teens across the nation rocked out to Weezer’s great argyle anthem, “The Sweater Song.”
And a decade before that, Dr. Cliff Huxtable offended millions of Cosby Show viewers every week with his freakish, multicolored abominations.
Who does this generation have? Who are their sweater icons—their Chandler Bings, their Dr. Huxtables? Quite simply, they have none.
In the past, some well-meaning crusaders have done their darnedest to spark a sweater resurgence. Nearly two years ago, for example, school systems in the Netherlands turned down the heat to celebrate Warm Sweater Day (in an attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas). And last spring, an American non-profit called Family Communications Inc. christened March 20th “National Sweater Day,” in honor of what would have been Mr. Rogers’ 80th birthday.
So far, these attempts haven’t done much to turn the tide of sweater apathy among adolescents. But maybe fiddling with the thermostat will finally do the trick.
So, teens, in these trying economic times, I implore you: pull those pullovers out of your drawers. Let the turtlenecks peek out from the dark shell of your closet. Ask your grandfather if you can borrow his classic white button-down—you know, the one with the little green Izod alligator.
Wear a sweater. Stay warm. Start a revolution.
So, yes, turning down the heat in our schools is not ideal, but if these measures help to bring sweaters back into fashion—well, maybe that’s the silver lining. Luckily, in this case, the lining is fleece.