Why would you want to wear an academic gown? Aren’t they the symbol of the sort of stuffy traditionalism we need to leave behind, the world of canes and distant, cold teachers who pontificate from on high?
There is a tendency to see uniform as something that constrains and constricts, an unnecessary burden in our flexible modern age. And yet there are very few schools in England which do not insist that their pupils wear a uniform. The best no excuses schools are strict about this, as about all matters of personal conduct, because they want to promote good habits, pride in the school and a sense of personal dignity.
Likewise, most schools have a dress code for teaching staff, even if it is unwritten. Teachers naturally wish to appear professional and businesslike, and suits and ties for men are near ubiquitous in many schools, even if no one has explicitly commanded that they be worn.
But isn’t there a bit more to being a teacher than being businesslike? Do we really want teachers to look like smart office workers, and nothing more? Do we really believe that the office a teacher holds, the office of passing on the best that has been thought and said to the next generation, deserves no special marker of its peculiar dignity?
There’s been plenty of talk recently about restoring the prestige of the teaching profession. Bringing back academic gowns would be one simple and inexpensive means for taking this forward.
An academic gown marks out the wearer as someone who possesses knowledge, and who holds the authority to pass that knowledge on to others. It gives dignity and gravitas to the wearer, reminding them and others of their high calling.