Poor Elijah’s Almanack: Do pajamas belong in the classroom?

High school students perform “Pajama Game.”

Poor Elijah dragged me to the mall Saturday. His sister had mailed him a gift card for Christmas, and while his inclination was to bury it in his dresser drawer, he knew it was only a matter of time before she’d ask what he’d gotten himself. He knew instinctively that “I don’t go to malls” wouldn’t cut it as an answer, so he dragooned me into going to the mall with him.

I tried to be helpful. After three hours, we narrowed the choice down to either a Starbucks holiday pack of assorted burnt coffees he knew he wouldn’t drink or a bag of wool crew socks. He went with the socks.

As we were leaving, we saw headed in our general direction a trio of young women dressed unmistakably in pajamas. You don’t survive middle school for a third of a century without acquiring the ability to confront the unexpected. Poor Elijah is an old hand at dealing with female strangers in nightwear, having been met at the school door one morning many years ago by a student’s mother dressed in a negligee. Her car had broken down in the parking lot as she was dropping her son off.

Early in the millennium, the Associated Press declared pajamas “public attire.” AP spotlighted a Goucher College student who was routinely attending classes in her Sponge Bob bottoms. These, by the way, were the same pajama bottoms she’d worn to bed the night before.

Goucher being a top-flight seat of higher learning, you’d expect its student body to have thought these matters through. And our freshman had.

“It’s easier to go to class in my pajamas than to actually get dressed,” she explained. Wearing daytime PJs was a necessary response to her taxing schedule, which sadistically had her going to classes in the morning. After that ordeal, by the time she’d recovered by playing basketball, it was “7 or 8 p.m. and then I have to do homework.”

Naturally, she was “exhausted.” Putting on clothes the next morning would be just “one more thing I’d have to get up earlier for,” all of which brings new meaning to the age-old inquiry, “Did you sleep in those clothes?"

Our freshman isn’t alone. A like-minded English major unflappably describes himself as “a guy who wears pajamas a lot.” According to AP’s report, they’re only two among “legions” of their peers who avail themselves of “comfort clothing” so they “no longer have to get dressed to face the day.” Enlightened observers find the phenomenon “understandable.” They commend wearing pajamas all day as “a way of straddling childhood and adulthood” so “you don’t have to outgrow your security blanket.”

In case you’re concerned that we’re raising a generation of future leaders unable and unwilling to abandon childhood or their security blankets, not every pajama-clad intellectual favors Sponge Bob or “baby ducks.” Some prefer “more conservative plaid patterns.”

That’s a real relief.

Given that we’re talking about “flannel jammies” and “big,” fluffy slippers with “cartoon character heads,” it’s hard to say for sure whether the trend originated in preschool and worked its way up or at the university level before filtering down. Either way, pajamas are becoming an issue in public schools, which reportedly don’t take as “liberal” a position as the nation’s institutions of higher learning do.

Some districts outright “forbid” sleepwear, while others merely “discourage” it. One conciliatory high school, seeking middle ground, has outlawed pajama bottoms and tops worn as an ensemble, though somehow pajama bottoms by themselves are legal for classroom wear. Students on the verge of working for a living cited having to be at school as early as 7:30 to explain their preference for nightwear as daywear. One high school junior finds her jammies especially helpful “when I have tests to take.”

A profiled middle schooler cites cuteness and comfort as her reasons for wearing sleepwear to class. Like her college-age role models, wearing pajamas also lets her stay in bed “the extra five minutes.” At first, her mother was “dead set against it.” Then Mom “realized other kids were doing it and didn’t mind so much.”

Remember when parents said things like, “If Billy jumped off the roof, would you jump, too?” Now if other 11-year-olds think something’s OK, it must be OK.

Our middle school lounger sensibly acknowledges that pajamas aren’t always appropriate, like “if I had a press conference or something.” A decorous university junior similarly limits her pajama-wearing to “early classes, informal meetings, or when she’s feeling too sick to wear regular clothes.”

Note to all students: If you’re too sick to wear regular clothes, please don’t come to my class.

PJ skeptics assert that wearing the garments you sleep in can be distracting and “disruptive.” Advocates dismiss these concerns, countering that “pajamas aren’t revealing.”

Can you believe we’re having this conversation?

Experts suggest students are simply part of a broader national movement and “fashion trend.” According to a survey conducted by a sleepwear manufacturer, Americans rank comfort as “one of the most critical elements of everyday life.”

There’s nothing wrong with comfort. I’m very fond of my couch. And most of us, at least so far, are still getting dressed in the morning.

But there’s danger in overrating comfort.

And there’s even greater danger in extending childhood beyond the age when we’re supposed to be children.

Connecticut Media Group