Principals struggling with saggy pants while one Tennessee school tries the Steve Urkel approach

Here and Now

Young men in Detroit stand with their pants sagging in 2007. Sagging has prompted attention from educators for years — and now it's a target of lawmakers as well. (Photo by passionatephoto.com via Wikimedia Commons, cc-by.)

Boys who wear their pants down too low at Westside Middle School in Memphis may get “Urkelized” if all else fails.

Yes, we’re talking about nerdy Steve Urkel from the 1990s sitcom “Family Matters,” who famously wore his pants hiked way up to his chest.

A number of states, including Tennessee, are considering laws to ban saggy pants and clothes on girls that reveal too much skin. Arkansas and Florida have already passed similar laws. But Principal Bobby White at Westside said the law isn’t necessary. His approach is to talk to the student and try to convince him to hike up his pants, and then escalate with a phone call to the student's parents.

"I don't think legislation of dress is constitutional," White said. "I don't believe it's what our forefathers would have wanted. I'm definitely not for legislating dress."

So if his person-to-person remedies fail, he's got another more direct approach. Zip ties are used to tighten the pant’s waistline.

“I thought it was a joke, until I got Urkeled,” an unnamed student told KSL.com back in 2010, when White's approach first gained notoriety. 

Brown says his job is to educate children and he needs to teach them that saggy pants aren’t conducive to learning — and won’t work in the workplace.

“They can put your pants as high as your chest, and they can put as many as three or four [zip ties] on you,” another student told the website. “Students know to strap up or get strapped up around here.”

All joking aside, White said that students don't really have their pants pulled up to Urkel level — though they may think so, if they're used to wearing their pants closer to their knees than their belly button.

White said he looks at it as educating students — and helping them be successful.

"As I'm talking to the young men, I help them to understand that, in this setting, it's as if you're at work, and there are certain ways of conforming to mainstream society that you have to adhere to in order to be looked at as being successful," White said. "We're raising young men. This is practice of what you're supposed to look like in an academic setting, as well as a work setting."

Ultimately, it's all a distraction, he said.

White said he's sensitive to issues of culture, especially in light of the controversy around the Trayvon Martin case and the hoody he wore. He says this is different.

"There is this subculture within our mainstream society that we're living in. If we continue to live in this subculture and not understand and be non-conformist to what happens in America, then we ostracize ourselves out of possible positions later in life," White said. "It's a mind-set. It breeds mediocrity and negativity."

White said he wants people to dress how they want at home and with their friends — but there's a time and a place. And school isn't that time, nor that place, he said.