Students Should Have to Wear School Uniforms

By Belinda Luscombe ; March 25, 2014; Time Magazine

A middle school in Illinois made headlines this week because it got a little more stringent with its ban on students wearing yoga pants and leggings. It’s not the only school with dress code issues; almost every week there’s a local story about some problem over what kids wear to school. It’s a debate that takes up a lot of time for school administrators. And parents. But it’s the world’s easiest education problem to solve: school uniforms.

I know, nobody likes school uniforms. I wore one for 13 years, and cursed it every single day. But this is exactly why I’m such a fan. To me, it seems that almost any problem facing schools today could be solved by uniforms. Here’s a sample of their magical powers:

School Uniforms Alleviate Bullying/Harrassment
They are great levelers. With a strategically chosen uniform, body type disappears. And it’s hard to distinguish who is cool and who is not. It’s harder to discern the differences in socio-economic background. Nobody wants any item of clothing that the other is wearing; all are equally undesirable, so thieving and general adolescent covetousness are reduced. Every student can find commonality with another; a repulsion for what they are forced to wear. And if schools really are worried about boys being distracted by the female form, the right school uniform is a stiff antidote.

School Uniforms Empower School Staff
A uniform is not the same thing as a dress code. There’s no arguing about whether Ariel’s shiny aqua micro mini is in accordance with the requirement for a “blue skirt.” There’s a uniform; no shades of grey, just the one drab hue the manufacturers managed to come up with. No endless back and forth between child, parents and school. Moreover, when a kid’s in uniform, he or she sticks out like a sore thumb. The local community knows where that kid belongs. It’s harder for kids to skip school or get into trouble outside school. They’re too easily spotted. At the boys’ school near mine, the young men were obliged to pick up any litter on the street, even if they did not drop it. They were also obliged to doff their hats to any car that stopped to let them cross the road. Australia isn’t exactly known for its formality, so this was not normal behavior. But since the boys were in uniform, people expected it of them.

School Uniforms Fund Education
Kids change out of uniforms the moment they get home. They don’t wear them on weekends. Nobody ever wants to hang on to them for one second longer than they have to. Consequently, they can be donated back to the school. People who can’t afford new uniforms can purchase pre-worn ones, with the money going to fund school programs. And since uniforms are never fashionable (or unfashionable), and the schools can easily identify their potential customers, the demand for them is very predictable and robust. Parents who can afford new uniforms, on the other hand, will enjoy being spared the daily airing of opinions as to what is and what is not an appropriate thing for a student to wear in a learning environment.

School uniforms keep students focused on their education, not their clothes.

A bulletin published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals stated that “When all students are wearing the same outfit, they are less concerned about how they look and how they fit in with their peers; thus, they can concentrate on their schoolwork.” A study by the University of Houston found that elementary school girls’ language test scores increased by about three percentile points after uniforms were introduced. Former US Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, advocated school uniforms as a way to help students focus on learning: “Take that [clothing choices] off the table and put the focus on school, not on what you’re wearing.” Chris Hammons, Principal of Woodland Middle School in Coeur d’Alene, ID, stated that uniforms “provide for less distraction, less drama, and more of a focus on learning.”

School Uniforms Empower Students
School uniform violations are like tax dodges. A lot of people transgress a bit, but most people still pay their taxes. At my school, we were not allowed to wear sweaters outside the school grounds unless they were covered by the school blazer or a raincoat. (It was a very strange rule, obviously established in the era of the sweater girl but made no sense in my time, the era of the Great Oversized Pullover) Clearly, raincoats were only supposed to be worn when it was raining. But the rebels among us sometimes wore them on cloudless days. Or we made tiny, visible-only-to-the-teenage-eye adjustments to the buttons or collars. Or we wore our gym tunics (yellow, with, I kid you not, bloomers) on a day we did not have P.E. We will not be silenced! we thought, as the teachers carefully smothered their laughter.

School Uniforms Create More Interesting Human Beings
What does a person wear after they get to choose their own clothes for almost the first time in their sentient life? Anything they want. My school had restrictions on haircuts and jewelry as well as uniforms, so I pretty much dressed like a punk clown for my entire undergraduate career. For people with actual talent and taste, the results are even more remarkable. Countries that have school uniforms, including Britain, Italy and Japan produce designers like Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada and Rei Kawakubo, whose clothes straddle the boundaries of fashion and art. Countries without school uniforms produce designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, who make great clothes, many of which look a lot like uniforms.

Students Should Not Have to Wear School Uniforms

Ellen Jones;

Traditionally favored by private and parochial institutions, school uniforms are being adopted by US public schools in increasing numbers. About one in five US public schools (21%) required students to wear uniforms during the 2015-2016 school year, up from one in eight in 2003-2004. Mandatory uniform policies in public schools are found more commonly in high-poverty areas.

Opponents say school uniforms infringe upon students’ right to express their individuality, have no positive effect on behavior and academic achievement, and emphasize the socioeconomic disparities they are intended to disguise. Here are a few reasons why:

School uniforms restrict students’ freedom of expression.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees that all individuals have the right to express themselves freely. The US Supreme Court stated in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (7-2, 1969) that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” In the 1970 case Richards v. Thurston (3-0), which revolved around a boy refusing to have his hair cut shorter, the US First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “compelled conformity to conventional standards of appearance” does not “seem a justifiable part of the educational process.” Clothing choices are “a crucial form of self-expression,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which also stated that “allowing students to choose their clothing is an empowering message from the schools that a student is a maturing person who is entitled to the most basic self-determination.” Clothing is also a popular means of expressing support for various social causes and compulsory uniforms largely remove that option. Students at Friendly High School in Prince George’s County, MD, were not allowed to wear pink shirts to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a result, 75 students received in-school suspensions for breaking the school’s uniform restrictions.

School uniforms promote conformity over individuality.

At a time when schools are encouraging an appreciation of diversity, enforcing standardized dress sends a contradictory message. Chicago junior high school student Kyler Sumter wrote in the Huffington Post: “They decide to teach us about people like Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and Booker T. Washington… We learn about how these people expressed themselves and conquered and we can’t even express ourselves in the hallways.” Troy Shuman, a senior in Harford County, MD, said the introduction of a mandatory uniform policy to his school would be “teaching conformity and squelching individual thought. Just think of prisons and gangs. The ultimate socializer to crush rebellion is conformity in appearance. If a school system starts at clothes, where

does it end?” In schools where uniforms are specifically gendered (girls must wear skirts and boys must wear pants), transgendered, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming students can feel ostracized. Seamus, a 16-year-old transgendered boy, stated, “sitting in a blouse and skirt all day made me feel insanely anxious. I wasn’t taken seriously. This is atrocious and damaging to a young person’s mental health; that uniform nearly destroyed me.”

School uniforms do not stop bullying and may increase violent attacks.

Tony Volk, PhD, Associate Professor at Brock University, stated, “Overall, there is no evidence in bullying literature that supports a reduction in violence due to school uniforms.” A peer-reviewed study found that “school uniforms increased the average number of assaults by about 14 [per year] in the most violent schools.” A Texas Southern University study found that school discipline incidents rose by about 12% after the introduction of uniforms. According to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of Education Evaluation and Management, fights in middle schools nearly doubled within one year of introducing mandatory uniforms.

School uniforms emphasize the socio-economic divisions they are supposed to eliminate.

Most public schools with uniform policies are in poor neighborhoods, emphasizing the class distinctions that uniforms were supposed to eliminate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 47% of high-poverty public schools required school uniforms, while only 6% of low-poverty public schools required them. Even within one school, uniforms cannot conceal the differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” David L. Brunsma, PhD, stated that “more affluent families buy more uniforms per child. The less affluent… they have one… It’s more likely to be tattered, torn and faded. It only takes two months for socioeconomic differences to show up again.” According to the Children’s Society (UK), almost 800,000 pupils go to school in poorly fitted uniforms because their parents cannot afford new items. Uniforms also emphasize racial divisions. Schools with a minority student population of 50% or more are four times as likely to require uniforms than schools with a minority population of 20-49%, and 24 times more likely than schools with minority populations of 5%-19%.

Focusing on uniforms takes attention away from finding genuine solutions to problems in education. Spending time and effort implementing uniform policies may detract from more effective efforts to reduce crime in schools and boost student performance. More substantive improvements to public education could be achieved with smaller class sizes, tightened security, increased parental involvement, improved facilities, and other measures.

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