It is cool to be in school uniform. This is the belief of many educators and administrators. A number of cities in the U.S. as well as a number of countries has mandated public school students to wear uniforms in schools. Mandating public school students to wear uniforms has resulted in better and safer school environments, promoted a higher level of belonging among its students by building school spirit, accomplished an increasing student attendance as well as scholastic achievement, and has aided in closing the gap between social classes. However, many would argue against this. The most basic issue of this disagreement is that many believe that mandating school uniforms in public schools violates a student’s First Amendment rights, the right to freedom of expression.
Opponents of uniforms for public schools have argued that uniforms stifle individualism in students. They have argued that teachers have failed to identify their varied talents, capabilities, and characters because of the image of uniformity. However, it has been observed that uniforms can enhance a student’s creativity. In Some Thoughts About School Uniforms, students felt that uniforms allow them to channel their creativity to other areas. Others felt that clothes should not define a person. Their school work is about who they are and they are relieved that they do not have to worry about what to wear.
Proponents who do not advocate the use of school uniforms in public schools argue that there is no marked evidence that making our students wear uniforms will make our public schools a safer and better environment. They argue that uniforms will not ensure that the incidence of violence will diminish in schools. However, studies have been made that prove that uniforms in public schools do indeed make schools safer environments for their students. Draa’s study concludes that uniforms have decreased referrals, detentions, expulsions and increased attendance in public schools. She further concludes that uniforms have instilled a greater amount of discipline in the students, thus there is less propensity for violence to occur. According to Draa, a marked positive change was observed in student behaviour for students wearing uniforms. This is due to a several factors such as an increased feeling of belonging and unity, a decline in social vulnerability, and inferiority as well as socio-economic differentiation (189). Being in uniform promotes school spirit, a feeling of belonging, equality, and unity. It reduces emphasis on the socio-economic differences prevalent in schools and eradicates the debilitating relationship between clothes and school status. With all students being in uniform, there are lesser chances of fights occurring due to class wars, the in-crowd over social outcasts. There are fewer chances of fights and theft due to envy of the poorer students. There will be less taunting and bullying by the affluent students over the less privileged students. Teachers also will have fewer errors in prejudging students because of their manner of dressing. The teacher will have to clearly look at the achievements and abilities of the student and recognize the student accordingly. According to Lumsden, “students in district schools that required uniforms viewed their school climates more positively than with students enrolled in schools where uniforms were not mandatory”(5). It encouraged students to go to school. Uniforms also add to the safety element in a school as one can immediately identify outsiders from the school population. It also makes it difficult for student to conceal weapons as compared to street clothes.
Influence of school uniform on achievement and grades
There are those who argue that there has been no real improvement in academic achievement for students in public schools who wear uniforms as against those that do not. However, according to Polachek, she has seen better grades and even higher achievements for her students (4). When students put on their uniforms every morning, they know that these are their work clothes and thus take school a bit more seriously. Students with uniforms also seem to have more focus on their lessons as they no longer are distracted by the stress of fashion rivalry and social pressure. Uniforms have also resulted in higher achievement as you now have students who have better self-worth and as thus strive to do their best. Uniforms are seen as a form of discipline by students. As such, when they are in their uniforms, they strive to work harder and be better achievers.
There are still those that argue that uniforms mandated are an added burden to parents due to the cost of uniforms. However, parents of students in public schools that require uniforms have reacted positively to this policy. These parents have said that their children are hardly ever late for school as they do not spend unnecessary time figuring out what to wear. Parents have also said that it is much cheaper to pay for uniforms than to buy clothes, especially clothes that their children prefer to make them a part of the in-crowd and not be social pariahs. The Manual on School uniforms also has a provision for assistance to families that require financial aid for purchasing uniforms for their children.
Having said all these, it would be more beneficial to our students in public schools to wear uniforms. Uniforms not only provide our students with a sense of community spirit but also increase their self-esteem. The mandating of uniforms also offers our students a safer and better learning driven school environment. We have more learning focused students, thus raising the achievement levels in such schools. With this, I would say it is high time that other public school districts that have not adopted the requirement of school uniforms do this in the soonest possible time.