School Uniforms

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In 1993, Will Rogers Middle School in California’s Long Beach County School District began discussing the idea of a school-wide uniform policy. That fall, Will Rogers became the first school in Long Beach County to have a mandatory uniform policy. Other schools in the district soon followed drawing national attention, including a personal visit from then President Clinton. Recent memories of school shootings around the nation caused President Clinton to urge other school districts to move to uniforms in his 1996 State of the Union Address. This started a seemingly endless debate over school uniforms in public schools. In order to be legal, every uniform policy has to have an option to not participate. Students that “opt-out” attend other schools that do not have uniform policies.

Most Republicans and the more moderate Democrats are in favor of uniforms while the more liberal Democrats oppose them. People in favor of uniforms support them for several reasons cited in a US Government manual on school uniforms:

• decrease in violence and theft—even life threatening situations—among students over designer clothing or expensive sneakers; • prevention of gang members wearing gang colors and insignias at school; • instilling students with discipline;

• helping parents and students resist peer pressure to buy expensive clothing; • helping students concentrate on their school work; and helping school officials to recognize intruders who come to the school. (“Manual” par. 2)

People against uniforms oppose them for several reasons: uniforms violate the first amendment right to freedom of expression; the claims of the supporters are not true, and problems in the schools are much bigger than a little answer like uniforms. Uniforms will just make things worse. Most of the arguments used on both sides are logos, but the anti-uniform side has some key ethos appeals. Uniforms definitely have some good qualities, but they are not the answer to all the problems in America’s schools. Julia Wilkins wrote “The Answer to Violence in American Schools or a Cheap Educational Reform?” in the March 1999 issue of The Humanist to share her views regarding the on-going debate over uniforms in public schools. Through my research, her article has proven to be an authority on the subject. She did an excellent job representing the views of her side; she covers every point laid out in the Manual on School Uniforms put out by the government. Uniform proponents use more subtle persuasion to argue their point. This can be seen fairly clearly in two pro-uniform articles: One by Pat Wingert, the other by Jo Beth McDaniel.

The Wilkins’ article begins by pointing out a problem with violence in our public schools: “Media stories about a nationwide school epidemic, in which assaults on teachers are frequent and children are routinely killed over designer clothing, have been a constant over the past few years” (Wilkins par. 1). Wilkins then moves on to providing background information on the adoption of school uniforms by Long Beach County School District in 1995. She establishes Long Beach County’s actions as a turning point in the school uniform debate: “Since then, school uniforms have been upheld as the long-awaited policy tool for solving the crisis of school violence” (Wilkins par. 4). She further informs the reader of the statistics from Long Beach County that supporters of uniforms, including President Clinton, use in their arguments to prove uniforms are effective.

Next Wilkins begins to pick apart the claims of uniform supporters. She picks on an article from USA Today supporting uniforms. “What the article [from USA Today] fails to mention are the other steps to improve student behavior—such as increasing the number of teachers patrolling the hallways during class changes—that were taken by Long Beach around the same time the uniform policy was introduced” (Wilkins par. 5). Bringing up similar points, like the added hall monitors,...
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