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For and Against School Uniform

By yuliyavassilyeva Nov 05, 2012 2381 Words
Does the old adage "clothes make the man" apply to students in the school setting? Can the way students dress have an impact on such things as school climate and safety, academic success, and behavior? Some administrators think so and tighten up student dress codes or begin requiring students to wear uniforms as a way of reducing the risk of violence and creating a positive, productive learning environment. Nowadays, fashion is a popular issue, but it leads to many complex problems in our society. Most people tend to express themselves by what they wear. They wear different clothes beginning from the ‘strange’ clothes to the vulgar ones. This tendency is practiced by young people by wearing many creative clothes, however, their choices are sometimes inappropriate. From the one hand, it is good when kids express their individuality through their clothes, however, from the other hand, when kids are in school, they should not show how big their wardrobes are, but how big is their knowledge. School is a place where kids come to learn, in the first place. Moreover, according to psychologists, short skirts which are worn by girls at school are destructing school boys’ attention and concentration on educational process. Furthermore, during the transitional age – from 11 to 19 - many kids start to separate themselves into groups by appearance and style - some kids wear only fashionable clothing, some wear famous brands, some prefer cheaper clothing. This also is a problem, because it not only stops the educational process, but creates relational problems among kids. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of public schools shows that the popularity of school uniforms has been increased in the last 10 years. In 1999, twelve percent of public schools had a uniform but in 2008, eighteen percent adopted a uniform for students. The NCES considers school uniforms to be an "indicator of school crime and safety," and safety is one of the top advantages of school uniforms. Therefore, school officials should consider school uniform regulations to be one of the most important parts of education. Wearing uniforms in school will bring a lot of potential benefits to students, for example, enhancing the learning environment, promoting school safety and saving parents’ money.

Because of the school uniform implementation, kids are better able to focus on learning than on what their friends or they themselves are wearing. In our modern world, kids have become much more concerned with their clothes. This simply reflects our modern values and the interest of adults in clothes. However, children can become much more obsessed with clothing even without some of the moderating influences that come with age and experience. Kids that come to school in unfashionable clothes can be teased or even bullied. With the implementation of school uniform, they will have more opportunities to develop themselves with academic progress because the priority of fashion standards will be gone. Assistant Director of elementary school operations, Frankie Batts, said, “ Instead of worrying about their clothes or what everyone else is wearing, kids focus on math and reading,” (Richardson, 1995). Some say that a child in a school uniform is more likely to take school seriously. A high-school student dresses to school just like dad or mom dresses up to go to work. Schools report that when students dress in "work clothes" rather than "play clothes", they take a more serious approach to their studies. According to the Chairman and Executive Officer of Aspen Institute and CNN Walter Isaacson twenty-five percent of the nation’s public elementary, middle, and junior high schools have successfully implemented a school uniform policy. This event greatly benefits both the students and faculty by creating an atmosphere in which the students are able to get the most out of their education. The issue of mandatory uniforms in the public schools gained the spotlight of national attention following President Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union address. During that speech the President stated, “If it means that the schoolrooms will be more orderly, more disciplined, and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they're wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms."

Schools report that school uniforms decrease fighting and violence that arise out of arguments over fashionable clothes and provides students’ safety. Kids do not have to impress their friends by wearing name brand clothes. Children invariably tease those who do not have trendy clothes. Those who cannot afford name brand clothes are often sensitive about their clothing. Also, schools struggling with gang problems report that school uniforms help to ease tensions. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School (1969), the court said that a student's freedom of expression in school must be protected unless it would seriously interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline. In the dissenting opinion written by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Hugo Black, he said, "If the time has come when pupils of state-supported schools, ..., can defy and flout orders of school officials to keep their minds on their own schoolwork, it is the beginning of a new revolutionary era of permissiveness in this country fostered by the judiciary." Students are still protected under “Tinker” organization. However, with an increase in school violence and gang-related activities, the political climate seems to have turned more conservative, and the Supreme Court has begun to return many decisions back to the discretion of the local school board. Concerns about school violence have led to increased interest in and acceptance of uniform policies, which specify what, must be worn or strict dress codes, which identify prohibited attire. Ronald D. Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, states, "In the wake of school shootings, communities and schools are much more willing to embrace uniforms as well as a number of other strategies to enhance student safety" (White, 2000). In the fall of 1994, the Long Beach Unified School District became the first in the nation to require uniforms, hoping to improve the overall conduct and scholastic records of their students. A Long Beach Superintendent stated the first year that the uniforms had been implemented into his school, crimes decreased by thirty-six percent, school violence by fifty-one percent, and vandalism to the school dropped by eighteen percent. According to Long Beach police Chief William Ellis, "Schools have fewer reasons to call the police. There is less conflict among students. Students concentrate more on education, not on who is wearing $100 shoes or gang attire." In Seattle, Washington, the principal of South Shore, Dr. John German, after school uniform implementation reports that "this year the demeanor in the school has improved by ninety-eight percent, truancy and tardiness are down, and we have not had one reported incident of theft." Dr. German explains that he began the uniform program because his students were "draggin', saggin' and laggin'. I needed to keep them on an academic focus. My kids were really into what others were wearing." Only five students have elected to attend another public school. As a final example from Baltimore, Maryland, Rhonda Thompson, an official from a middle school that has a voluntary policy noticed a "sense of seriousness about work." Moreover, one of the great opportunities that it would give the teachers is by having all the students’ dress alike they would be able to identify students who belong to the school and trespassers who do not. These trespassers will stick out like a sore thumb because they will not have on a uniform like everyone else. This is a great safety issue in today’s times where it is important to regulate who comes on campuses. Identifying and properly escorting the trespassers to where the need to be will ensure parents that the school is a safe and secure place for their kids to get an education.

And finally, parents do not have to spend a whole bunch of money for new clothes before each school year. They will enjoy the decreasing challenge of keeping their kids in the newest fashions. The money issue will become less burdensome for them, “Three outfits can run about $130,” said Jan Underwood, owner of the U.T.W. Uniforms store in Fort Worth (Teeters, 1997). School uniforms are a bargain. They are becoming far less expensive than many other clothes. The National Association of Elementary School Principals points out that “Uniforms are usually considered cost-savers for parents because they require fewer, more basic items in the child's wardrobe”. Officials in the Long Beach School District point out that typically, a set of three school uniforms for the year costs between $70 and $90, an amount far less than many students spend for one item of designer clothing. According to the US NDP School uniform report, published in 1999, American households where the children wear school uniforms spend in average almost $85 less on children's clothes per year than those families where the children do not wear uniforms. Schools argue that school uniforms are economical, especially compared to designer clothing, and parents agree given school uniform durability. They say school uniforms last longer because they are made for repeated wash and wear. Many schools capitalize on this by starting used school uniform stores or swap meets. Parents can get used school uniforms at discount prices, or just use them as hand-me-downs between siblings. In addition to saving money, the Clearinghouse on Educational Policy and Management reported that parents have found a predetermined dress code means added peace to a household; if children's clothes are predetermined, there is one less battle to have in the morning while getting ready for school.

People who oppose uniforms point to "unnecessary reutilization, violations of students' First Amendment rights, authoritarian regimentation, extraordinary expenditures on special clothing, an environmental tone that is harmful to education and learning, and a cosmetic solution to deeper societal problems" (Brown, 1998). Students' First Amendment right to freedom of expression, and whether it is being unduly abridged, is one of the fundamental issues raised. Several legal challenges have asserted that students' freedom to select what to wear to school is a form of self-expression that schools are not entitled to interfere with. As stated previously, the main goal of studying in school is to get as much of a deep knowledge as possible, but not to waste time by choosing or discussing fashion clothes. The lack of conclusive evidence concerning whether uniforms or restrictive dress policies really have a positive impact is also cited by opponents. Loren Siegel, director of the Public Education Department for the American Civil Liberties Union, points out that whereas the Long Beach School District claims uniforms resulted in a reduction in certain forms of student misconduct and improved student achievement, a causal relationship may not exist (http://www.aclu.org/congress/uniform.html). It is difficult to determine which variables were actually responsible for the subsequent drop in misbehavior. On the other hand, well-conceived and coupled with other appropriate interventions, uniforms or strict dress-code policies may have a positive impact on school climate, student behavior, and academic success. Siegel also points out that "virtually every uniform policy in the country applies only to elementary and/or middle school students, not to high school students, despite the fact that uniforms are portrayed as a way to control teen violence.” Attempts have rarely been made to implement uniforms at the high school level, where noncompliance would almost certainly become a more significant issue. However, in the 2007-2008 academic school years, about eighteen percent of public high schools had a mandatory school uniform requirement and approximately fifty-five percent of public high schools enforced a strict dress code, according to the U.S. Department of Education and National Center for Education Statistics.

Summing up, school uniforms keep the learning environment, promote school safety and save parents’ money. As kids spend most of their youth going to school, it becomes a very important period in their lives. For instance, after a child is born, his parents dream of seeing him grow and go through various important stages of life. One of the initial and most vital steps towards growing and understanding the world is going to school. School is the center of learning and temple of knowledge, which the child attends to decipher the various mysteries and puzzles of existence. It helps in his development and makes him a completely independent identity. School uniforms keep the kids in the discipline of being well-educated pupils and through that discipline they can get priceless knowledge and become successful people. We believe that school uniform plays an important role in educational process: it helps one to focus on learning process, decrease fighting and violence and save families’ budget for good amount of money. Also, schools must educate students in a safe environment. Over time, education has often slipped away as the main focus of schools. As we have unfortunately seen, school safety is such an enormous issue that it is hard to come up with policies that truly work without turning a school into a prison camp. After the events at Columbine where students were singled out partially for what they wore and after numerous thefts and murders over designer shoes, it is obvious why many school districts want to institute uniforms. We must realize that learning cannot take place without some sense of decorum and discipline. Possibly instituting school uniforms might help bring back that sense of decorum and allow teachers to do what they are hired to do - teach. Maybe, it is a little bit naive to think of uniforms or restrictive dress codes as a stand-alone solution to the safety concerns and discipline problems that plague many schools today. As Forest (1997) notes, instituting uniforms to stop violence is like putting "a bandage on an enormous wound, instead of attempting to find ways of truly dealing with the bleeding." On the other hand, when well-conceived and coupled with other appropriate interventions, uniforms or strict dress-code policies may have a positive impact on school climate, student behavior, and academic success.

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