If public school students had one thing over private school students, that would be the freedom to choose what they wear to school. It could soon be hard to tell the two groups apart with more and more public school going to mandatory uniforms. According to former President Bill Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union Address, “If it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be allowed to require the students to wear school uniforms (Hudson).” Agonizing over what to wear to school has always been something that Middle and High School students have enjoyed, but that is starting to change. School uniforms should be made mandatory for public school students because they help to decrease crime and violence, allow students to focus on school work, and help to create a sense of community. Public schools have become more and more violent over the last 10 years, however mandatory uniforms have the ability to decrease crime and violence in schools. With mandatory uniforms, there is no need for students to worry about getting beat up for their designer clothes. The Long Beach School District in Long Beach, California was one of the first to implement a mandatory uniform policy and in their first four years with a uniform policy they reported crime dropped by 91%, suspensions dropped by 90%, sex offences dropped by 96%, and vandalism dropped by 69% (Education reform). Students would not have to worry about being beaten up for not having the latest clothing, hair cuts, accessories, and shoes. If schools such as Columbine and Heath High School had a mandatory uniform policy they may have been able to prevent the shootings that happened on campus. If the Columbine shooters had not been allowed to wear trench coats, they would not have been able to hide their guns; this would have saved the lives of many innocent people. If school administrators did not have to worry about imposing a dress code, they would be able to put more focus back on helping today’s youth become productive members of society. A standard uniform can also help ease the confusion of a student wearing the “wrong” color to school. One of the biggest problems that schools face today is gangs. Many schools have a problem simply because a child chose to wear the colors of an opposing gang to school one day. These students are beaten up and sometimes even killed because they chose to wear blue instead of red. A uniform policy gives the student limited choices on what colors they can pick from. Today’s students should feel safe and secure when they walk into school, not like they have to constantly be watching their back. The opposition would say that mandatory uniforms are imposing on the legal rights of students such as free speech and freedom of expression. One popular argument against uniforms in that not allowing a child to choose their own clothing is stifling their creativity and making them unable to make rational and responsible decisions. However, students need to learn that school is not a fashion show; school is for learning and education. Student’s focus needs to be turned back to the teacher at the front of the room, not the girl sitting next to them with her belly hanging out. Today’s students must be shown that what is on the inside of a person matters more than the designer label they are wearing. If schools can bring the classroom focus back, then students may be able to leave the classroom prepared for the outside world. By asking a child to wear a uniform they are given the opportunity to find other creative ways to express their individuality. The child will be able to join clubs and groups that they may not have otherwise noticed. Mandatory uniforms will force the student to look for other creative outlets such as art, music, or drama. This in turn will help the student to meet new people and make new friends outside their normal circle. Meeting new people will not only help the student, but the school community as well. With students getting to know one another and becoming friends helps to cut down on the number of fights that occur. By getting students more involved in school activities, it lessens the time they have to be outside getting into trouble. When it comes to legal rights however, the rights and responsibilities of the school and surrounding communities should be able to supersede the individual rights of the students. The school should be allowed to make decisions on behalf of their students if it is something that will benefit both. Many will also argue that a mandatory uniform policy will have a higher financial burden on the parents, but that is far from the truth. On average a parent will spend close to $500 just on clothing for their child for half the year; most uniforms will cost less than $300 for the year. Many parents have reported spending the same amount on three uniforms as on one pair of designer jeans (Hudson). There are many options for buying school uniforms. Parents no longer have to go to the uniform specialty store. Department stores and bargain stores carry cost friendly uniforms. Schools that are choosing to have a mandatory uniform policy are trying to make it as easy as possible for parents to follow the guidelines. Many schools also have a program set up to help families that can not afford the uniforms. Parent organizations have set up uniform swaps to help those who cannot afford to buy new uniforms every year. There are many options for parents and school to help each other out with the cost of uniforms. Uniforms will also help to level the socioeconomic playing field by reducing the embarrassment of a student for not having the latest fashions. The lower income and middle class families cannot always afford to buy the fashionable clothing and this causes those students to feel uncomfortable around their peers and can lead to dropping out or skipping class. Students feel that it is more important to have the cool clothing and are willing to do anything to get it. The cost of outfitting a student for school has gotten so high that many students are going to such lengths as stealing from other students and violence just to have the latest fashions. Elementary school students are shoplifting so they can have the newest sneakers; middle and high school students are willing to beat someone up because they want what that person has. The opposition to school uniforms says that there are other options for keeping children safe; such as: create a safe corridor for students as they travel to and from school, secure all school entrances, establish more after school activities, hold “open mike” assemblies so students have the chance to express themselves, establish programs to help students find part time jobs after school, and teach conflict resolution. Many schools already have some form of these types of programs, but these programs are only helping students to stay out of trouble outside school. If students are going to be expected to respect people and behave outside of school, then that teaching should start in the place where they spend the majority of their time. Many students spend more time with their teachers and friends than they do with their parents and families. Parents are being told that they are at fault for their child’s behavior, but is it really the parents fault? Teachers and school administrators should be allowed to discipline students when they break the rules. Students are not being held accountable for the wrong doings that they are committing and this is causing them to think that there are no consequences for anything. If the visible distraction is taken away, student’s focus will be put back onto learning. Boys and girls today are worried about what their neighbor is wearing instead of what is being taught. Students today are more concerned with talking about what movie start was wearing and how much the newest handbag at the mall costs. Uniforms act as a social equalizer; all students are equal to each other and the teachers view them as equal as well. Students without the expensive designer clothes are often left out of everything; this makes them feel like outcasts and causes them to not become involved in their education. Many school administrators and parents agree that there is a need for a well-drafted student dress code; they also realize that such a dress code could lead to a better learning environment. Students will be less intimidated by what their peers are wearing and more willing to participate in classroom discussions. A school uniform will also help to prepare the student for joining the working world. Students will come to realize that there is a standard that they are required to uphold and that if they do not meet such a standard, there are consequences. Schools that have a dress code policy instead of a uniform policy run into many problems when trying to enforce it. If the dress code policy says that a students skirt only has to come down to her knees and a girl shows up to school in a skirt that is at her knees but is see through, is that a violation of the dress code? With a uniform policy there is no confusion, it clearly states the type of skirt that can be worn and how ling it must be. Some of the schools that have imposed uniform policies are inner city school in areas where there are extremely high crime rates. These schools often turn out to have the highest achieving students that go on to college and become working adults. These are the schools in the areas where everyone else has given up on these students, but with the help of the discipline from a uniform policy these students are able to make a better life for themselves. Mandatory uniforms have also been shown to increase school pride among students. With each school in the area picking one to two colors for their uniforms, it becomes very easy to identify what school the child belongs at. This could help to cut down of truancy, vandalism, and other crimes being committed. Competition among the students will also lessen due to the fact that there is no longer anything to compete over except academics. Uniforms also help to create a sense of school pride and of belonging to a community. They help to promote discipline and help to drive up academic standards. With students feeling as though they belong to something, they are less likely to act out and create a disruption for attention. Being able to identify where a particular student goes to school could even help to identify trouble makers outside the school grounds. Students are not involved in their school community because they do not see it as a fun and exciting place to be. If a student were to enjoy their learning experiences on campus, they may be more inclined to stay after and join a club or sport.
The difference between a dress code policy and a uniform policy is that the dress code tells students how to wear their clothing and lists select clothing that cannot be worn. A uniform policy tells students only the types of clothing that can be worn. The aim of a uniform policy is to show the child respect and discipline and to enable him to think for himself. According to Dr. Alan Hilfer, senior psychologist in the Children’s and Adolescent Unit at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY “Uniforms do eliminate competition, pressure and assaults perpetrated by older kids on younger kids for their sneakers and other possessions. They also allow some kids to focus better, especially in the lower grades (School Uniforms).” Many schools have tried to implement dress code policies stating that only certain clothes cannot be worn, but too frequently fail in the implementation of said policy. Most parents do support a uniform policy, however there will always be a few that oppose. Works Cited
Hudson, David L. Rights of Students. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2004.
“School Uniform Fact Sheet.” Long Beach Schools. 2008. 19 Nov. 2008.
“School Uniforms and Teen Violence.” School Uniforms: Pros and Cons. 25 Nov. 2008.