The Great Debate: School Uniforms
If someone is asked what their opinion on school uniforms is and why, their answer is either “I support the idea because it is less stress for students” or “I don’t support the idea because it violates the first amendment right.” School uniforms and why they should or shouldn’t be in schools has been a debate for a long time. Uniforms have been such a debate that it reached supreme court attention in 1965 when a group of students wore black armbands to show their uneasiness with the death toll of the Vietnam war. Schools should be focusing more on the education, rather than what someone is wearing. Uniforms should not be in public schools because they are expensive, violate the first amendment rights, decrease comfortability, and do not decrease violence.
By 2008, 76% of Americans had some debt (America In Debt). That makes a total of 24% of Americans not in debt. If over half of the United States population is in debt, is spending money on clothing their number one problem? Parents that have a low income have trouble paying bills but adding on more costs to buy specific clothing for their children can get pricy, especially if the parent have more than one child. It is an average of $100 to $200 per uniform (How Much?). Along with buying uniforms, parents must still buy additional clothing for their children to wear on weekends and when school is not in session. In 1995, parents in Long Beach, California filed lawsuits against the district protesting the rules on the account that the uniforms appointed unreasonable cost on parents (Uniforms Raise). The lawsuit was settled in 1996 with a dismiss from the court. There are bigger problems that families have to deal with besides paying for school uniforms, which is why school uniforms should not be a policy in schools.
Families can buy a short sleeve shirt, jeans, and sneakers combined for less than a uniform like khaki pants, a polo shirt, and dress shoes, together that adds up to almost $80 (How Much?). A child will have to have two wardrobes which again, can get expensive. Families with financial burden have rent, food, and other basic needs they need to worry about. Uniforms are a problem for families who have to buy from secondhand stores because uniforms are usually issued through the school (Pros and Cons). There is no use of uniforms outside of school so why put money into clothing that is being worn for 180 days instead of just wearing clothes that are worn all the time. Putting extra money into their child’s education is not something they should be worried about especially when public school is a free education. Families that can hardly afford to support their children at home and have extra cost for medical bills should not need to worry about buying their children uniforms. School uniforms cause a financial burden on families especially families that have low income.
The first amendment was written at America’s initiation because citizens wanted an assurance of their basic freedom (About the First Amendment). One thing the first amendment protects is speech. Freedom of speech goes along with clothing and that right should not be taken away from someone when they go to school. In the 1965 court case, Tinker vs. Des Moines, Justice Abe Fortas decided that students wearing the armband did not cause an interruption in school and the armbands should be allowed (Fortas 80).
Not only has wearing armbands been a problem in the past but also tattoos. In 1997, a girl gave herself a small tattoo of a cross on her hand. Later on, the school proposed a new policy stating, “Gang-related activities will not be tolerated on school grounds.” The school regarded her tattoo as a gang symbol and demanded her to remove it. Even though the girl denied the cross was a gang symbol, she still had to have a painful and expensive laser treatment that removed her tattoo and left a scar. She later sued the district for damages, claiming that the school violated her first amendment rights by demanding her to remove the tattoo. The U.S district court dismissed the case but the U.S court of appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted her appeal (Hamilton 20).
The greatest complication with a school uniform policy is the anti-individuality message it sends. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) does not agree with uniforms because they believe it violates rights to freedom of expression as promised by the first amendment to the constitution (School Uniforms). School uniforms do not discuss the basic problems of public schools. The uniforms just act as a safety net for administration. In an ACLU fact sheet it states that:
Uniforms have their place in the army, where we want to track soldiers to follow orders, submit to authority and conform to regulations. This is not, however, what we want to teach children. We want to teach them to discover for themselves, explore the world and questions absolute authority (School Uniforms).
Students are persons under the constitution and should be allowed to wear the clothing of their choosing because of their first amendment right. Freedom of speech includes the right to engage in symbolic speech, not to speak, and to use certain offensive words and phrases to convey a political message as well as others (What Does Free Speech Mean?). So, what is the point of having a first amendment right if schools take it away from students when they walk through the door?
Students should not have to worry about if their shirt is tucked in right, if their skirt is long enough, or if their tie is tied right. Students should be comfortable and worry about their grades rather than their clothes. A shirt and jeans should be enough for a seven hour day of sitting in a classroom and learning material. Students are not being paid for how they dress or the progress of work they are getting done. So why should they act like they are? Khaki pants, collared shirts, and dress shoes are not comfortable clothing for a child or teenager to wear when they are sitting in a classroom all day. Let students wear what they want. Uniforms decrease comfort and does not allow someone the ability to choose clothing that appeals to their comfort. No one wants to sit around all day in a classroom in an uncomfortable chair and in dress clothes.
If a person was wearing a shirt with something graphic on it like someone smoking, would it really be that big of a bother to take attention away from the learning? Is wearing a hat really disrespectful? Will these things really disturb someone so much that it will stop their working ability? It is just as easy to ignore somebody’s shirt or hat as it is to put on the shirt and hat. A shirt and jeans is a comfortable option to wear to school. Dress clothing is not a comfortable option. Dress clothing is appropriate for work and church, not for a five through eighteen year old person sitting in school. Being comfortable is more important than being worried about if the uniform fits the guidelines of the school’s policy. If students are uncomfortable in their uniforms, their concentration will lessen. Experts think that students need to feel comfortable in order to learn better (Pros and Cons). Being comfortable is important with the learning environment and helps students do better if they are in their own comfortable clothing.
When someone thinks about school uniforms and a good thing about them, a person typically thinks, “Uniforms decrease violence.” But, just because it is harder wearing a uniform to show gang activity, that does not mean uniforms end violence. Yes, it is more difficult to hide a weapon while wearing a uniform but that is if the uniform is designed right (School Uniforms and Violence). Uniforms will not stop anybody from committing a crime. Violence is what we build up not what we wear. Violence does not occur because of the clothing someone is wearing. A person’s clothing has nothing to do with their anger. Today, most people are bullied by how they act or what they do, not by the clothes they wear. Uniforms do not change the fact that bullying will still exist. Just because a school has uniforms, it does not mean someone will stop getting bullied. National surveys regularly discover that school violence has continued to be stable or sometimes decreased over time (Skiba 32). School uniforms just cover up on violence problems and do not address the real issues behind it (Should Kids Wear).
Crime and violence in schools go farther than just clothing. Violence is caused by anger boiling up on the inside from being hurt or not being understood. Whether someone has been abused sexually, emotionally, or physically, it all causes anger (What Causes Violence?). Uniforms have nothing to do with causing violence which is why they are not needed. Violence is tolerated and glorified, according to Ph.D, Aletha Solter. In an article posted by her explaining what causes violence, she stated:
Children are exposed to violent male sports, and to television programs, films, and electronic games with mostly violent male protagonists. Little boys are give toy soldiers, guns, and other war paraphernalia with which to play. Story books and school textbooks often glorify war, a predominantly masculine activity, and describe great male conquerors as heroes. Many parents are pleased with their sons in self-defense with playground bullies, and adults worry about boys who refuse to fight. Combined with the fact that boys are expected to be tough and not cry, it is not surprising that men commit more violent crimes than women.
This violence will not be covered up by uniforms. Uniforms will not stop violence because it will be harder to hide weapons. Anger is still inside students when they put on a uniform in the morning. Students will still be jealous of other kids causing anger inside. Uniforms do not stop violence.
School uniforms are a bad idea because they are expensive, violate the first amendment right, decrease comfortable, and do not decrease violence. Education itself is more important than how someone dresses while in school. Everyone is there for the same reason: to learn. No one wants to look the same as someone else because it takes away their individuality. No one wants to be uncomfortable sitting in dress pants or a skirt all day long just to write in a notebook and listen. No one wants their parents to have to worry about money because uniforms are expensive. No one wants to hide the real reasons why violence occurs by wearing uniforms. Uniforms are not necessary for many reasons. As long as there is a good education being provided, uniforms do not need to be brought to attention.