Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw a picture of this week’s newspaper dated for October 25, 2016, on the shooting at Union Middle School in Sandy, Utah. The article reported that a fourteen year old student shot another sixteen year old student right there in the parking lot- point blank. The shooter was arrested and the sixteen year old victim was rushed to the Emergency Room in critical condition where he was treated with extensive surgery. My heart sank. To think- this happened in Sandy Utah, not the streets of Compton. In fact, From 2013- October of 2015 alone, there was 199 school shootings in America — an average of nearly one a week(Everytown Research). I sat there in awe thinking- with all of these school shootings happening lately, there has to be some sort of prevalent cause! I got to thinking about all different changes in schools recently that would bring about such behavior. Out of curiosity I looked up the school’s website and found there to be the standard dress codes for public schools, but no school uniform enforcement. I then continued to look up the dress code policies for other schools who have recently been attacked with school shootings by students and saw that most of them in fact do not enforce uniforms or any strict dress codes.
Some scholars, such as Shirley Farrell argue that bullying and violence, like the gun shooting that occurred yesterday, would have occurred regardless of what the students were wearing. She points out that there is no way of officially proving that the lack of uniforms was the cause for such behavior and that it is merely coincidental evidence.
Other experts, like Friederike Sommer, Pablo Pizzurno, Belinda Luscombe, Randy Rockney, Julian Tanner, and Julian Tanner would agree with my theory and support the fact that lacking school uniforms is a prevalent cause of the influx of student violence in schools. They say that enforcing school uniforms and strict dress codes helps provide the school and students with the structure they need to stay focused on getting an education rather than getting wrapped up in any violent or unrelated and inappropriate activities. Not only do their studies prove that school uniforms and strict dress codes reduce violence like school shootings, but also other inappropriate actions like bullying, theft, harassment, as well as helping enforce safety, limiting distractions and improving overall academic success.
While Farrell makes a valid argument, that there is no way of proving that the lack of school uniform was the only cause of such violence, I say that there is enough cross examined evidence to support it was a factor large enough to take into consideration. There are far too many studies to show that schools that enforce strict dress codes and uniforms have substantially lower violence rates, bullying, and far more academic success and school unity for it to merely be a coincidence. Even if, for instance, they lower the violence rate by only ten percent, wouldn’t it be worth it? I would certainly say so. If making uniforms mandatory in all public schools is all it takes to lower the chances of shootings like the one I saw yesterday on the news from happening and putting helpless sixteen year old boys on surgery tables- I would certainly say so.
School shootings don’t just start out as school shootings. There are many complicated reasons as to why students would want or have an incentive to shoot up a school. One of them being bullying. Friederike Sommer, an author of the International Journal of Developmental Science, reported that in 88.1% of cases the future perpetrator of school shootings experienced social conflict within the school environment- primarily bullying from other students. When a student is bullied, they feel threatened and angry towards that person and also the school itself, causing them to take matters into their own hands and act out irrationally by violent actions, like shootings. In order to reduce the amount of school shootings that are taking place, we need to reduce the harmful exchanges that happen with students at school that result in bullying. How do we do this? Simple. Enforce school Uniforms.
When students are all dressed in unison, it doesn’t allow for much diversity which makes each and every student on an equal playing field. When students are to go to school without any enforced dress standard, there is a clear and defined separation between different groups. Instead of all students just being students, students get separated into the rich versus the poor, the popular versus the unpopular, and the stylish versus the unstylish. This, in turn, makes it easy for students to form cliques with other peers who fit into the same category as them which ends up alienating others from different categories based on their appearances. Once those lines are drawn as to who belongs to which group, it makes it far too easy for one group to pick on someone from a different group simply because they are seen as different.
An experiment conducted by a man known by as Pablo Pizzurno was done to show the negative effect different dress and appearance can have in the public school system. He had Adelita, a very popular girl who normally dressed stylish and always payed close attention to the way she dressed, go to school for an entire week wearing plain simple cloths. She was to wear no accessories, was told to only wear certain bland colors like brown and grey, and the cloths she was told to wear were not flattering or fit her body well at all. In the one week she went to school dressed like this, she went from miss popularity, homecoming queen and someone who was virtually adored by all to a social outcast. Her old popular friends refused to speak to her, started mean and untrue rumors about her behind her back, wouldn’t spend time with her outside of class and even shot her hurtful looks and inappropriate comments. At the conclusion of the experiment, Adelita comments “School uniforms become ‘a social regulator, a way to control abuse and excess’. Different styles regulates the distance to others and one’s location within the social order which in the end, leads nothing but harm.” As unfortunate as this results to the experiment were, it was an accurate depiction of what happens in public schools where uniforms are not present. Just a Adelita was bullied by her so called “friends”, students get bullied day in and day out simply based on looks and more specifically the way they dress. With school uniforms present, there would have been no difference in the way Adelita was treated from week to week because everyone would look the same and the bullying that happened during the week of the experiment wouldn’t have ever taken place.
When school uniforms are present, we actually see the opposite effect of bullying. International Journal of Developmental Science surveyed teachers in thirteen schools in three different states and found that an average of 88% Teachers saw far more respect, caring, and trust shown throughout the school after the enforcing a school uniform policy. When students are bullied, you see disrespect and unfriendly interactions, but once the school uniform policy took over, the school environment did a whole 180. By enforcing uniforms, we blur the lines of social status and it helps students see other students for who they are and allow them to shine based on their glowing and loving personalities- which in many cases you wouldn’t get to see if you were judging them based on their appearances. Students are able to interact with other students from whole other backgrounds and social classes that they may not have gotten the chance to otherwise because they didn’t “fit in” and they wouldn’t want to risk associating themselves with students who are “different”.
With school uniforms present, it drastically reduces the amount of bullying that takes place which not only include harmful words and alienation (like in the case of Adelita), but also includes things like theft and sexual harassment. Uniforms act as great levelers. They are not meant to be a fashion statement made by the school- in fact, they are supposed to look a little bit ugly. When a strategically chosen uniform, the desirable, expensive and stylish clothing disappears as well as one’s body type. The bland and boring colors that everyone wears is not going to temp any students from stealing from one another because they have the exact same t-shirt and slacks. The undesirable uniforms also act as a safeguard from sexual harassment because they are unflattering on everyone and hide one’s body image. Therefore, inappropriate touching and comments made by other classmates will also disappear. Expert Belinda Luscombe grow up in a public school with uniforms and has seen the effects first hand when she worked closely with students as a principle of three different public schools for over 20 years.
Bullying doesn’t only lower students self esteem, but it can lead to anger with one another that can fester and progress into more violent actions. We have seen the correlation between enforcing school uniforms and the dramatic decrease in school violence that goes beyond bullying for a couple decades now. A school in Long Beach, California has required school uniforms since 1994 and as a result has seen their school crime rate drop by 76%(). Other schools have seen this statistic and recognized that enforcing uniforms it is a valid and reasonable alteration they could make in their own public schools to reduce student violence. According to the US Department of Education, in the 2013-2014 school year, nearly 23% of public schools enforced school uniforms- compared to the 1999-2000 school reported to only have 12%. More and more schools are enforcing school uniforms because, like any other, they want to see their students succeed and thrive- not harm one another.
When more schools enforce uniforms, they are helping yield student safety not only by decreasing the amount of bullying and violence in schools amongst the students, but also protecting them from intruders. “School uniforms make it easier for school personnel to spot unwanted intruders in the hallways and prevent the importation of some of the most obvious signs and symbols of gang culture into the school setting” states Julian Tanner, an educator at a High School in Canada. Similarly, Randy Rockney, a Child & Adolescent Behavior specialist at Brown University says that “The loose fitting clothing makes it easier to conceal weapons or drugs. Certain styles or colors can be associated with one gang or another. Real gang members can enter schools without notice if dressed like many of the children or teenagers who attend the school.” In public schools without any uniforms, the baggy low-riding pants and extra-extra large shirts are seen as “cool to wear” because that style is glamorized by popular culture. Not to mention the fact that that particular style of dress is popular in gangs. This makes it difficult for other students, teachers and other school officials to tell if the student who is wearing said clothing is actually involved with a gang or if they are just following the fashion trend of today. Or who’s to say the student really is a student at all? Like Rockney said, real gang members could enter schools and officials wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from other students wandering the halls. Uniforms help tell the students apart from intruders who could potentially do harm and also inhibit them from wearing or associating themselves in violent clubs and gangs.
As well as reducing bullying violence and enforcing unity safety, school uniforms also help limit distractions and keep students on the right track to success. If a school doesn’t have a uniform policy, chances are they have a dress code policy of some sort. However, it is hard to enforce dress codes when certain articles of clothing or accessories may or may not be in accordance with the code. Dress codes are far more subjective than a standard school uniform. Because of this, the amount of time and energy spent between students and school faculty arguing over what is and is not allowed adds up and ends up detracting from the main purpose of school-to get an education. An example of this would be how “Political slogans on t-shirts may offend those of a different political perspective, and yet schools may find it perfectly acceptable for girls to wear bikinis to promote school-sanctioned car-washes—something that may be found socially offensive by others. Moreover, the practicalities of enforcement in schools create further complications and inconsistencies.”(Journal of Philosophy of Education) These further complications are often times blown out of proportion and end up involving third parties when it is unnecessary.
Just a few years ago, In Omaha, Nebraska, 23 students had been suspended from school for wearing the wrong clothes. The teenagers, all students at Millard South High School, were ordered to stay home from one to three days in late August for wearing T-shirts that memorialized Julius Robinson. To officials of the Millard Public Schools, the words “Julius RIP” on the shirts were disruptive.The parents of the students ended up getting involved with the American Civil Liberties Union and the event appeared all over the news and social media. The ordeal cost thousands of dollars in court fees and months to get all statements, court dates the charges finalized. (Johnson, NBC news) This is one of many cases where students misunderstood what was and wasn’t acceptable to wear with the school’s dress code. It would have been impossible to know if school faculty would find a t-shirt that says “Julius RIP” disruptive. What makes a t-shirt disruptive in the first place? The subjectivity of dress codes lead to misunderstandings and distractions with the school system and is why uniforms would be a far more logical solution. They are the exact same for every student and doesn’t leave any “wiggle room” or any room for questioning as to what is and isn’t acceptable to wear. Uniforms are objective and help students focus on their schooling and academics rather than worrying what they will wear that day or fighting with school staff. We can see this in military personnel, bridesmaids and emergency service workers. They all have one thing in common- uniforms. They all are forced to wear what they’re given without whining, no matter how puffy the sleeves or hideous the shoes. Not to mention, they also are there to serve somebody else. We can apply this to students in public schools who are forced to wear uniforms. They are forced to focus on what really matters and realize that school isn’t a fashion runway- school is school and it is where they will have the opportunity to further their education and grow as individuals.
By limiting distractions, school uniforms help students focus on what really matters- their education. When students are able to focus on their education without worrying about what they are wearing, we start to see their overall academic performance improve. In fact, figures from the 2003-04 state proficiency tests indicated 89% of fourth graders in just schools with uniforms passed all five sections of the test, compared to a state average of 78%. (Ohio Department of Education, 2005). Just by enforcing school uniforms, the overall schools average rose by over ten percent! The uniform dress code allows even young students to go to school with a more focused mindset. By focusing them on their school work and studies, the natural consequence would be for their grades to improve. Before school they aren’t thinking about what they’re going to wear that day or if their crush will notice them if they wear that flashy t-shirt. No, instead they will have that extra thirty minutes to do their homework and study. In school they aren’t being sent to the office and pulled away from in class instruction to be told their clothes don’t fit the dress code. No, instead that time will be spent in class learning the material.
A pole was taken by expert C who found “School uniforms are more likely to be adopted in public schools with a higher percentage of students who are low-achieving”. What does this then say about the purpose of school uniforms? School uniforms provide structure and allow for a more suitable academic environment where success would be far more prevalent and encouraged. Studies and poles, like the one taken by Ohio Department of Education, help show the improvement of students academic performance that wear school uniforms; which in turn encourages schools with low academic performing students to enforce these uniforms so they can make a difference in their students success and graduation rate. Researcher, Virginia Draa of Youngstown State University reported that “mean graduation rates rose nearly 11 percent at schools that required uniforms, compared to pre-uniform years. Non-uniform school mean graduation rates dropped 4.6 percent, compared with the earlier years.” Simply by adding uniforms, the academic achievements in both grades and test scores as well as overall academic graduation achievement has increased enough to make a significant difference. By adding uniforms, more than one in every ten students pass and perform better on challenging state tests and graduate with a high school diploma. After all, isn’t that all schools want to see- student growth and success? If a school uniform does just this, I see no reason why all schools shouldn’t have to enforce them.
Time and time again we have seen how school uniforms help prevent pressing current world issues and help students overall academic success. Bullying and other violent actions like theft, school shootings and sexual harassment are all significantly diminished when school uniforms are enforced which is a major problem in the world today. Academic success is improved and we are able to see more and more high school graduates which will end up allowing them to get more reliable and better paying jobs which will end up helping their future successes in their lives to come.