There has been a great deal of controversy in school districts around the world on whether or not school uniforms should be made mandatory. Though public schools started using uniforms back in the 1980s, the debate on whether they are beneficial or not started in 1994 when the use of uniforms in school started to become widespread. The district of Long Beach, California was the first in the nation to decide to make it mandatory for students enrolled in elementary and middle schools to wear uniform. They did this because gang violence was becoming increasingly apparent and the district did not want the children showing up in gang attire. Some find uniforms to be extremely beneficial to the children and atmosphere of the school but others believe there are more downsides than up. Opponents of school uniforms often mention that students are being limited on their ability to express themselves freely.
In the sixties, students used clothing as a means of expression to indicate a general attitude to the world or to show they are part of a clique or following. An example of this is the Tinker v Des Moines decision where the Supreme Court defended the students’ right to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War in 1969. This was the start of a precedent for freedom of attire. In New York and Idaho a ban on women wearing pants was lifted and in Idaho, a ban on blue jeans was lifted as well. These cases help strengthen the trend of young people wanting to dress how they feel without any restrictions. Letting children in school dress the way they want gives them a feeling of empowerment as if the schools are sending a message that they are maturing and are becoming more self-determined. A popular message in modern times is to “be yourself” or “be unique” and uniforms put that to a halt.
Schools nowadays are trying to send the message of diversity but making school uniforms mandatory completely contradicts that. Especially while children are growing up, they need to be able to feel like they have a say in the clothes they wear to help identify with themselves. Seamus, a 16-year old transgender boy from Ireland, spoke against his school’s new uniform policy. He said “…sitting in a blouse and skirt all day made me feel insanely anxious. I was not taken seriously. This is atrocious and damaging to a young person’s mental health; that uniform nearly destroyed me.” (McGuire, Peter) Children constantly feeling like they do not belong at school is not the right way to go. If a male prefers to dress in “female fashion”, school uniforms should not limit that and vice versa. School uniform policies are unnecessarily strict on how a student should dress and promote conformity rather than individuality. Along with the lack of freedom and and individuality, school uniforms tend to be more on the expensive side. Families that are poor or financially struggling are being imposed with extraneous financial hardships.
According to a 2016 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, fifty-three percent of schools require school uniforms where three-quarters of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, but at schools with lesser students eligible for free or reduced lunch, four percent of those schools require it. Those parents that are already struggling should not be burdened by a needless mandatory policy of uniforms. The Children’s Commission on Poverty in the UK found that over “95% of parents on low incomes reported difficulties in meeting school-related costs,” and that included school uniforms even though those students were supposedly attending tuition-free schools. (Butler, Patrick) If a school is “tuition-free”, school uniforms should not change that. Parents should not be required to pay money for their child to attend school if they do not want to. If a parent wanted to pay for their child’s education, they would send them to a private school. There have been some studies that show school uniforms have caused no change in violence at schools, and they have become a source of discontent among the students. An Associate Professor at Brock University, Tony Volk, stated, “Overall, there is no evidence in bullying literature that supports a reduction in violence due to school uniforms.”
In support of this statement, a peer-reviewed study found that the introduction of uniforms at the most violent schools has caused an increase in the number of assaults. Students start to show more rebellious behavior when given restrictions and limits. Children have a stronger urge for a sense of control and independence as they get older. Those who oppose school uniforms say that the establishment of school uniforms poses the opportunity for defiance of authority. When students do not feel content being at school, they gravitate towards avoiding their classes. This leads to an increase in absence rates, unenrollment rates, and dissatisfaction. The rates of enrollment at Washington High School in South Bend, IN, had dropped down to forty-three percent since the school introduced a school uniform policy in 2006. A recent survey at that school found that eighty two percent of the current students oppose the uniform policy. Almost an entire school being unhappy exemplifies the uselessness of uniforms.
On the other hand, there are plentiful supporters of school uniforms. A major point that those supporters allude to is that school uniforms actually do prevent crime and promote student safety. For example, just after two years of enforcing mandatory school uniforms in Long Beach, CA, reports of assault and battery in the district’s schools decreased by 34%, assault with a deadly weapon dropped by 50%, fighting incidents went down by 51%, sex offenses were cut by 74%, robbery dropped by 65%, possession of weapons (or weapon “look-alikes”) decreased by 52%, possession of drugs went down by 69%, and vandalism was lowered by 18%. (Stanley, M. Sue) Safety is a priority at school and with a safe environment, students are able to focus and put forth more effort into learning. School is not a place where students should be worried about if they will be assaulted or robbed. When students feel safe, they are more motivated to go to school and actually enjoy being there.
School uniforms may increase attendance and decrease discipline. A study done by Youngstown State University found that due to the introduction of uniforms, improvement in graduation, attendance, and behavior rates among 6 schools in Ohio went up. (Draa, Virginia) People tend to have more school pride when in uniform because it makes them feel like they are a part of a team. Uniforms become a commodity for students to look forward to every morning. Researchers at Macquarie University in Australia found that in schools across the world where uniform policies are enforced, students listen better, the noise levels decreased, and there was less of teachers waiting on children to quiet down during class. All together, the students became more disciplined and respectful. A sense of belonging causes kids to be more respectful, caring, and attentive. The perception of being an outcast can be detrimental to a child’s mental health and school uniforms prohibit that from occuring.
The Founder and Director of the Center for Parent Education at the University of North Texas, Arminta Jacobson, said that uniforms put “all kids on the same playing field in terms of their appearance. I think it probably gives them a sense of belonging and a feeling of being socially accepted.” (University of North Texas) With everyone dressed alike, peer pressure and bullying is reduced. The teasing of those with less expensive and less fashionable clothing will be reduced along with competition between clothing choices being eliminated. Nobody at school will be able to tell if a child’s family is financially struggling or stable just by their clothing. If the student is not exposed to bullying or peer pressure at school, they will feel that education is truly worthwhile. Also, some institutions have progressively adopted gender-neutral uniform rules. LGBT students are starting to become more comfortable at school because schools that have customarily conservative cultures are starting to move beyond the policies that normally follow the gender binary. All students should be able to feel comfortable in classrooms where bullying is unheard of which is why uniforms benefit schools.
A final reason as to why school uniforms are found to be beneficial is it regulates student dress code. Tracey Marinelli, the superintendent of the Lyndhurst school district, stated that before the introduction of a uniform policy, “Kids were spending time in the office because they were not fulfilling the dress code… That was time away from class.” (Gavin, John A.) Schools with a standard dress code have to deal with students wearing inappropriate, racist, revealing, and gang related clothing. This in turn causes unnecessary problems and takes away from class time. Prevention of gang related clothing is especially significant with school uniforms.
The main reason mandatory school uniforms were put into place in 1994 was due to the gang activity going on in Long Beach, CA. Jay Wheeler, a School Board member of Osceola County in Florida, reported that after adopting the uniform policy for only one year, the K-12 schools in the county had a decreasing rate of gang activity by forty six percent. Wheeler stated that “clothing is integral to gang culture… Imagine a U.S. Armed Forces recruiter out of uniform trying to recruit new soldiers; the success rate goes down. The same applies to gang recruitment.” (Wheeler, Jay) Less gang recruitment means less children feeling pressured to join in on the gang activity going on in the area. Also with a regulated dress code, students are more likely to focus on their education rather than the clothes they are wearing. Hillary Clinton, who happens to be a former presidential candidate and US Secretary of State advocated school uniforms as a way to help students focus on learning: “Take that [clothing choices] off the table and put the focus on school, not on what you are wearing.” (Wilson, Mike) Instead of paying attention to whether they have the same outfit on as another person, or they do not like the shirt they chose that day, students can be more concentrated on their schoolwork.
Researching this topic has only made it more obvious that school uniforms are beneficial. Uniforms help avoid bullying and teasing from other students. Kids should not have to feel ashamed of the clothes they wear just because their parents cannot afford the new trends. They also should not wake up every morning stressed out about what outfit they are going to wear and if they will get teased for it. When students are free to dress however they would like, it causes problems with the administration because they tend to want to break the dress code. Ripped jeans, tank tops, shorts, and other “inappropriate” school attire causes kids to end up in the office instead of in the classroom. Mandatory school uniforms would keep students learning and help avoid any unnecessary discipline for an outfit choice. Having studied at both mandatory school uniform and standard dress coded schools has proven personally that school uniforms are the superior option. A solution to this debate would be to allow casual uniforms. Students can have the same uniform shirts but casual pants such as jeans, knee length shorts and skirts, etc. Overall, school uniforms would make school a better environment for students.