Mandatory Uniforms in Public Schools Do you want equality among students in your child’s school? Do you want less violence within your child’s school? Would you like your daughter to concentrate more on her schoolwork and less on what name brand jeans she is wearing? All this is possible with mandatory uniform policies in public school districts. School uniforms may seem outdated for some people, but in many cases they can improve school spirit, attendance and student behavior. According to The Humanist magazine, former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union Address called for all 16,000 school districts in the country to adopt a uniform policy. The President stated, “If it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear uniforms” (qtd in Wilkens, screen 1) The public school district in Long Beach, California was the first to take up the mandatory school uniform policy.
The school district reported drastic decrease in violence, discipline problems, as well as higher test scores after one year of implementing the new policy (Wilkens, screen 1). Although students feel that wearing uniforms to school stifles individual expression and creativity, mandatory uniforms in public schools promote a positive learning environment because it creates equality among all students, it decreases violence, and students can focus on schoolwork instead of their clothing. Students along with some parents dispute that mandatory uniform policies within public schools are unconstitutional. They feel that mandatory uniforms in public schools violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, Freedom of Expression. The First Amendment was ratified in 1791 and states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Renstrom 723). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also argues that “mandatory uniforms violate students free expression right” (King, screen 3). When wearing uniforms children feel like they have limits on their personal expression. To illustrate, students perceive their clothing as a way to explicit their emotions, show their creative abilities, express their opinions, and display individualism; if they have to wear uniforms to school the students opportunity to reveal their personality is eliminated.
Newsweek reports that some teachers and principals sympathize with the students. A principal at a middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, Norman Isaacs believes that with a students clothing a teacher can get insights on what is going on in the students personal life. He states, “our counselors and teachers monitor the way kids are dressed if we see a big change in the way a student dresses, that sends a signal and tells us we need to address that person” (qtd in “Uniforms Rule”, screen 2). Students feel that uniforms at school create a military environment. An environment where everyone is dressed the same and in that same manner must act alike, exhibit the same personalities, and have the same opinions. Parents also do not want to pay the added expense of uniforms for their children. For instance, parents feel like they would have to pay for two sets of clothes, school and play.
Keith King describes a situation in California, in 1995 a lawsuit was filed against the Long Beach Unified School District by the ACLU on behalf of low-income families. The lawsuit claimed that, “the district fails to help low-income students purchase uniforms and punishes students who do not wear them.” The ACLU also claimed, ” the district does not adequately inform parents about their rights to request exemption from the program.” ACLU attornies assert that “low socioeconomic families are going without food, utilities, and rental payments to purchase mandatory school uniforms” (screen 4). Some of the schools who have adopted the mandatory uniform policy will help pay for uniforms for those in need but, the parents think that most schools are in financial need and that money should not be wasted on clothing. However, students and parents who do not want mandatory uniform policies within their public schools do not know what school is about. School is an educational institution that children attend so they can learn and receive a well-rounded education. Mandatory uniform policies would not stifle the children’s creative abilities nor would it violate the First Amendment. Newsweek maintains that, “The courts have made it clear that students do not have the same rights inside of school as they do outside; clothing requirements are not considered a violation of their freedom of expression if there is a valid educational reason for imposing them.” Many parents can choose to exempt their child if they have religious objections (“Uniforms Rule”, screen 2). Students need to find other ways to express their creative abilities besides clothes. When did clothing equate a character or personality of a child. The students can show creativeness through artwork and schoolwork, which is much healthier. Children should not depend on school to express themselves. Students only go to school about seven to eight hours a day, five days a week. They have nights and weekends to express themselves through clothing. In addition, mandatory uniforms would not create a military environment; it would create a disciplined environment and that is what a lot of our students need.
Parents that worry about the expense should know that uniforms cost less than a pair of Abercrombie & Fitch jeans and two sets of clothes do not need to be purchased. Fortune magazine adds, when we think of school uniforms we think of blue blazers, plaid skirts, and white knee socks, and these were all uncomfortable. Now more school officials are leaning towards Capri pants, jumpers, and denim shirts that can also be used as after school clothes (Key, screen 1). Keith King also states, for seventy to ninety dollars a set of three uniforms may be purchased. Many students spend more than that on one item of designer clothing (screen 4). When buying uniforms the parents may only need to buy three or four and wash them often. Also, some schools have programs where the uniforms are recycled. The older students sell their uniforms to the younger students for a low price. This program does not cost the school anything. Long Beach Unified school responds to the claims made by the ACLU that were mentioned earlier, “Long Beach Unified School officials state that the district has spent more than one hundred thousand dollars in donations from individuals and organizations to purchase uniforms and other supplies for financially burdened students” (qtd in King, screen 4).
One reason why mandatory uniform policies are good is because it creates equality among all students. In a school with a high minority enrollment, uniforms are a good way to keep each student equal. Students are not divided into social classes by faculty or by other students. A child’s economic background can be a determinant of their social class at school. To illustrate, a public school teacher who was new to the uniform policy noticed that at the end of the year she did not know the economic background of any of her students. This allowed her to learn the child’s talents, interest, and abilities and that information was not influenced by factors that were out of their control. With uniforms we would not have inequality among students because one can afford designer and the other cannot. Having designer clothes is another determinant for social classes. Mandatory uniforms also lesson inequality among parents of students. Parents do not have the burden of being able to afford designer clothes to make their child happy.Parents also have less of a battle with their children each morning.
Some parents have a constant fight with their children about their clothes. For example, a child really does not feel like going to school so she makes up an excuse that she does not have anything to wear. The child might also complain that her clothes are not in style anymore and she can not possibly show up to school in last season’s styles. Another motive for a battle is the type of clothes the young girl is trying to wear to school. Even though there are dress codes at public schools students find ways to get around the policies. For instance, a young 13-year-old girl is walking out the door with a tank top that shows mid-drift and a pair of shorts. Her father stops her before she takes another step and tells her to go back up to her room and change clothes. The daughter argues that everyone is wearing tank tops and shorts that are shorter and they do not get in trouble. The father stands his ground but later he regrets it when his daughter will not speak to him. With uniforms there is not a combat about the clothes that students wear to school. This may also increase the child’s attendance. A child wakes up one morning and decides that he does not like the clothes that he has to wear to school. The clothes he has are not name brand and he is fed up with his classmates because they make fun of him.
The child decides to skip school and his attendance starts to decrease which also brings his grades down. There is also less peer pressure in a school with a mandatory uniform policy in place. When a group of students start wearing designer clothes all students feel like they have to wear designer clothes or they will be made fun of in front of their friends. For example, without uniforms some children will wear designer clothes and some will wear Wal-mart clothes. What happens is the child with the better clothes will make fun of the child with Wal-Mart clothes. Incidentally, the confidence and self-esteem of the child that has been made fun of declines rapidly. The decline of confidence and self-esteem can also decline the child’s grades. When students feel that they will be made fun of at school because of their clothes the motivation to go to school decreases. Mandatory uniform policies also decrease the amount of school violence. For instance, it is harder to conceal weapons while wearing a school uniform. Uniforms combat gang violence in schools as well. Students are not able to wear gang colors or symbols on their clothing when wearing uniforms. Ray Rivera, a principal from Eastwood Knolls in El Paso, Texas, declares that six years ago before the uniform policy was effective students would wear Chicago Bull’s jackets to symbolize gangs. There would be a fight everyday. But last year the school only reported two fights the whole school year (qtd in Cook, screen 2).
Faculty members are also able to determine who is and who is not a student. That helps with the problem of rival gangs coming into a school of the opposite gang. Today, statistics show that since the mandate of uniforms in Long Beach, California overall crime has declined by 91%. It also states that suspensions have decreased by 90%, vandalism has reduced by 69%, and sex offenses have gone down by 96% (“Uniforms Improvements”, screen 1). Arnold Goldstein, Ph.D., head of the Center of Research on Aggression at Syracuse University, believes “uniforms work by promoting a sense of community, allowing troubled students to feel part of a supportive whole. There is a sense of belonging” (qtd in “Uniform Improvements”, screen 1). In addition, when a teenager feels a sense of belonging they do not have to resort to gangs and commit violent crimes. Students need to start focusing on schoolwork instead of clothing. Another students clothing can easily distract children. When there is not a uniform policy in place kids get sent home for disobeying the dress code. Students are sent home for their shorts being to short or for wearing a mid drift shirt. This keeps the child from participating in class for the day. That is a day of schoolwork the child missed and to tell you the truth the student probably wore the short shorts so she could go home early and miss a test. We may have another student who was being made fun of because his shoes were from Target and not from the Foot Locker. The student may not be able to handle the badgering.
Therefore, the student calls his parents to come get him from school because he is faking an illness. Instead of focusing on schoolwork he was patronized by other students and he missed out on a half a day of school. Children do not need school as a way of expressing their personalities. School is a time to focus on schoolwork.Students as well as parents need to learn why they go to school. Students do not go to school to find out the latest fashions. They go to school to receive an education. Time magazine gives six steps to introduce mandatory uniforms to your child’s school. 1. First step is to get involved within the school ask administrator about the current dress code that is in place. 2. Second, is to be inclusive try to include students in the decision making process. 3. Third step is to work your way up. Try to start with elementary schools than work your way up. 4. Fourth step is to make the uniform dress code easy to follow. 5. Choose a variety of attire including Capri’s, jumpers, overalls, skorts, skirts, and pants. 6. Last you need to become aware of the law within your state. There are certain guidelines a school should follow to protect itself legally.
Other ways to implement a mandatory uniform policy is to write letters to the school district or to the local government. It is also a good idea to become active in the PTA and other school activities. You will notice a large difference in your child’s self-esteem, confidence, grades, and the amount of violence at their school. I think we all agree that our children deserve a safer school environment and a better education.