Traditionally favored by private and parochial institutions, school uniforms are growing in popularity in the U.S. Around 20% of American public schools currently have a uniform policy in place. Consequently, each year parents are forced to shell out money on school clothes in addition to their kids’ regular wardrobe. On the other hand, school uniforms can reduce both peer pressure and morning stress. So, are uniforms conducive to the learning environment, or are they extraneous?
Here are three arguments in favor of school uniforms and three against:
Three arguments in favor of school uniforms:
Uniforms create a sense of equality among students
When school uniforms are required, all students are expected to dress the same, regardless of their style preferences or socioeconomic status. Uniforms can prevent envy and dissatisfaction among students, as there is no ogling of designer dresses or mocking of thrift store rags. Instead of using children as walking billboards for various brands, creating an atmosphere of “haves” and “have-nots,” uniforms ensure that everyone is dressed the same, creating an environment of equality. Plus, with uniforms, students save time and energy during the morning rush, giving them greater space to focus on their studies instead of on fashion.
Uniforms promote order within the school hierarchy
Learning is more likely to happen when there is a sense of decorum and respect for authority in school. When school uniforms are mandatory, classrooms may become more disciplined and orderly, as uniforms remind students where they are and how they are supposed to behave. Not to mention, uniforms may enhance classroom management, by removing the potential for sparkly, new or trendy outfits that could distract students, thus making it easier for them to sit and focus on learning. By exhibiting the school’s expectation that high standards be met, by instituting uniforms, the hierarchy of student – teacher – administrator is more deeply internalized. Attendance tends to rise, students may behave better, and teachers are therefore more able to do their jobs – teach.
Uniforms promote students’ safety
When uniformed students are off campus, they can be easily identified as belonging to a particular school. One related benefit is that teachers and strangers can readily spot them in a crowd, ensuring that no student goes missing while on field trips. Strangers also know that the uniformed students are minors and should therefore not be flirted with, served alcohol, or engaged in any adult behavior. What’s more, when students are required to wear uniforms, it becomes much easier to identify campus intruders, who stick out like sore thumbs, thereby increasing safety for students as they study.
Three arguments against school uniforms
School uniforms are an added expense
When school uniforms are mandatory, parents incur the added expense of clothing that their children will have no use for outside of school. They still need to buy regular clothes for their children to wear after hours, on the weekends and for casual dress days. For parents who would have sent their children to school in hand-me-downs or hand-crafted garments, as well as for parents banking on free public education, forking out funds for school uniforms can be unaffordable and disconcerting. Not to mention that there are cases where siblings from low-income families have had to share uniforms, which has forced them to attend school on alternate days. While this may be a rare example, less rare is the reality that worn-out and tattered hand-me-down uniforms may inspire bullying, which school uniforms are trying to prevent. So, the very concept that is meant to even the playing field can actually divide it.
Why not educate towards freedom of expression?
Schools teach students about the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments, so why not educate them to follow it? Everyone has a right to freedom of expression. For example, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School (1969), the court said that a student’s freedom of expression in school must be protected unless it would seriously interfere with disciplinary requirements. In a school setting, this can and should be extended to exhibiting individuality through clothing. Forcing all students to wear the same thing infringes on this right. It can also stifle students’ self-expression, which is a strong need during adolescence. Uniforms go against teens’ natures and may drive them to express themselves through harsher means, such as body piercings, tattoos and rebellious behavior.
Uniforms can be impractical and uncomfortable
Uniforms may not be conducive for spending long hours sitting at a classroom desk. They can also stifle the ability to play outdoors during recess. They are often designed to be worn by all body types, flattering none. They can be restrictive and made of cheap canvas or polycottons in unbecoming shades that may make students sweat in the summer and chill in the winter. This may be particularly true for girls, who often have to wear rigid skirts, while their male counterparts get to wear pants.
The Bottom Line: There are many reasons why school uniforms should be compulsory, but there are also many reasons why requiring students to dress a certain way simply is unfair to students and their parents. Do you think students are better or worse off wearing uniforms to school?