It's official -- the largest school district in the U. S. has adopted school uniforms. Over a half-million elementary-school students in New York City will have to adhere to a dress code by the Fall of 1999. The president of the school board said the policy is 'important to diminish peer pressure and promote school pride,' but that it's not 'an act of magic to transform schools overnight... It isn't going to replace good teaching, good principals, small classrooms.' It's a fashion trend that's spreading.
From Los Angeles to Louisiana, from Maryland to Miami, public schools are discussing, and in many cases adopting, the old private school idea. School uniforms are designed to help kids focus on algebra instead of high-tops; to make students compete for grades rather than jackets.' It helps to get up in the morning and not have to think about what you " re going to wear,' said Maria, a ninth-grader who swims, plays soccer, and wears exactly what everybody else does at her high school in Washington, DC. Each school day, Maria dons an all-white oxford shirt, brown shoes, and a gray / maroon plaid skirt that has to be long enough to the touch the ground when she kneels. After school and on weekends, of course, all bets are off. Maria has a simple yet effective strategy: she borrows her friends' clothes, typically baggy jeans. School uniforms also take the pressure off students to pay top dollar for clothes, according to Reginald Wilson, a senior scholar at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.
C. 'I think it does lower the cost of clothes, and kids don't emphasize clothes as much when they " re all wearing the same thing,' Wilson said. 'Certainly the competition to wear the best shoes or the best sweaters and so forth has been prevalent in school ever since I was in school, and the poor kids felt inferior.' Training? The 'training' argument says that when you are employed, you are likely to have to wear a uniform. Is this true? What are the odds that children will wear a uniform later in life? Typically, the occupations where people have to wear uniforms are the lower paid jobs, nothing to look forward to, really. Generally, the more educated people are, the less they wear uniforms later in life. Look at teachers, they don't wear uniforms! Well-paid work tends to reject uniformity, and for good reason, the demands of the future include qualities such as assertiveness, creativity, individuality, originality, a spontaneous personality, being a self-starter, taking initiatives, being able to cope with change, etc.
And even the people who do wear a uniform later in life are unlikely to accept such a silly costume as a school uniform. Only for prostitutes is the school uniform an obligatory part of their professional wardrobe (and one may wonder why). What is the logic behind forcing children in uniforms? That children have to get used to wearing a uniform, just in the unfortunate case that they will end up in such a job later in life? If we turn around the same 'logic', students who are used to wearing uniforms would be insufficiently prepared for plain-clothed work, if they did not wear plain clothes at school all the time. Similarly, students would not be able to deal with people who didn't wear uniforms. It just doesn't make sense. There is one deeper argument.
It goes like this: students watering uniforms will be accustomed to taking a servile attitude which will help them find work later in life. Of course, the very opposite could be argued with more reason. Does success in future demand a servile attitude? Or is it more helpful to be creative, have an spontaneous and open personality, an inquisitive mind, be a self-starter who talks things over, who has an independent mind searching for new ideas to make things work? See? Examine an argument that supposedly favored school uniforms more closely, and it either doesn't make sense or it turns into an argument against school uniforms. That's why schools who seek to introduce uniforms prefer to do so without any debate on the issue! Anyway, let's continue with the next argument. Equity? The 'equity' argument goes like this: If children wear uniforms, they do not notice differences between children from rich and from poor families. This 'equity' argument is often put forward by State Schools.
The reason for this may be that it is a purely socialist argument and it may be rejected for this reason alone. In a democratic country, school should not indoctrinate children with a specific political ideology, especially not a government-funded school. Interestingly, private schools typically are even more fanatical about uniforms, but they are less inclined to use the 'equity' argument. Anyway, even as a socialist argument, it does not make much sense.
School uniforms may make all students look alike. But why do the teachers not wear the same uniforms? Clearly, school does not like any confusion as to who is the teacher and who is the student. The master-slave relationship that is so obviously present at school is deliberately magnified by uniforms that emphasize this difference. The teacher is allowed to dress casually, while the student has to wear silly clothes intended to make the student look stupid. Furthermore, there are often different uniforms for those in higher grades than for those in lower grades, just like in the military a superior officer wears a less silly hat. This creates class differences.
Some will argue that this merely reflects existing differences. But the point is that if this were accurate, it constituted an argument against uniformity. Moreover, school itself creates class differences. Class is a trademark, if not an invention of school. Children are grouped together in classes according to age and often according to gender and to perceived academic performance. Because parents want their children to mix with children of their 'own class', they carefully select the neighborhood where they are going to live.
Houses close to private schools are often substantially more expensive than similar houses close to state schools. On the street, children are identified by their uniform. 'Oh, you come from that poor school, you dummy!' is an example of what children say to each other when they look at each other's uniform. And even in the classroom, uniforms only accentuate differences in length, hair color and other physical characteristics. Children consequently judge each other by their physical appearances. One can argue whether it were better if children judged each other by their clothes instead.
Ease and Cost? From a financial point of view, the socialist argument does not make sense either. School uniforms are expensive, by their nature they are produced in limited numbers, they have to be special. Furthermore, school uniforms are typically made of poly cotton, because if they were made of pure cotton, they would fade after a few washings and there would be color differences between the uniforms of various pupils, which goes against the very idea of uniformity. Therefore, school uniforms are far more expensive than the cheap cotton clothing people normally like to wear. The situation is also prone to exploitation by unfair trade practices, unhealthy schemes, favoritism and cronyism, e. g.
deals in which secret bribes are paid for the privilege of exclusively and 'locally' producing and selling such school uniforms. One pays the price for not being able to choose the often cheap imports from countries such as China and India. Some parents argue that because of school uniforms, they do not have to buy many clothes for their children, which saves them time and money. But most children will have plain clothes next to their school uniform. The idea of a school uniform is that students wear the uniform at school, but do not wear the uniform, say, at a disco or other events outside school.
This effectively means that children will need a double set of clothing. The 'ease' argument says that school uniforms make it easier for students to choose what they are to wear at school. But is it really a virtue of the school uniform that the 'choice' is made so easy? It would be just as 'easy' for children to decide what to wear, if they only had, say, jeans and T-shirts in their cupboards. This kind of 'choice' has nothing to do with wearing uniforms.
If there are only jeans and T-shirts in the cupboard, the chi ld will have to wear jeans and T-shirts. The choice is easy, because there is no alternative. If there were only a ski-outfit in the cupboard, the child had to wear the ski-outfit and 'choices' were equally 'easy'. The point is that the 'choice' is not so much made 'easy' by virtue of uniformity, no, the choice is easy because there is no choice. If the kid-next-door happens to wear the same clothes, say jeans, that didn't make the choice any easier for either of the children. One only has choice if there is something to choose from.
The real question is if choice is good for children. Taking away children's right to choose what to wear does not make live any easier, it just makes children accustomed to conformity, to following orders and walking in line without thinking, without making a choice. This creates a huge amount of psychological problems later in life, it reduces the opportunity to get good work, it reduces the overall quality of life, in some respects it is a form of child abuse to systematically deny children choice. As mentioned before, school uniforms are typically made of poly cotton, as this keeps its color better. Apart from being more expensive, poly cotton is also very hot, which is a problem in hot climates. Special sun-protective clothing is often too expensive, or cannot stand the frequent washing necessary as the kids have to wear the same clothing every day.
Uniforms tend to be uncomfortable - by nature a uniform is a straight jacket that has been compromised in many ways in order to fit everybody. Uniforms are far from easy in many respects. The 'cost' argument is obviously a false argument. School uniforms do not keep the cost of clothing down, because quite obviously all students also need plain clothes next to their uniform. When compared to T-shirts and jeans, the school uniform is unlikely to be the cheap, comfortable, easy to use. Private schools are even less likely to push the 'cost' argument, they deliberately choose for a rather expensive outfit as a way to distinguish the students from 'poorer's schools.
Obviously, the 'cost' argument is inconsistent with the 'pride' argument that wants students to 'look well presented' even if this comes at an extra cost. The very point of uniforms is that it is something that not everyone wears, and this exclusivity obviously comes at a cost. Pride? The 'pride' argument goes like this: if students dress lousy, the school as a whole gets a bad name, which diminishes the opportunity for all students to get a good job. Of course, this is just an argument against dirty or otherwise less attractive clothes.
Teachers may argue that school uniforms set a clear standard of what the students are to wear, but school uniforms may just as well get dirty as any other clothes and school uniforms may just as well tear apart after a fight or a fall. Having school uniforms does no necessarily make it easier to see whether the clothes are dirty or ragged. Uniformity in itself is nothing to be proud about. Note that students are not supposed to wear the uniforms at discos or other out-of-school events.
If the students were really supposed to be proud about their school, why are they only supposed to wear the uniform at school? Note also that universities rarely demand students to wear uniforms, yet few seem to be worried that this will make the students unemployable. Safety? The 'safety' argument is that school uniforms make it more difficult for unwelcome outsiders to infiltrate the school grounds. But is 'safety' the real reason behind compulsory school uniforms? State schools are typically huge with large numbers of teachers and other staff. Teachers are frequently ill or otherwise absent, requiring relief-teachers to step in. The larger the school, the more difficult it is to know all individual teachers and maintenance staff who might wonder down through the buildings.
Students will not be surprised to see an unfamiliar plain-clothed grown-up person on the school-grounds. They will not even be surprised if such a person seems lost. If safety really was an important issue, then why are teachers, maintenance staff and visiting parents not required to similarly wear the school uniform? Many people come and leave the school grounds by car every day. Cars can often be driven right into the middle of the school grounds, while it is virtually impossible to spot whether the occupants are wearing uniforms or not. School uniforms in fact make it very easy for someone with bad intentions to sneak in, disguised as a legitimate school student. Typically, anyone can buy second-hand uniforms at the school or at nearby shops.
At a school with a thousand students, there may be some 100 adults working on an average day on the school grounds, with the same amount of cars parked on the school grounds. This figure may rise at times when people involved in frequent construction and maintenance of buildings, equipment and grounds and the surrounding roads are included. The number of adults working at the school pales in comparison with the many parents, guardians and other people who visit the school. Parents are typically told to collect their children outside the gates, yet on an average day, there may still be some one hundred 'visitors' walking on the school grounds. Such 'strangers' may be obliged to wear a 'visitor's badge', but they still have to walk to an administration building first to get one. Another safety argument is that school children could be more easily identified while on excursions.
But does this really increase safety? Uniforms make it easier for teachers to check if all children are still there, i. e. by counting the number of kids. But uniforms also make it easier for people with bad intentions to spot and target children who are at risk of losing contact with the group. Whatever way one looks at it, it seems that the danger is created not so much by the absence of uniforms, but by the way school operates.
School puts thirty-odd children together in the care of one teacher. Look at the hundreds of cars circling around the school twice a day, trying to find parking places. Apart from the risk of traffic accidents, this havoc makes it easy for someone with bad intentions to follow a child and drag this child inside a car. Even if bystanders notice screaming, they may think it is a case of a parent disciplining an obstinate child.
The uniform identifies the child walking down the road as a target who is alone, on the way home, unaccompanied. Children without a uniform seem less at risk, as they are likely to be brothers or sisters who are picking up a uniformed student. What kind of people are school uniforms supposed to protect the students from? Rapists, pedophiles, street gangs and other bullies? Why would they go to a place where so many people can spot their face and identify them to police? They are more likely to attack a student who is walking home alone. Or drag a student over the fence from outside the school grounds.
The uniform makes the student an easily identifiable and predictable target walking down the same road every day at the same time. Do uniforms really make it more safe for students at school? What kind of people are likely to 'infiltrate's chool grounds? Students who have been expelled for beating up other students could be regarded as unwelcome visitors. But as such students are rarely required to hand over their uniform, the uniform does not seem to stop them from coming back, it in fact makes it easier for them to return. Is there any research that concludes that schools without uniforms have a significantly higher incidence of unwelcome visitors? In some countries such as the Netherlands, schools rarely prescribe school uniforms. Are schools in the Netherlands therefore less safe? If this really was such an important issue, one would expect a lot of research to be readily available within the education system on this issue. The main argument in the US is, however, that schools want to prevent violence.
Schools want to prevent students from dressing up in gang colors, and subsequently fight out gang wars at school. Fortunately, I strongly believe in school uniform as it helps to promote a good sense of belonging to a community, reduces fashion contests and contributes to a healthy academic environment where children can learn completely free of distractions I think the biggest perk is money saved by not having to buy school clothes.