Imagine being able to wake up every morning, roll out of bed, put on the same thing you wore the day before, and head off to school. Not only would you be able to do such a thing, but all of your friends were doing it, too! Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s becoming more common in our society as school uniforms have gone beyond private schools to public schools. Uniforms have a positive effect on students’ self-esteem, attendance, discipline, and test scores. They have also been proven to decrease the rate of crime and violence in public schools.
Most students and even parents will argue that school uniforms stifle individualism. The teenage years are a time when adolescents try out different personas, often experimenting with different styles of clothing during this phase. Opponents argue that uniforms take away an individual’s freedom of expression. However, the clothes that people wear, or can afford to wear, often define the group by which they are accepted. As a result, many teens are outcast due to the fact that they cannot afford the top-of-the-line, name-brand clothing. This rejection can lead to several problems for the outcast teen: depression, inability to concentrate on schoolwork, or just a general feeling of inferiority. School uniforms put everyone on the same level because no outfit is more stylish or expensive than another. Linda Moore, principal at Will Rogers Middle School in Long Beach, California, states, “Uniforms reduce the differences between the haves and have-nots” (Ritter, 1). Uniforms allow students to interact with one another without experiencing the socioeconomic barrier that non-uniform schools create. More importantly, children are not judged on how much they spent on clothes or how stylish they look, but rather for their talents and personalities.
School uniforms not only break down socioeconomic barriers, but they also increase the safety of the students. In 1996, President Bill Clinton encouraged the use of school uniforms as part of an education program that sought to improve safety and discipline (Hoffman, 1). If students are all wearing the same type of outfit, it becomes much easier to spot outsiders who may wander onto the campus. In addition, uniforms decrease the number of incidences of students being attacked or beaten for items of clothing such as shoes and jackets. Also, members of gangs frequently have a color or style of clothing used to identify themselves. Unsuspecting students who wear gang colors or gang-related attire might be threatened or intimidated by members of opposing gangs, students wearing expensive or fashionable clothes might become victims of theft, or certain fashion accessories or attire may be used as a means of concealing weapons, or even as weapons (Paliokas, 1). At a school in Long Beach, California, after only the first year that uniforms were implemented, overall school crime decreased 36 percent, fights decreased 51 percent, sex offenses decreased 74 percent, weapons offenses decreased 50 percent, assault and battery offenses decreased 34 percent, and vandalism decreased 18 percent (Manual, 3).
Schools with uniform-clad students are also proven to have fewer disciplinary problems and increased attendance than non-uniform schools. Dr. John German, principal of South Shore, located in Seattle, Washington, reports, “This year the demeanor in the school has improved 98 percent, truancy and tardies are down, and we have not had one reported incident of theft” (Manual,4). Ruffner Middle School, located in Norfolk, Virginia, reports a 47 percent decrease in students leaving class without permission (Manual,5).
With the implementation of uniforms, students no longer spend hours deciding what they are going to wear to school. This fear of looking “uncool” will often cause kids to decide that they do not feel well enough to go to school because they can’t find anything to wear. Uniforms allow students to focus more on their academics, and less on what everyone else is wearing. According to Long Beach police chief William Ellis, “Students concentrate more on education, not on who’s wearing $100 shoes or gang attire” (Manual, 3). Elementary Guidance Counselor Sharon Carter of Memphis, Tennessee states, “The tone of the school is different. There’s not the competitiveness… about who’s wearing what” (Manual, 5).
Many families worry about not having enough money to buy uniforms. Due to the fact that no child can be denied an education because of economic disadvantage, all schools requiring uniforms must include provisions to assist low-income families. For example, the Long Beach School District solved this problem by setting up a boutique shop, funded by private donors, where needy students can shop (Paliokas, 5). In addition, community and business leaders provide or contribute financial support for uniforms, and students who have graduated often donate their used uniforms to incoming students (Manual, 3). However, uniforms are considerably cheaper to buy than non-uniform clothes, and the students can wear them every day and it isn’t considered unusual. Parents can buy a few pairs of pants, shirts, or other variations of a uniform for under $100, while parents of non-uniform-wearing students can spend from several hundreds up to $1,000 a year on clothing. Parents find that buying two or three uniforms is ultimately cheaper than buying clothes to follow the fads, and it stops arguments at home in the mornings about what to wear (Oland, 1).
Pop culture increasingly sends young girls the message that the smaller and tighter the clothes, the more readily they will be accepted. These outfits, which flaunt navels and bra straps, are not only distracting, but detract from teaching time as teachers argue with students about what is considered acceptable attire. With uniforms, there are only a few acceptable variations of the outfit, no questions asked.
A less well-known theory concerning the pros of school uniforms is the “halo effect.” According to researcher Marc Posner, the “halo effect” refers to the idea that while uniforms may not change student behavior, the uniforms may change the way teachers and other adults perceive the students who wear them. In a study of the correlation of student clothing and teacher and student perceptions, Dorothy Behling of Bowling Green University found that students and teachers alike believe that uniform-clad students not only behave better, but also do better academically than those who don’t wear uniforms. While this may be an illusion, these positive perceptions can help create a self-fulfilling prophecy that teachers and administrators raise their discipline and grading standards to reflect their more positive image of students, who, in turn, behave better. (School Discipline, 1).
While research on the effectiveness of uniforms is still ongoing, they have been proven to raise test scores, boost self-esteem, reduce violence and crime, and create a sense of newfound pride in students. They help children to focus on learning and schoolwork, not on what everyone else is wearing or whether or not they fit in. Uniforms are not the solution to all of the problems that teens, teachers, and schools face today, but research and statistics suggest that they may be a step in the right direction.
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