Unhappy in Uniform
Imagine being sixteen years old. You drag yourself out of bed at 6 A.
M. in order to arrive at school on time. Once at school, you are required to remain in the building for all eight hours unless you have permission to do otherwise, as well as be in your assigned room at specified times throughout the day. You aren’t allowed to have your phone, nor your iPod in many classrooms. Even food and water are sometimes not permitted.
There are even restrictions on talking and moving around even when you may feel that you are doing no harm. With all of these rules and regulations along with countless others, can you imagine also being told what you must wear? I’m not talking dress codes. I’m talking actual items of clothing–specific shirts, skirts, shoes, etc.–that are required by your school, and therefore by law. And they sure aren’t pretty. Modern uniforms are generally of neutral colors and unflattering materials that are especially unpopular with teenagers, such as rigid khaki, uncompromising denim, and the all-dreaded corduroy.
The textiles themselves wouldn’t be so appalling if only they weren’t constructed into garments such as culottes, turtle necks, overalls, unshapely blazers, outdated sweater vests and other unappealing designs. However, the idea of standardized apparel for the sake of education is nothing new. According to Debra Viadero in “Uniform Effects”, school uniforms in the West emerged greatly in 19th century Britain as a way to replace the chaotic, messy look that was common in schools at the time. Over the past couple centuries, America has followed suit and adopted uniforms for primarily the same purpose: to prevent and ultimately diminish the misbehavior, bullying and academic disappointment that is thought to be the result of students’ choice of attire. The question is, do uniforms really have that big of an impact on conduct and scholastic success in schools? And if there is a correlation between the two, are those advantages really worth their downfalls? Considering school uniforms’ limitation on confidence and self-esteem, the small impact they have on violence and behavioral issues, and their long-term diminishing of students’ academics, standardized clothing in schools is unfair, unconstitutional, and a policy that needs to be removed from American education.
Allowing students to choose what they wear promotes creativity and enhances self-esteem that is infringed upon by school uniforms. According to the U.S. Constitution, “[There shall be] 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.”.
By making uniforms mandatory, school policy is violating students’ rights to self-expression granted in the First Amendment. It’s true, school would be chaos without rules. But when those rules are interfering with the rights of the students, it’s time to remove or at least lessen the requirements. By doing so, schools are providing a foundation for one’s imagination as well as an extra outlet for self-expression and therefore building self-esteem. For example, many teenagers have jobs. According to Susan Combs, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, American teens spent $169 billion on items such as video games, excess food, car payments and drugs.
When students are allowed to wear what they please, there’s an opportunity for more constructive spending that feeds into the teenage freedom and self-expression craving while also helping build kids’ confidence in their spending skills and ingenuity. With all of the stress and conformities that teenagers face today, choosing what to put on in the morning should be considered an entitlement, not a privilege, especially with all of the benefits for both individuals and the community that go along with more liberated dress. And yet, there are still those who argue that the community actually benefits from school uniforms when in reality, no such evidence exists. The truth is, school uniforms have very little if any effect on violence and behavioral issues in schools, and not one formal study has ever been conducted to back up such a claim. In fact, dress code rebellion has been known to actually increase in both number and severity with classroom clothing constraints.
For example, as stated by Julia Wilkins in “School Uniforms”, “The whole topic of clothing is a superficial issue, as gangs cannot be eliminated simply by forbidding the wearing of gang colors. Gang members will just not be recognizable to other gang members for six hours a day, which does nothing to solve the problem of gang violence on a wider scale”. Besides nurturing the rebellion that they supposedly hinder, uniforms do little to improve the respect and manners of students, regardless of what some parents and teachers like to believe. In reality, the informal “studies” used to back up such claims are faulty, as most are just school officials who simply allege that autonomy of attire is what has been causing a decline or incline in their schools’ demeanor problems without taking into consideration other control factors such as demographic location and economic status (Viadero). It is unjust and ridiculous to base an argument upon data that may not even be true; there is nothing fair or right about enforcing school uniforms because some “studies” declare that freedom of clothing is causing their behavioral issues without any real proof. There is, however, a more valid reason to employ school uniforms.
Conformed clothing greatly diminishes the social boundaries that naturally occur with casual dress. High school hierarchy is unavoidable, but it can definitely be reduced by eliminating superiority based on what students wear; you can’t make fun of someone or judge their personality based on what they’re wearing if you and everyone else are wearing the same thing. As previously stated, there are no real studies to back this up. However, just like Maria, a 9th grader featured in a PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) article titled, “School Uniforms”, “It helps to get up in the morning and not have to think about what you’re going to wear.” Reginald Wilson, a senior scholar at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.
, who was also featured in the article 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.” But while social boundaries may be softened by school uniforms, we should not restrict students’ personal freedom through fashion because as cruel as they may be and as hard as school officials can work to stop it, kids will be kids, even with the absence of clothes from the pecking order at school. By far the most prevalent case for casual dress is that when school uniforms are removed, academics are improved. For instance, a study by David L. Brunsma, a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia and an assistant professor of sociology who has been studying the movement for public school uniforms since 1996, shows that uniforms have a detrimental effect on achievement (Viadero). This means that amongst all the claims of principals and officials of schools across the country, when a real study was conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the effects of school uniforms have proven to actually hurt students’ academics.
Plus, as Grace Chen points out in “Public School Uniforms: The Pros and Cons for Your Child”, “As it is important to ensure that the student is comfortable in order to maximize learning outcomes, uniforms may stymie academic focus.”. Obviously, if there is uncontrollable discomfort caused by school uniforms, students cannot concentrate on their work, which is yet another great reason to ban school uniforms. School uniforms hinder personal expression and self-confidence, foster revolt and impair comfort and academic achievement all based on informal, extremely faulty studies. Students deserve an environment where they are free to express themselves through what they wear, feel safe from misbehavior and violence, as well as to be comfortable throughout the day while still being able to perform their best in school. Uniform clothing encourages none of the above.
If we want to create a society where people feel comfortable, liberated and safe, we need to begin developing it with our youth by governing in such a way that promotes resourcefulness, confidence, good behavior and comfortable learning; we need to get rid of school uniforms once and for all.