Every school is in essence a learning environment. That which aids learning is acceptable, and that which hinders it should be unacceptable. Add to this the fears of school violence and student safety, and you can see why many school boards are calling for school uniforms. In this article we will look at the pros and cons of school uniforms.
School Uniforms Defined
Uniforms used at schools can range from the formal to the informal. Some schools that have implemented them have chosen what one usually thinks of in connection to Catholic schools: nice trousers and white shirts for boys, jumpers and white shirts for girls. However, most public schools are turning to something more casual and more acceptable to parents and students: khakis or jeans and knit shirts of varying colors. The latter appear to be more affordable too because they can be used outside of school. Many school districts that have implemented uniforms have provided some sort of financial assistance for families that can not afford the extra expense.
Pros of School Uniforms
- Preventing gang colors, etc. in schools
- Decreasing violence and theft because of clothing and shoes
- Instilling discipline among students
- Reducing need for administrators and teachers to be 'clothes police' (for example, determining whether shorts are too short, etc.)
- Reducing distractions for students
- Instilling a sense of community
- Helping schools recognize those who do not belong on campus
The arguments for school uniforms hinge on their effectiveness in practice. Anecdotal information from administrators in schools that have implemented uniform policies point to the fact that they do have a positive effect on discipline and the school. Note that all of the following were from middle schools. In Long Beach, officials found that the year after their mandatory program with parental opt-out was implemented, overall school crime decreased by 36%. In Seattle, Washington, which has a mandatory policy with an opt-out saw a decrease in truancy and tardies. They had also not had a reported incident of theft. As a final example from Baltimore, Maryland, Rhonda Thompson, an official from a middle school that has a voluntary policy noticed a "sense of seriousness about work." Whether any of these results can be directly linked to school uniforms is hard to say. However, it can be said that something has changed to make the officials take notice. We can not discount the coincidence of school uniforms with these changes either. If you would like more information about schools that have implemented uniform policies, see the Department of Education's Manual on School Uniforms.
Cons of School Uniforms
- Students and parents argue that uniforms violate their freedom of expression (see the next page of this article for more about what the Supreme Court has to say on this)
- Some students might choose to express their individuality through other means such as body piercing which is harder to regulate.
- Parents raise concerns about the cost.
- Because uniforms single out students as being from one school, this might lead to trouble with students from other schools.
- Families fear it might interfere with religious clothing like yarmulkes.
- A new policy for school uniforms can be time consuming and difficult to enforce.
The strongest piece of evidence against school uniforms arose in a statistical study produced by the University of Notre Dame's Department of Sociology in 1998. Their findings using 10th grade students showed that uniforms had no direct effect on "substance abuse, behavioral problems or attendance." (Brunsma, 1) It also claimed a negative effect on student achievements for those students considered 'pro-school'. (Brunsma, 1) One study does not definitely prove that they are, in fact, not effective. However, this does bring into question some of the assumptions that supporters espouse.
Reference: Rogers, Steven L. "School Uniforms: The Debate." Nutley Board of Education. 4 Oct. 2010.
Brunsma, David L., and Kerry A. Rockquemore. "The Effect of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems, Substance Use, and Academic Achievement." The Journal of Educational Research 13 Feb. 1998.