Debate on School Uniform
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Today we are seeing that the younger generations are becoming more preoccupied with fitting into the latest fashion trends. School administrations have noticed that dress code violations could be an attribute to the lack of performance in the classrooms. Public schools across America are searching for answers to enhance a better learning environment for the students. Taking all this into consideration, school uniforms would be a great idea to alleviate some of the negativity kids face due to societies apparel obsessions. In addition to what has been mentioned, studies have shown positive results with the use of public school uniforms. If it means that the schoolrooms will be more orderly, more disciplined,” Mr. Clinton said, “and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms (Mitchell, 1996). I believe a requirement of school uniforms should be implemented in all public elementary and middle schools.
In the name of putting “discipline and learning back in our schools” President Clinton instructed the Federal Education Department today to distribute manuals to the nation’s sixteen thousand school districts advising them how they can legally enforce a school uniform policy. If it means that the schoolrooms will be more orderly, more disciplined,” Mr. Clinton said, “and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms” (Mitchell, 1996).
“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 (www.pbs.org). In 1987, the first public school Cherry Hill Elementary in Baltimore, MD instituted a school uniform policy. Later in 1994, the Long Beach Unified School District in California adopted a mandatory uniform policy in some of its schools, making it the first urban district to do so. Before long there was a considerable increase in the use of uniform. For example, ninety-five percent of New Orleans’ public schools require uniforms, eighty-five percent of Cleveland, eighty percent of Chicago, sixty-five percent of Boston, sixty percent of Miami, and fifty percent of Cincinnati’s public School changed to uniforms (www.education.org).
New York City, which is the largest school district in the US, has adopted the school uniform policy. 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 a good teaching, good principals, and small classrooms.”(www.pbs.org).
The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) conducted a phone survey of seven hundred and fifty five principals in 2000, which revealed that twenty one percent of all public schools had a uniform policy (www.education.org).
Another reason that schools have decided to conform to uniform policy is because some students arrive at school in T-shirts that bear slogans or graphics promoting drugs and alcohol, or that display a variety of messages that conflict with values the schools are trying to promote. Others may swagger around the halls in gang-related garb. Also, others may show up in sexually provocative clothing. These issues, as well as a desire to minimize socioeconomic tensions between the “haves” and “have not’s”, have spurred some schools to adopt more stringent dress codes or to require students to wear uniforms. As the Department of Education’s Manual on School Uniform notes, “Uniforms by themselves cannot solve all of the problems of school discipline, but they can be one positive contributing factor to discipline and safety” (Lumsden, Miller, 2002).
Some authors contend that uniforms lessen emphasis on fashion, reduce the financial burden of low-income families, and promote peer acceptance, school pride, and learning. In a ten-state survey of elementary and middle school principals conducted two years ago by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the clothing company Lands’ End, eleven percent of respondents said that their schools mandate uniforms, and another fifteen percent were considering such a policy. Others recent survey indicated that support for uniforms are growing among parents as well. In one survey, fifty-six percent of parents said they would support a school uniform policy (Lumsden, Miller, 2002).
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” (www.pbs.org). Deborah L. Elder wrote about an evaluation of school uniform policy at John Adams and Truman Middle Schools for Albuquerque public schools. In the beginning in the fall of 1998 under a policy started by parent’s students at John Adams and Truman Middle Schools in Albuquerque were required to wear tuck-in polo shirts and khaki pants or skirts. Elder reports on an evaluation of this policy that used interviews, focus groups, and surveys, along with data on discipline referrals and numbers of students achieving honor-roll status. During the first semester of the 1998-1999 school year, both schools experienced a clear improvement in student conduct from the previous year.
At John Adams Middle School, discipline referrals fell from one thousand five hundred and sixty-five during the first semester of the previous year to four hundred and five. At Truman, referrals dropped from one thousand one hundred and thirty-nine to eight hundred and fifty. Students, teachers, and parents stated in interviews “uniforms place all students on an equal level,” Elder writes, “Students who may be immediately labeled by peers and staff no longer stand out.” Survey data showed that seventy-five percent of parents and eighty-nine percent of staff supported uniforms and believed they decreased violence, theft, and gang activity, Although only fifteen percent of students supported uniforms, fifty-nine percent agreed that “school uniforms help school officials identify trespassers on campus.”
Concerns about school violence have led to increased interest in and acceptance of uniform policies. In the wake of school shootings, communities and schools are much more willing to embrace uniforms as well as a number of other strategies to enhance student safety. Curbing gang-related violence was the primary goal of the Long Beach (CA) Unified School District when, in 1994, it began requiring students in all its elementary and middle schools to wear uniforms, In the Dysart Unified School District outside Phoenix, Arizona, eliminating some of the stigma associated with clothes was the main motivation behind the adoption of uniforms. Even before the recent series of school shootings, a survey of principals conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals found strong support for uniforms. In addition to having a sense that uniform may aid in violence prevention, many administrators believe that uniforms will reduce discipline referrals, while improving attendance, achievement, self-esteem, and school climate.
A study of middle school students in the Charleston (SC) School District fount that school uniforms did appear to alter students’ perceptions of school climate. Students attending district schools that required uniforms viewed their school climates more positively than did students enrolled in schools where uniforms were not mandatory. Additional benefits credited to school uniforms include improved discipline, increased respect for teachers, increased school attendance, fewer distractions, improved academic performance, increased self-esteem and confidence, lower overall clothing costs, promotion of group spirit, reduction in social stratification and fashion statements, improved classroom behavior, lower rates of school crime and violence, and easy identification of nonstudents (Lumsden, 2001).
Many opponents believe that dictating what students wear to school violates their constitutional right to freedom of expression (Lumsden, Miller, 2002). People oppose uniforms point to unnecessary violations of students First Amendment rights, authoritarian regimentation, extraordinary expenditures on special clothing, an environmental tone that is harmful to education and learning, and cosmetic solution to deeper societal problems. Students First Amendment right to freedom of expression, and whether it is being abridged, is one of the fundamental issues raised, Several legal challenges have asserted that students freedom to select what to wear to school is a form of self-expression that schools are not entitled to interfere with (Lumsden, 2001). In a recent case, Littlefield v. Forney, parents challenged a school uniform policy adopted by the Forney, Texas school board. The policy required students to wear polo shirts, oxford shirts, or blouses in any of four specified solid colors, with blue or khaki pants, shorts, skirts, or jumpers. Denim, leather, suede, vinyl, and spandex were off-limits, as were baggy clothes and specific types of shoes. The parents claimed that the district’s policy violated “the right of parents to control the upbringing and education of their own children.”
The plaintiff also argued that the policy interfered with students’ freedom of expression and forced them to express ideas with which they might disagree. In addition, they also declared that the procedures for opting out of the policy violated their religious freedom by allowing school officials to assess the sincerity of people’s religious belief. The federal district court dismissed the suit without a trial, but the plaintiffs then appealed to the 5th Circuit Court, where the ruling of the lower court was upheld. In its decision, the 5th Circuit Court indicated that students’ free-speech right to select their own clothes is “not absolute,” and that this right must be balanced against a school board’s stated interests in adopting a dress code or uniform policy. To decide whether a specific uniform or dress code policy is permissible under the Constitution’s free-speech clause, the court used a four-pronged test it had previously applied in another school uniform case, Canady v. Bossier Parish School Board.
The court looked at four criteria: the school board must have the power to make a policy, the policy must promote a substantial interest of the board, the adoption of the policy must not be an attempt to censor student expression, and the policy’s “incidental” restrictions on student expression must not be greater than necessary to promote the board’s interest. In this case, the 5th Circuit found that all four criteria were satisfied and that the district’s school uniform policy therefore did not violate students’ right to free expression. The court also ruled that parents’ rights to control their children’s upbringing, including their education, cannot override school rules that are considered “reasonable” to maintain an appropriate educational environment.
In this case, the court concluded that the uniform policy was “rationally related” to the interests of the school board in “promoting education, improving student safety, increasing attendance, decreasing dropout rates, and reducing socioeconomic tensions among students.” The parents’ argument that the opt-out procedure violated religious freedom because if gave school officials the authority to judge the sincerity and content of families’ religious beliefs was also rejected by the court. Their decision was based on the policy not containing any religious goals; they did not have the effect of advancing or hindering any particular faith over any other; and did not excessively “entangle” school officials in religious beliefs (Lumsden, and Miller, 2002).
Public schools that have already put uniform into place have seen improvement. Kids are less focus on what they are wearing, and more focus on schoolwork. Kids are not focused on what they should wear the next day for school and you won’t have kids up early looking for clothes to wear to school. Elementary and Middle Schools will see significant change once uniforms are put into place. School uniforms are a great way to preserve the level of social equality amongst the students. The thought of knowing the social background is prevented. It makes kids treat each other equally; not judging by what clothes they wear. Students will learn to respect each other on the foundation of how they get along and not how sexy they look.
Humiliating or bullying other kids will decrease or stop altogether. The level of distraction is considerably reduced. Since students will be dressing in similar clothing, which will be distinctive to the school, the students will build up a sense of belonging and loyalty to the school. School uniforms will help avoid incidents of complicated situations (inferiority and superiority). Students will not be known by what they wear, but by how they perform. Kids can build team spirit. When you wear specific colors, a sense of unity can be developed. Similar clothing promotes team spirit. School uniforms encourage a sense of ownership and discipline.Therefore, I strongly believe school uniforms should be a requirement for public school students in the elementary and middle schools.
Overall, implementing school uniform in elementary and middle public school will be beneficial, as I have mentioned above. Kids may not be happy about it at first, but they will eventually catch on. I personally work with middle school kids who go to public school and wear uniforms. They did not like it at first, but what they all agree on is how they don’t have to decide on what to wear.
Lumsden, Linda and Gabriel Miller. “Dress Codes and Uniforms.” 2002. National Association of Elementary School Principals, Alexandria, VA. 19 6 2012 .
Lumsden, Linda. Uniforms and Dress-Code Policies. Eugene, May 2001.
Mitchell, Alison. New York Times: Clinton Will Advise Schools on Uniforms. 25 February 1996. 23 June 2012 .
Public School Uniform Statistics. 2012. 19 6 2012 .
School Uniforms. 21 6 2012 .