School Uniforms: A Non-Military Proposal for Sweden’s Students
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The word school uniform has negative connotations for many people. It makes them think of war, of soldier, of death, brainwashed airheads doing exactly the same as everybody else. It makes them think of reformed, collectivized groups of people with no personal identity. There are, however, reasons for the existence of the uniform; one of them being, as the name suggests, the purpose of uniting. At schools all around the world the school uniform is a key factor to the success of the students. Sweden currently does not apply the rule of a school dress code, but there is a definitive need for one. School uniforms are economically favorable, morally necessary, team building and they reduce bullying.
School uniforms are popular in many countries all over the world and they usually look quite similar. For girls this means a skirt or pants, a blouse and a blazer; for boys the equivalent is shorts or pants, a shirt and a blazer. Key factors like the climate in which the school is situated and the economical situation of the school’s clientèle is of course also taken into account. Colors, fabrics and cut of the garment can vary slightly from north to south and from continent to continent. One place on earth where school uniforms are absent is Sweden. Here private schools use to have obligatory school uniforms and later school hats, but they all disappeared some forty years ago. In 2005, the Swedish Christian Democrats presented a suggestion of a law that would allow schools around the country to decided themselves whether or not they wanted to introduce school uniforms to students. The suggestion was met by protesters and was never brought any further (Hägglund, web).
In a country like Sweden where 17 percent of all children (individuals under 18) are from another country or have two parents that are born in another country, that is around 330 000 children (“Children Family Statistics”), adjusting to the new rules written ones and unwritten ones can be hard. Researchers believe that the big increase of immigrants in the Swedish schools is the reason for the increased bullying (Danielsson, 2003) going on in the classrooms and on the playgrounds (Högander, 1999). The Swedish pedagogical scholar Sven Otto Aarland made up a term for this called the ”immigrant syndrome”. He claims that because of their contrasting clothing, dialect or habits, many Swedes consider the immigrants (and even Swedes moving from a small village to a city or the other way around) either a threat or just plain ridiculous, and people that are different are bullied. The answer to better understanding between teenagers who talk or look deviant from the rest of the group might be school uniforms (Aarland, 1988).
The money for clothes may not always be there when immigrants arrive in their new home country having to buy a long list of things to get life started. People seem to believe that school uniforms tend to make bigger holes in the wallet than regular kids’ wear, when in fact it is the other way around. Usually children do not start wearing school uniforms until they are at least six years of age. This means that they are no longer growing as rapidly as they used to do when they were toddlers. Most children then only require one set of clothes for school for the whole school year. Most parents probably see it like this mom from the United States: she says that she as two duplicates of every piece of clothing, and on Saturdays or Sundays she just washes every garment that has been used throughout the week and then she does not have to think about it again until next weekend. (Larkin, 2006). That way the children does not have to keep up with the quick changes of fashion, and buy new items of clothing every two weeks. The school uniform is also easier to pass on from one sibling to the next as it never goes out of style and thanks to the durable and hard-wearing fabrics they are made of, will last for a long time (“About Fabrics”)
Former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, had clear opinions on school uniform and he spoke about them more than once: “I challenge all schools to teach character education: good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then public schools should be able to require school uniforms” (Clinton, 1996). Studies have shown that when students are wearing uniforms there is a big difference in their behavior and their academic results in school. In his essay (Skiba, 2000) Skiba presents evidence from different studies (Cohn, 1996 and Loesch, 1995) suggesting that when children wear a uniform to school they are less likely to be associated with a gang and the dangers of walking pass the wrong neighborhood on the way to and from school is therefor eliminated.
Loesch also points out that the dress code in schools help “establish a calm, businesslike school climate.” (Loesch, 1995). In the Long Beach School District all forms of violence, beatings, hooliganism and other serious misbehaving offenses have almost disappeared since they decided all students have to wear uniform. (Cohn, 1996.) Another good example of how students seem to be thinking is this study where almost three hundred students were asked to describe pictures of people dressed in different clothes. Nearly all the students participating in the survey described the uniform-clad illustrations as “better behaved” and “more academically successful”(Behling, 1994). There is also evidence where researchers have compared data from the same school before and after the implement of school uniforms and the result shows a big increase in the number of hours the kids actually showed up for school each week (Washington- Labat, 2003) and also the results the students got were higher (Thomas, 1994).
Team building is another important aspect of why school uniforms are important, and maybe this reason is the most important one when it comes to making the multi-international students in Sweden feel more comfortable with each other. Even though some people claim that it is only the teachers and staff of schools with dress code who truly believe that wearing the same clothes actually help bring people together, there are scientific proof of students who are also of the same opinion. Like parent and debater Raymond F. Felch writes in one article: “There is no question that school uniforms can instill a feeling of school spirit, school pride and social acceptance” (Felch). The distance between kids who own the more expensive things and the kids whose parents can not afford to buy it for them, is a lot smaller with a uniform; everybody looks the same and that results in a sense of closeness. (LaPoint, 1993). Even though many students probably would not be able to immediately identify or explain this team feeling, it is still installed in them from an early age.
In several books and booklets, for example quite a few by Allan L. Beane, Ph.D, made for teachers, principals and other school staff about how to reduce and stop bullying, harassments and children feeling left out; there is one piece of advice that keeps popping up: introduce obligatory school uniforms for all students. (Beane, 2010). The sole implement of a school dress code is not going to make all teasing go away for the next hundred years; however, the uniforms will remove the topic clothes, one key factor kids and teenagers are often badgered and made fun of for (Beane, 2010). In an attempt to lower the level of bullying, around 60 percent of all schools in Edinburgh, Scotland, enforced a formal uniform dress code in 2005 and they have had positive results ever since. The kids at the schools got to vote themselves if they wanted to wear a school uniform and surprised the teachers with the positive response. William Crosbie, in charge at one of the schools, tells The Scotsman how excellent the new strategy is working: “The kids themselves have told us it’s reduced bullying and slagging about what people are wearing, because they’re all wearing uniforms.” (Rose)
Many opponents to students wearing uniforms are claiming that there is no possibility of children’s personality shining through when everybody is wearing the same things. There is also the argument that the students still need weekend- and after school clothes, thus making it more expensive to have to buy a special uniform as well. Finally, many people, students and young ones especially, use the very sensible and totally understandable claim that it is simply boring and too monotonous when everybody at the same school wears the same clothes. Fortunately, none of the statements above make any sense when you really think about and have a proper clue about what the school uniforms are all about. First of all, to answer both to the statement concerning no personality and the one mentioning the dull aspect, just because a student is wearing the same clothes as everybody else in her school does not mean she has to look boring.
I am using a female as an example because I (maybe prejudicially) believe that girls are the ones that have a bigger problem with this particular aspect. In many schools the rules concerning appearance other than clothes are very loose and allowing. One is permitted to wear whatever hairstyle, make-up, jewelery, shoes and perfume one wants, within reasonable boundaries of course, but those boundaries exist at every school(“Uniforms/Dresscodes”). It is in other words, quite easy to show personality, and to avoid looking like a clone. Secondly, about the money, I am bound to agree to a certain point. If the children demand designer labels and the newest sneakers as their after-school wear then obviously it can become more expensive having to pay for those outfits as well, but if the price of the clothes is kept at an ordinary level, there should be no problem saving money on the school uniform.
Wearing a school uniform is not like being a soldier or not having a personality, it is simply an easy way to prevent and reduce bullying, save money for families with children and install moral beliefs and team spirit in young students. In Sweden, a country where criminality amongst teenagers is steadily growing and where a far-right nationalistic party was voted in to the Swedish Parliament, the school uniform can help children with contrasting backgrounds see the similarities and common grounds of interest, instead of the differences and variations in personal history. School uniform should be compulsory in Sweden.
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