The prevalence of uniforms in public schools continues to rise in the United States, as parents and school administrators exert efforts to keep our schools safe environments. According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 10% of public schools have adopted uniform mandates.
Although uniforms have been a mainstay of private schools, public schools jumped on the bandwagon in 1994, when the California school district of Long Beach implemented school uniforms. According to the Long Beach school district, within one year after the implementation of uniforms, the fights and muggings at school decreased by 50%, while committed sexual offenses were reduced by 74%. Across the country, similar statistics abound; for example, at Ruffner Middle School
in Norfolk, the number of discipline referrals decreased by 42% once uniforms were enforced.
Subsequently, fueled by these statistics, more schools across the country are implementing uniforms in public schools. Nonetheless, there are other statistics that argue that uniforms are not as beneficial as school administrators believe. Thus, the question still remains: are public school uniforms good for your child?
The benefits of public school uniforms: safer campus with renewed focus on academics
There are fundamentally two benefits associated with school uniforms: a focus on learning, as well as a reduction of violence on campus.
More conducive learning environment
Many school administrators and parents believe that uniforms create a better learning environment at school. First and foremost, students are not distracted by how they look, and therefore, spend more time learning at school. The peer pressures of stylish dressing with the “best” brands are alleviated, and students can focus more upon their schoolwork, rather than social appearances. In fact, the socioeconomic differences present among students are equalized with school uniforms, minimizing the pressure to “fit in” with the right clothing choices.
According to the School Administrator publication, along with school-reported statistics, the mandate of uniforms on campuses has reduced tardiness, skipped classes, suspensions, and discipline referrals.
In addition, with the visual uniformity present across all students, the instance of school pride has increased. Similar to athletic team uniforms, dressing cohesively increases pride, unity, and a renewed commitment to the school. With uniforms, a more professional tone is set in school, encouraging students to take their studies more seriously.
Creates a safer campus
Secondly, uniforms at school reduce the prevalence of violence, which is a major concern for many public schools. First and foremost, outsiders who do not belong on campus are easily identified, and thus, do not pose a great threat to the students.
Uniforms also reduce the “cliques” and gangs on school campuses. When it is not easy to identify members of gangs, the fights and violence decrease. According to PHS commentator Melissa Nitsch, “when everyone looks alike, there is less risk of being caught in gang fights for wearing the wrong color. With uniforms, no one is killed over a pair of Nikes or a Starter jacket.” Students can no longer be disrupted by who is wearing which gang color, and therefore, the campus is kept safer with less incidences of fighting.
The disadvantages: limitation of personal expression and comfort
Denial of self-expression
The opponents of public school uniforms, as outlined by the ACLU’s argument for the First Amendment, argue that uniforms stifle a student’s need for self expression. Students need to be encouraged to embrace their individualism, and uniforms deny that self-expression. According to opponents of uniforms, even preschoolers should have input into their wardrobe, and the need to encourage personality confidence and independence grows more important as the student becomes older. Without the outlet of expression in their clothes, students may turn to inappropriate hair styles, jewelry, or make-up.
Harms transition into adulthood
Denying students their ability to express individualism and belief in a sub-culture, whether preppy, hip-hop, punk, or jock, could stymie the students’ transition from childhood into adulthood. Controlling the socialization process could harm the student as an adult, as they are not prepared for the real world, where they will indeed by judged by their appearances.
Potential discomfort for students
In addition, others argue that uniforms may not be comfortable for all students. As it is important to ensure that the student is comfortable in order to maximize learning outcomes, uniforms may stymie academic focus.
The mixed responses
Whereas some parents believe that uniforms are more cost-effective than purchasing the latest stylish clothes, other parents argue that the cost of uniforms is steep. Typically, uniforms are more expensive up-front, as the parent must invest in all of the staples; however, as the school year progresses, there are less purchases that need to be made. On the other hand, students cannot wear their uniforms outside of school, and thus, there is the double-cost of both uniforms and a casual wardrobe.
In conclusion, the decision of school uniforms is not a black and white one. The arguments are best summed up by Dr. Alan HIlfer, a senior child and adolescent psychologist: “Uniforms do eliminate competition, pressure, and assaults perpetuated by older kids on younger kids for their sneakers and possessions. They also allow some kids to focus better, especially in the lower grades… [However], clothes are a source of expression for children, and as kids get older, they become increasingly resentful of uniforms.”
Deciding whether uniforms are right for your child depends upon the individual circumstances. If your child has a high need for self-expression, then uniforms may create unhealthy resentment. On the other hand, if you believe that your child needs to focus more on academics than physical appearances, then uniforms may help level the social pressures associated with independent dressing. Understanding what elements are most important for you and your child will help you determine if school uniforms are a right fit.