One of the oldest uniforms in existence belongs to London’s Christ Hospital, dating back to 1552 AD. Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) and Catholic school girls have reportedly worn uniforms to conserve their mental energy for a higher purpose.
In the US, school uniform mandates were introduced in 1996 by Bill Clinton in an attempt to eliminate violence among students who were fighting over things like designer jackets and shoes. That response was contested then, and uniforms continue to be highly contested even now. Here are some pros and cons of uniforms.
Pros of uniforms
Save students time and energy in the morning as they prepare for school. 93% of parents believe uniform policy makes it easier to get their kids ready in the morning.
Reduce the need for administrators and teachers to police clothing. So much time and resources can be wasted trying to determine if clothing is too baggy or too revealing, time that could be spent on otherwise more productive activities.
Attendance rates are higher when students have to wear school uniforms.
Enforce discipline among students and may increase students’ focus, reducing distraction and improving overall performance.
They create a sense of uniformity and may build school spirit.
They may decrease violence and bullying related to appearance and clothing. One study found that the introduction of uniforms led to a decrease in gang activity, assault, fighting incidents, sex offences, vandalism, and possession of drugs.
Uniforms provide safety and security for students, helping them recognize who does not belong in school and also affords them a measure of extra protection in public spaces. School truancy in public can also be more easily identified. Identification is also easier during excursions.
Visible poverty is reduced. The absence of uniforms makes a stark contrast between the wealthy students and the poorer ones. This can have an effect on everything from their self-esteem to their ability to focus and concentrate while in school. The uniformity minimizes these extremes and creates a sense of being part of the whole and not being different.
Uniforms save parents money spent on clothing because there is less pressure to buy expensive brand name clothing and other items considered popular. For parents with multiple children in the same school, there is the option of hand-me-downs.
Standardized clothing can also have a positive impact on confidence and self-esteem because students don’t have to worry about being at par with their friends when it comes to appearance and clothing. It reduces prejudice.
Uniforms protect and extend childhood by discouraging children from the pressure of wearing ever more provocative clothes in an attempt to fit in with their peers or be cool.
Cons of uniforms
Threat to individualism and freedom of expression
Uniforms limit self-expression. They force students to conform, and this is not only limited to appearance but also when it comes to free expression. Choosing your own clothing is a way of self-expression. The homogenous look can also negatively affect self-esteem because students just see themselves as one among many, one part of a cog. They are a threat to individualism.
The push towards conformity is not something to be taken lightly. Reinforcing the idea that you should always try to fit in and go along with rules or the majority is highly detrimental to the functioning of society. As Howard Zinn reminds us, our problem is not civil disobedience, our problem is civil obedience.
There is no impact on performance
Several studies have found no correlation between academic achievement between students in schools with uniform mandates and those without. All students learn and have constantly reinforced from controlled clothing is discipline and conformity.
High initial cost
Although the argument can be made that overall uniforms are cheaper, the initial cost can be prohibitive. Parents are also required to buy more than just the everyday uniform including P.E. and formal uniforms. This has led to charities stepping in and even the rise of hand-me-downs and uniform swaps as parents struggle. Children are continuously growing and there’s the added problem of having to buy branded clothing from exploitatively expensive suppliers.
Function as marketing tools
Different school uniforms are viewed differently with some having more dominance and prestige than others. This has the effect of making students some form of walking billboards and marketing tools for a for-profit entity which is appalling.
Can increase bullying
Multiple studies have found that violence increased in certain schools after the introduction of uniforms. One study found that bullying incidents increased by as much as 12% after the introduction of mandatory uniforms.
Enforces gender norms
Most uniforms are designed firmly in keeping with traditional gender norms and ways of expression where girls have to wear skirts and dresses while boys wear shorts or trousers.
They can be uncomfortable
School uniforms are a lot of things, one thing they cannot possibly be is comfortable for everyone. They are also largely ill-fitting, boring, and ugly to boot. For this reason and more, they are highly disliked.
Rasmussen reports that 47% of parents are against school and uniforms and only 41% are in support with the rest coming in as undecided. Where do you fall?
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