Molly Van Den Berg
Composition II- D01
8 Dec. 2008
Should students be forced to walk around school all day wearing clothes that their teachers and principals picked out for them? No. Students should be able to choose which clothes they want to wear to school.
Many people have different feelings about students wearing school uniforms. Linda Sutherland, a school board member in Orange County, Florida says, "There are no magic answers to school violence, but there are pieces of the puzzle, and uniforms are one." Cherry Hill Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, was the first public school to adopt school uniforms, in 1987. The first school district to adopt a district wide uniform dress code policy was Long Beach, California Unified School district, which occurred in 1994.
A majority of students started wearing school uniforms in 1994, and since then the crime rate has decreased by 91 percent. A man who published a study on uniforms, Keith King said that wearing a school uniform is "the number one protective factor against school violence ("Require")." Principal Rudolph Saunders at Stephen Decatur Middle School mentions that students behave better in the classroom when they are all dressed in uniform. He states, "It's like night and day. We have 'dress down' days, and the kids' behavior is just completely different on those days (Viadero)."
However, high school student Evelyn Rivera says, "People still act the same. Uniforms are not really helpful if we do not address the problems kids have ("Require")." In addition, a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia and an assistant professor of sociology, David L. Brunsma, has been doing research on the effects of school uniforms since President Clinton addressed the issue in his State of the Union Address in 1996. Brunsma has concluded that it does not do much too actually improve the issues (Viadero). The American Civil Liberties Union says there is no link between school uniforms and safety or good grades. Dennis Evans, a former high school principal in California says, "Teenagers who decide what to wear in the morning are developing decision making skills and learning to take responsibility for their choices in life." (PBS). Critics agree that the wearing of school uniforms might even make it easier to be a gang member, since administration would no longer be able to tell who was in a gang (Padgett). Violent incidents or gang activity are not a result of the school environment. These occurrences happen as the result of a wide variety of factors that can include home life, parental influence, substance or physical abuse, family values, and cultural tradition. When it comes to gang identification, the use of color is a rather apparent aspect. When it comes to school uniforms and trying to eliminate the use of gang related symbols, uniforms are not going to stop their gang activities. The students will find another way to show their presence, for instance with graffiti, hand signs, or accessories. Uniforms are not going to eliminate gang activity among students. Gangs are a complex issue that will not be solved by uniforms alone (Caruso).
Saunders' instincts tell him, "Students behave better when they are dressed alike, that they fight less and focus on their school work more." Betty Mikesell-Bailey, the school-improvement resource teacher at Stephen Decatur Middle School, notes that since the school decided to have uniforms, students scores have increased. The school was once put on the "reconstitution" list, but it has now been increasing every year since. Although, the special education students, as a group, still do not pass the annual-test score expectations from the state officials (Viadero).
In a study of elementary school students, implementing mandatory school uniforms showed an improvement in the students reading grades. On the other hand, school uniforms did not have any impact to amount to when it came to truancy or in-school suspensions. A very minute amount of schools showed having fewer discipline infractions. The results were that there were many more discipline infractions after the incorporation of the mandatory school uniform policy (Pate).
In one class, students spoke about their experiences of wearing uniforms. One student commented, "I have been in a private school with a uniform and a public school without. I did not learn any better in a uniform than I do now (McCarthy)." " Everyone hated it," said a 17-year-old senior girl. "It completely killed any sense of individuality any one of us had. Everyone looked the same. It was sad to watch (McCarthy)." Many people do not think about how the students are really affected. Without clothing to focus on, students will find something else to pick on one another for. Sometimes people have difficulty seeing another person's point of view. While a teacher or principal may think that the uniforms are a reason that students are behaving better, there could be a whole other possibility as to what the real reason may be. Elizabeth Schroeder, an associate director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California states, "Uniforms are an easy way for a school district to approach a problem that has much deeper roots: overcrowding, lack of school books, uncredentialed teachers." "It is not possible to correct the evils of the school system by putting a uniform on 6-year-old" (PBS). Young people already have enough restrictions put on them without adding another (Padgett). Aaron Morton, a seventh grader said, "Uniforms are uncomfortable. They make you feel all stiff like robots or something" (Viadero).
Peter Caruso states, "School uniforms cut down on distractions that keep students from concentrating on their lessons." A variety of factors can distract students from paying attention to what is being taught. Children as young as six are concerned about looking cool in school. School uniforms eliminate competition to have the clothing that is in style. When every student is wearing the same outfit, they are less concerned about the way they look and how they fit in with their peers. For this reason, the students can concentrate on schoolwork, and not have so many distractions.
School uniforms are tools of administrative power, states Caruso. Many educators feel that imposing a school uniform policy is an attempt to control students and prevent them from expressing themselves in a normal manner. Requiring students to wear a uniform limits the choices they can develop in growing up and rebelling against authority, which will stunt their development in school and in their future. In addition, if a student feels uncomfortable while in their uniform, they will be less open to attending school, behave appropriately in class, pay attention to the teacher, and perform at a higher level of achievement. Many times, if a student does get to pick what they wear, they are going to be uncomfortable and will not excel in school (Caruso).
"At Bennett High School, students are required to wear tan or navy blue tops emblazoned with the school logo which must be purchased from a particular store at a cost of $12.50, tan or navy pants or skirts which they can purchase anywhere and they also have to purchase black footwear. Currently there are about 75 students who are without uniforms and this contribution will hopefully assist them," said Senator Thompson. He plans to donate 1,000 dollars in order to help this problem (SEN.).
If Senator Thompson has to donate 1,000 dollars to Bennett High School so that all students can wear uniforms, then what about the remainder of schools with students who are unable afford them? There are varieties of schools that have students without the money to afford a school uniform, so what choice do they have? They do not have a donation to give them, so they will have to come up with the money another way. Uniforms cause economic hardships for families who cannot afford them (Padgett). If anything, this simply causes more stress on the students, which may cause a decrease in grades since they have to figure out a way to afford a uniform in addition to the everyday stresses of school life.
"When parents come to enroll their children, we tell them right away that we're a uniform school, and they say, 'We know, we're happy about it.' Teachers and parents love the fact that we have uniforms. The children...Well, that's a different story" (DeLores Wilson).
We ask our students to dress and groom themselves as individuals with a sense of responsibility and self-respect. So, it's not a matter of what you must wear; it's more of a matter of what we don't feel is appropriate. Specifically, if it becomes disruptive, offensive, threatening, or provocative to others, is vulgar, displays tobacco or alcohol advertising, profanity, racial slurs, has disruptive images of gang-related symbols (Wendell).
In a study, school uniforms appeal to many parents and teachers, especially in elementary and middle schools. Uniforms "are seen as a concrete visible means of restoring order to the classrooms. Uniforms conjure up visions of parochial schools, which are perceived as safe, secure, and orderly learning environments" (Wendell). A principal at Mulholland Middle School said, "I like the idea of uniforms. I'd like to see all of my students in them. But I would rather use my time to improve education at this school" (PBS).
Maria, a ninth-grader, who swims, plays soccer, and wears exactly what everybody else does at her high school in Washington, DC, said, "It helps to get up in the morning and not have to think about what you're going to wear." Each school day, Maria wears an all-white polo shirt, brown shoes, and a gray/maroon plaid skirt that has to be long enough to touch the ground when she kneels. It is a definitely different story for Maria when it comes to after school and on the weekends.
Since Maria does not have many clothes other than her school uniforms, she usually has to borrow her friends' clothes after school or on the weekends. Maria stated, "I just kind of steal them. That way, they do the shopping, and I get to wear them."
Policies requiring school uniforms infringe upon students' First Amendment rights, stifle individuality, and impose unnecessary means of control. "If you were to ask administrators and teachers to prioritize a list of concerns, what children wear to school would likely be ranked low, below funding, school violence, and even what color to paint the walls of the staff lounge"(Wendell). Without the support of parents, educators say, "uniforms quickly disappear from campus at public schools. Students could be in bikinis and, if the parents are supportive, the school will do better. Los Angeles Unified School set a goal three years ago of having uniforms at all of its 668 schools. So far, 354 city schools have a uniform policy, a majority of them are elementary schools. Of those, the district cannot say how many students still wear uniforms every day.
"Uniform requirements cramp students' freedom of expression and amount to nothing more than a band-aid solution to the illness that ails our schools. Critics also point to the financial burden uniforms put on lower-income families". In 1999, American families spent some $1.5 billion on uniforms (Wendell).
Restrictive dress codes and uniform policies hold back students' freedom of self-expression, as well as their creativity and individualism. School uniforms are similar to prison uniforms and in turn make students feel trapped. Along with students dealing with feelings of being trapped, parents also feel trapped, or as if they have lost a privilege they had with their children. Uniform policies tell parents how they should raise their children (Wendell). Uniforms prevent students from expressing themselves, either directly, for instance through a tee shirt that contains a message, or indirectly, by their apparel. Uniforms violate parents' rights to make basic decisions about how to raise their children. Uniforms also violate religious beliefs and ideas of certain parents and students (Wendell). Requiring uniforms will not help teach students to become the independent thinkers of tomorrow, and that is the major goal of education (Padgett).
"Aside from reading and writing, public schools are supposed to be teaching democracy. Uniforms are antithetical to teaching people how to make choices" (Presser). "The choice to wear clothing as a symbol of an opinion or cause is undoubtedly protected under the First Amendment if the message is likely to be understood by those intended to view it"(qtd. in Wendell).
Opponents of school uniforms view incorporating a uniform policy to applying a fresh coat of paint to a crumbling building; it is very visible but does not address the underlying problems (Lumsden).
Uniforms should not be used as a magic wand to try to make the students' problems disappear. They do not make student's real-life problems just go away while at school. Students are dealing with these problems whether they are in school or not. Putting on a school uniform does not turn an angry, distraught student into a blissful, worry-free person. One-day people will understand this and realize that school uniforms are not the answer for all these problems.