Reviewing School Uniforms
It's time for parents to buy their kids' back-to-school clothes. I wonder how many parents have bought the idea that sending their children to school in mandated uniforms will provide them a safer, better education.
According to proponents of school uniforms, a wealth of potential benefits will follow their adoption: socioeconomic equalization, reduction in student violence and theft (related to clothing), increased attendance, restriction of gang activity, better identification of school intruders, reduction of peer pressure, improved ability to focus in class, and better grades
President Clinton touted the benefits of uniforms in a 1996 State of the Union address and ordered the distribution of school uniform implementation manuals to every school district in the nation. Since then, many more school districts have jumped on the uniform bandwagon. This is an educational "reform" that has gained considerable momentum and support.
Does it Really Work
This "reform movement" is wrong-minded at its core. It's yet another overly simplistic, very visible response to the crises gripping our public educational system. Uniform proponents often refer to studies they say prove school uniforms have improved school safety and student academic achievement. I reviewed these studies and anecdotal accounts and found them to be flawed.
Let's examine the most often cited pro-uniform study in Long Beach, California. Data was collected over the course of the 1993-94 school year in 56 elementary and 14 middle schools. Dramatic reductions in areas like assaults, vandalism, theft, and drug use were documented and attributed solely to these schools' changing to a mandated school uniform policy.
Nowhere in this study is there an assessment of why these reductions occurred or what underlying variables influenced these behavioral changes. During this transition year to school uniforms, the Long Beach school district also implemented other significant policy and practices changes. A research study that does not take all factors into account cannot be considered scientifically valid.
Although most uniform policies have been implemented in elementary and middle schools, the preponderance of serious public school violence and discipline problems occur in high school. Because wearing uniforms has supposedly created a better educational climate in relatively compliant, problem-free grades (K-8) does not mean they will similarly affect the more troubled high school populations. This is wishful thinking and a leap of faith.
I've Got to be Me
Beyond the obvious usurpation of parents' and students' rights to make decisions about clothing, forcing all kids into identical uniforms inhibits their need to express their individualism. Even preschoolers need to be granted some autonomy and choice regarding the clothes they wear. As kids grow older, the power to choose how they physically present themselves in everyday life becomes more crucial to their sense of independence and self-confidence. Would you have wanted to wear a uniform as a teenager?
Children should be allowed and encouraged to express their individuality in school as well as the larger society. Grunge, hip-hop, gothic, J.Crew. They're all styles of dressing - each proclaiming its own sub-culture's codes and values. Forbidding adolescents to express themselves through clothing and hairstyles prevents a healthy transition to independence and freedom from their parents and other adults.
The stylish, personalized "uniforms" kids choose allow them to assert their uniqueness and power in a world controlled by adults. We should understand and appreciate these developmental needs.
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