School Uniforms - Yes or No?

by NDFAuthors

  • Dec 06, 2013

The heated debate of whether schools should enforce uniform policies has been divided by strong supporting evidence on both sides.

The yes-sayers who are in support of school dress code policies uphold that the reason for a school uniform dress code policy is simple; it is to create a positive atmosphere for learning within a safe environment. They argue that school uniforms provide a positive social environment, level the playing field for economically challenged families and keep the school community safe.

On the other hand the cons camp builds a very strong case for their non-support of school uniforms citing that uniforms are costly, lack effectiveness and undervalue the importance of self-expression.

Let us have a look at the reasons FOR school uniforms:

Uniformed schools have a direct effect on the students’ sense of belonging and school identity.  This creates a positive social environment as every student is “on the same team” There is a feeling of unity when wearing a uniform that your colleagues’ are also wearing. It also breedscollegial spirit and support for one another. An easy example of this is how athletic clubs bond as a team while wearing the sport’s uniform. It is a display that there is a collective consciousness and that team members work collectively towards a common goal or purpose.

classmatesAlso school expectations are easier to enforce when students are in uniform as it is a physical display of readiness for learning by being properly dressed. A school uniform is a symbol in part of preparation and duty towards learning. Outside distractions of fashion and inappropriate dress is excluded from the environment as every student in uniform displays their academic intentions of the day and leaves the consumer driven world on the outside for the duration of the school day.

School uniforms are economical as they eliminate the need for parents to buy their children clothes for school that keep up with the ever changing trends. Not only are school uniforms classic and can be worn for as long as they last, they also give parents a way out of not having to buy their children certain apparel to show that they “fit in”.  School uniforms create equality as they remove competition between students of higher and lower socioeconomic groups.

Some critics argue that in some extreme cases certain socioeconomic groups cannot afford the price of the uniforms. There is no school board on this planet that will deny any student access to a school based on the family not being able to afford a uniform for the child. Every school board has uniform assistance for those families in need. This assistance is easily accessible through the schools vice-principal and/or guidance counsellor and covers the full cost of the school uniform. Similarly when uniforms get very worn and a family cannot afford to replace the item, uniform assistance program is there to help out with a new item at no cost to the family.

School uniforms keep school communities safe. It is an automatic way to identify who is part of the school community and who is not. Intruders are immediately identified. Out of all the arguments for school uniforms I believe this is the greatest one since its motive is to keep our children safe. School uniforms are also a great safety feature on class trips; students from a particular school are quickly recognized. This helps the teachers not only count students quickly it also helps students stay together as a group and identify as one.

School uniforms also keep out any gang related identification or markings, bandanas are not allowed and neither are any coloured t-shirts allowed to be worn underneath the uniform shirt.

The cases AGAINST school dress code policies are very strong. The arguments have much merit and need to be properly considered.

School uniforms are costly and therefore contradict the reasoning that school uniforms even the playing field for families in low socioeconomic brackets. In fact it is of determent to the exact people they are trying to support. Parents must buy their children regular clothes regardless of whether the school their children attend is uniformed or not. The uniform is then an added expense and therefore not a way to help financially struggling families but actually adding burden. In the situation that a family has several children attending the same uniformed school it creates a very large cost for the family at the beginning of every school year. Uniformed schools could represent a massive obstacle to new comer families whose financial means may be very limited due to their recent immigration.

school-uniformsSchool uniforms do not evade cliques from forming, nor do they create a homogeneous community. Uniforms therefore lack effectiveness and do not live up to the promise that they create a positive social environment. Furthermore there is no proven correlation between uniforms and achievement or uniforms and behaviour. The argument that uniforms contribute to students performing better academically and behaving properly simply are not true. Moreover school uniforms can serve to stigmatise a school especially in urban areas. This can happen when students from a “bad” school are easily identified by the uniform they wear and then are marked within the community. This can lead to ghettoized schools and neighbourhoods and cause an awful divide, exactly what the uniform was trying to prevent.

If “imagination is more important than knowledge” as Einstein said then school uniform policies undermine the importance of self-expression and attack the very foundation of what we should be teaching our children, to think critically and grow to become their own people.

As Tara Maginnis Ph.D. wrote “school uniforms send early-life messages to students that conformity is important and creativity is not, that authority is allowed to abuse its power and constrain our constitutional right to free speech and expression.

What we wear and how we dress are true reflections of who we are and how we feel about ourselves. Our wardrobe is an expression of our personalities, on certain days it can reflect our moods, on other days our ethnicity and at times our attitudes. To not be able to express one’s self through clothing is like not allowing an athlete to run or a singer to sing. Enforcing a uniform at school is also not reflective of the real world. It does not teach individuality and how to celebrate our differences but in turn shuns them and teaches conformity. Schools should be a place of exploration, support and growth and imposing a mandatory dress code does not do this, but quite the opposite.

The debate of whether schools should enforce a dress code policy and assume a school uniform for the students is contentious and the reasons for and against are equally strong. People’s opinions will lie depending on what their priorities are. A parent that highly values safety will likely side with yes to uniforms. Other parents who view self-expression most important will want an environment for their children that is not conformed by a uniform. As with many issues in life our opinion will lay with our values. The benefit of many of our communities is that there is lots of choice amongst schools and so each family can choose what school environment is best for their children.

What is your opinion on school uniforms: are you pro or against? Is there a school in your vicinity that enforces uniform policy? If so, do you think it helped its pupils become better students?

Featured image credit: DarkB4Dawn / / CC BY-NC-ND