Conforming to Conformity: Exposing the Public School Uniform Debacle

My 10-year-old daughter is in the fifth grade this year. She has been in public school since second grade. Her kindergarten and first grade years were spent at a private Christian school where my husband and I had to pay for the tuition as well as the uniforms, which had the school’s name and logo embroidered on them. This was something we accepted because we chose to put her in this school that required certain parameters. However, as our financial situation became strained, we found ourselves ultimately making the decision to transfer her into public school where we would not have to pay for anything. However, during the enrollment process, we were informed that we would have to purchase uniforms. Now, if uniforms were equal in cost to that of typical school supplies, that expense could be factored in rather easily. However, that is not the case. Facilitated by this fact, I began researching what, if any, the positive factors are for wearing school uniforms, and whether those factors can be substantiated. Finding a myriad of information as to the positive aspects of wearing school uniforms along with the arguments that discredit them, I am now able lend credence to the reality of the school uniform issue: their expectations abundantly exceed their purpose.

It's too expensive

As my initial concern with the uniform policy centered on a monetary standpoint, the financial aspects regarding uniforms is the first issue upon which I will focus. Those in favor of school uniforms indicate that uniforms are inexpensive, especially for the quality of the clothing. This may be true to some extent. However, it is not just the quality of clothing people are looking for when they buy, but style and color as well. What people are really interested in buying are options, and those are limited with uniforms.

Furthermore, to state that uniforms are inexpensive is not an accurate assessment. Perhaps they are affordable to some, but not to the general public. Consider this: what are students expected to wear off campus? They’re certainly not going to be wearing those uniforms. What that means is that, not only do we have to purchase a school wardrobe, but now a secondary recreational wardrobe is needed as well (What to Wear?, 2007). That can get pretty expensive, even for those of us who shop at second-hand stores. Not only that, but we are now seeing a different standard with regard to the supposed equality that uniforms bring within the different socioeconomic groups. No longer do uniforms represent uniformity when we are seeing the so-called “cheap” Wal-mart uniforms in comparison to the more expensive, thus “better” uniforms being sold at places such as Abercrombie (Diskin, 2010).

Building on the premise that uniforms are deemed beneficial enough to mandate a policy requiring them within allegedly “free” public education, I would argue that there should be a state-funded program available for providing uniforms in order to avoid burdening families with little means. I know that this country is in an economic crisis, but is that something that was taken into account before pushing this policy through on the public? In other words, if officials think that uniforms are so necessary, they need to back up their position and be willing to unburden their pockets for the cause.

In an apparent effort to recognize the financial woes of some families, Target, Project Success, and United Way, among others, have provided a grant program for those families to receive uniforms free of charge (Pickles, 2000). However, I recognize a potential downfall to this grant program. The families would first have to qualify, and this can be an arduous process. This could also be a potential problem for any government program that may be offered. As my family was denied last year an extension to our previous six months worth of benefits, I understand the laborious process of gathering all the information the welfare office needs, as well as the continuous attempts at contacting someone regarding the case status, only to be directed to voicemail and never receive a return call. This, in turn, forces a trip to the welfare office where you have to stand in line for hours with two screaming kids until they get so fed up with you that they take you next even though your number isn’t close to being called yet. Once you have made your way to the front of the line through the multitude of dirty looks and whispers, all your efforts have been defeated when you are told that you make too much money to qualify for benefits, even though you know you are not able to pay all your bills without government assistance. Because of this agonizingly uncertain process, I would propose that, if uniforms are required without negotiation, the school should implement some kind of program to unequivocally and impartially provide these uniforms to all students regardless of financial status.

Can violence be controlled with uniforms?

Although financial concerns play a big role in the school uniform debate, there are other seemingly questionable viewpoints that transpire among the advocates for the policy. For instance, some proponents have made the argument that wearing uniforms eliminates clothing being stolen or even outbursts of violence due to clothes people wear (What to Wear?, 2007). I must admit, this certainly gives an appealing impression of love, peace, and harmony. But, we live in the real world where theft and violence are prevalent everywhere. If it’s not about the clothes we wear, perhaps it’s because of the hairstyle we’ve chosen or the music we listen to. There is always something. Can every conflictive thing be modified to eliminate unfavorable behavior? Proponents have also suggested that wearing uniforms prevents students from wearing gang colors (What to Wear?, 2007). According to Diskin (2010), “There can be the group that decides to wear its collars turned this way or another group that wears its socks a certain way.”

It seems to me that perhaps uniforms are not the answer. Maybe a more suitable solution would be attempting corrective action upon students who are responsible for disruptive behavior. If no willingness to comply comes from violent and non-productive students, I would recommend kicking them out. Chances are they don’t want to be there anyway, so say your farewells, and give the students who care about their education a chance to focus on their success.

Do uniforms bring our children together?

In an article I read recently, one supporter of school uniforms stated, “[The uniforms] bring unity to the school” (What to Wear?, 2007). Unity? No. How about the truth: uniforms don’t bring unity; they breed conformity. Students are not allowed to express their own individuality. People in general have a basic need to express themselves through appearance, as well as other factors. But children are still trying to discover themselves, and by enforcing the use of uniforms, that process is being hindered. As a high school senior stated, “We were made to be different; we were not made to be uniform” (Kizis, 2000).

Do uniforms affect test scores?

Among another viewpoint weighing in on the side of advocacy is that uniforms promote a healthier concentration to schoolwork, facilitating higher test scores (Kizis, 2000). However, this argument has never been proven. In fact, studies have consistently shown that students who wear uniforms compared to students who don’t, reflect a slightly lower percentage on test scores (Brunsma & Rockquemore, 2003).

Stranger danger?

Yet another supportive reflection associates uniforms towards security measures, indicating that officials will be more aware of strangers entering the school. Perhaps these officials are unaware of the fact that school uniforms are readily available to buy at any department store, as variations in color and style between schools are rare. Without a school logo or specialized style, uniforms fail miserably at signaling security breaches.

Does it eliminate the need for a dress code policy?

One last deduction from the uniform enthusiasts explains that because the choices of dress are limited, uniforms eliminate the, at times, very liberal abuse of a simple dress code policy. Allow me to point out that clothes can be modified, and school uniforms are not immune to this. Girls can hike up their skirts, and boys can pull down their khakis to reveal their underwear, but, technically, they are still in uniform. The rules put in place to prevent these instances have a name: it’s called a dress code policy. And isn’t that what uniforms were meant to replace?

Summary

Although there are many points upon which supporters of uniform policies can draw from in an attempt to validate their claims, equally as many arguments to dispute these claims also exist. Conclusions can be drawn from both sides of this debate to challenge one another. My stance seeks to question the relevance of school uniforms in the interest of financial factors, possible negative behavioral aspects, and unsubstantiated points of view that assert the alternative position. Based on my research, I’ve come to a simple conclusion: the mandatory uniform policy that has been adopted by many public schools should be abolished, and those impending schools contemplating conforming to conformity should consider the issue more seriously before making the leap.

References

Brunsma, D., & Rockquemore, K. (2003). Statistics, Sound Bites, and School Uniforms: A Reply to Bodine. The Journal of Educational Research, 72.

Diskin, C. (2010, September 5). Class Conflict Emerges Over School Uniforms. Better Living.

Kizis, S. (2000, September 1). School Uniforms and Dress Codes: The Pros and Cons. Writing, 23 (1), p. 18.

Pickles, P. (2000, 12 1). Mandating School Uniforms at all Grades. School Administrator, 57 (11), p. 51.

What to Wear? (2007, March 16). Know Your World Extra , 40 (10), p. 8.

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Comments 2 comments

ablg234 2 years ago

Your grades will not improve unless you actually study - my nephew wears uniform (ties, blazers the works!) and he struggles academically - it has nothing to do with Education or insight. Social control by government or teachers having "fun" punishing but other reasons no.

Whilst attending Boksburg High throughout my high school, I wore a school

uniform and was punished for not obeying such school rules as dress length,

colour of hairbands, colour of clips, having a fringe, having long nails,

not pulling up my socks, rolling down my white socks twice not once and of

course the "rest" of the appearance rules relating to uniform or "image" of

the school.

Today as a 34 year old, working in a Corporate environment, I look back in

nothing but disgust. My employer allowing casual Fridays to boot.

Reasons given for school uniform are a placebo cynically prescribed for the

gullible and often include:

*They save money. Now one blazer costs more than Mr. Price clothes. Where's

the logic in that? Often school uniforms can only be bought at a monopoly

supplier like "The Peephole" pushing up prices. When the redundant blazer

and tie costs more than a pair of jeans, cost to the school does not matter

and the uniform is enforced regardless of cost to the parents.

*They improve discipline. I look back on my disdain for the school uniform

and how I was punished because of it. I was well behaved and in the top ten

so once again you only pick on the ones you don't like. Appearance has

nothing to do with behaviour or morals.

*They promote a sense of school pride. I have never since being a pupil and

then all these years later, felt any affinity to Boksburg High or to

Parkdene Primary for that matter, the only two schools I would attend. In

fact, if there were a reunion, I would not even attend.

Reasons I believe school uniforms and appearance rules associated with them

continue are these:

*Teachers, principals, some parents genuinely believe their benefits albeit

superficial. At least I hope this is only the reason as it simply needs a

more broad minded approach on what is and not on what one has simply been

told in the past. It simply requires a mindset change from a brainwashed and

narrow thinking to a critical one.

*Some teachers and principals may sadistically "enjoy" the inspections in

school uniforms and the resulting punishments they can dish out for

infractions of minor offences. They may have a uniform fetish or something.

I believe that this was the case with me in your school.

*The government would rather rule the conditioned, compliant and ignorant

and get schools to do the dirty work for them. Group identity at its worst

with people being told what to do and what to think not how to think.

As a director in the UK once said, "I never accept a job that requires me

to wear a uniform". This was thirty five years after being hauled in front

of a school assembly for wearing the "wrong" coloured green jersey - it was

the "wrong" shade of green knitted by his mother as they were too poor to

buy the "right" one.

Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was given "Six of the Best" for

flouting school rules such as not cutting his hair, not wearing a tie and

believe it or not refusing to button his top blazer button. Whilst I have no

idea what he thinks of school uniform today, he was often photographed with

sleeves rolled up and wore jeans and t - shirts whilst having meetings with

Bush at Camp David. He grew his hair shoulder length whilst at Oxford.

The point is lost to me after all these years and I think I have joined the

range of successful people who actually hated school.

I am making an appeal to you to experiment with the idea of no school

uniform and let go of the rules relating to appearance. Remember that God

made individuals not groups.

Regards,

Lara

This was a letter I wrote to my former headmaster. In fact the Americans are extremely gullible when it comes to school uniform - we had a school shooting in South Africa where all the kids wear uniform and another where a teacher was shot in the head. To the author of this hub - teach your child about God, His love, His commandments and you will not go wrong but rely on uniform - well then you are a fool!


Antome 6 months ago

What I hate about the argument in favor of uniform is the ideao equality and class, hiding the difference rather than educating scholars that poverty is a problem and they should respect the differences.

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