The Great School Uniform Debate!
Without a doubt, education is a great profession to be part of. Being able to work with dedicated teachers and curious students every single day is beyond enjoyable and motivating. That being said, there are a number of challenges in the profession as well. One of the issues which arises more often than not is the wide and differing opinions about what is best for children. Understandably people are very passionate about their beliefs regarding how to best meet the needs of our children. However, these opinions are often in stark contrast to other parents and educators and we can then start to see the formation of different “camps” which can be very political in nature. One such issue which tends to lead to this phenomena is the school uniform debate. Indeed, the question as to whether students should have to wear school uniforms or not tends to be a very divisive issue which can lead to opposing sides becoming very entrenched in their position.
When considering the issue we really need to examine the perceived positives and negatives of school uniforms. Below are the points typically made by the opposing sides to the issue:
1. Less Financial Burdens on Families: School uniforms will cost the family less money overall as parents do not need to worry about keeping up with the “latest fashion.”
2. More Cohesive School and More School Spirit: Everyone is on the “same team” and is wearing the same uniform. This will lead to an increased sense of belonging and school spirit.
3. Safety: Having all the students in the same dress makes it much easier for administration and teachers to quickly identify who should be on school grounds and who should not.
4. Reduction in Bullying: Everyone in the same dress can greatly reduce the competition to wear the newest fashion. This in turn can reduce any teasing or actual bullying against students whose families cannot afford the latest fashion trends.
5. Less Family Stress: Families will undergo less stress each morning in regards to choosing what to wear which often leads to conflict in the home and this negativity can carry on well into the school day. With a uniform there is an elimination of the “what to wear” conundrum.
6. Better Academic Performance: School uniforms lead to an increased focus as the students become more concerned with what they are learning rather than what they are wearing. Children who may have become ostracized because of the socioeconomic reasons of not being able to afford the new clothing trends, actually have their self esteem increased which in turn leads to better results and better overall attendance.
1. More Financial Burden on Families: Interestingly, the opponents of school uniforms argue that school uniforms create more of a financial burden, even though the proponents would claim it creates less. Many families simply cannot afford new fashions or new clothes and pass on the clothing of their children amongst siblings. These hand me downs are critical to their financial well being. They would argue that expecting them to assume the cost of outfitting their children with new school uniforms is an unreasonable financial burden.
2. Restricts a Child’s Creativity and Freedom of Expression: To simply “blend into the crowd” is not teaching our children to think creatively and capture the intense power of expression and independent thinking which we should be promoting.
3. Enforcement Difficulties: Principals and administration will be very unwilling to enforce mandatory school uniforms. The alternative to not wearing a school uniform could be suspension from school (after a set number of violations). Not many principals would be in favor of that and it could very well be in direct violation of human rights.
4. Reduction of Academic Performance: Contrary to the prevailing opinion of the proponents of school uniforms, the opponents would argue school uniforms would inhibit academic performance. By curtailing creativity and critical thinking skills we would essentially be limiting our children. An outlet for expression would disappear and with it so would self-esteem and performance.
After reviewing the pros and cons of the school uniform debate one thing is quite clear…there is no clarity! In truth, there have been many studies about the issue which have all arrived at a variety of conclusions. For instance, in his book, The School Uniform Movement and what it tells us about American Education: A Symbolic Crusade, Associate Professor David Brunsma concluded that there is no positive connection between school uniforms and safety and achievement. (Marian Wilde, Do School Uniforms make kids better?) Another study by Ryan Yeung which comes from research conducted by Educational Policy, clearly states that school uniforms have no effect on increasing school achievement and in some cases can actually inhibit it. In contrast to these findings is a study by Oxford Brookes University which found school uniforms improve student behavior and reduce instances of bullying. Also, a University of Houston study suggested school uniforms reduce student absenteeism and improve behavior. Such aspects then in turn lead to improved performance.
Considering the wide array of opinions and very political nature of this topic, I would contend that there actually is NO definitive answer. Instead I would propose it is entirely dependent upon the individual nature of your school and the population. In some cases having school uniforms would be a wonderful thing to happen, in others it would be disastrous. The key is that when finding a solution it needs to be local in nature and come about as a process of healthy debate and discussion which respects all differing opinions…including parents, staff and students. This is an issue which has the potential to tear a school apart. An inclusive. fair, equitable approach to this issue can prevent this from ever happening and will make your school stronger than ever before!
Do Uniforms Make Schools Better? Marian Wilde. http://www.greatschools.org/print-view/find-a-school/defining-your-ideal/121-school-uniforms.gs
The Pros and Cons of School Uniforms. Michelle McDermott. http://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/809991/the-pros-and-cons-of-school-uniforms
The School Uniform Movement and what it tells us about American Education: A Symbolic Crusade .David Brunsma. 2004
Educational Policy. Ryan Yeung. http://research7900.wikispaces.com/file/view/Educational+Policy-2009-Yeung-847-74.pdf
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