Wednesday, December 7, 2011

School Uniforms

Ok, so this isn't so much a lie as it is an age old debate in public schools. I have a bit of a different perspective on uniforms and want to share it. See what you think.

I used to have my students debate on this issue to practice debating. It was an easy enough topic to debate, did not require too much hard core research and gave them all the chance to work on the process of putting together coherent arguments and speaking intelligently. Here is the topic as I see it:

Why you wouldn't have uniforms in public high schools: The main reasons people are opposed to uniforms include the perceived "added cost" and the limitations of expression.

Some think that the student would have to have, essentially, 2 complete wardrobes--one wardrobe of uniforms and one wardrobe of "normal" clothes. My argument to this is to keep it simple. Most uniform policies would call for something along the lines of khaki pants (a wardrobe staple anyway) and a specific color, solid polo type shirt. Since the uniform would call for consistency in the color of shirt, it would be simple to purchase 2-3 pairs of pants and 3-5 shirts. This purchase would cover the uniform for the whole year (assuming wear and tear was not severe). Additionally, there are tons of ways to purchase the shirts in bulk and further reduce the cost.

I am going to address some of the benefits before I address the second major argument.

Uniforms greatly reduce the stress on the teachers caused by enforcement of an arbitrary dress code. Dress codes typically have things in them like "can't be too revealing" and "can't have offensive imagery". Both of these are, at best, uncomfortable to enforce. Imagine being a male teacher and being charged with approaching a 16 year old girl to send her to the office for a dress code violation for being "too revealing." How many times would this have to happen before the teacher is in trouble for gawking at students. It's not a stretch at all. On the other item, what is offensive? I am offended by far less than some people and far more than other people. Who decides?

Another benefit is the reduction of stress on parents and on students. There is no "what am I going to wear today" discussion. There is no "what if ___________ doesn't like this outfit." There is no "OH NO! __________ has the same shirt on as me, my life is ruined!" There is no, "oh look at this guy, he is such a thug/nerd/jock/hick/etc." This brings me to the second argument against uniforms--they limit freedom of expression. I would contend that uniforms actually do the opposite--they FOSTER freedom of expression. If you can't hide behind your clothes, you have to learn how to present yourself verbally. How many youth do you know that dress a certain way to either elicit some kind of reaction or to keep people from talking to them. I know LOTS. You have the kid that wears black makeup, chains, studs, all black, etc. just so the "popular kids" won't mess with them. That same kid will probably never speak with the kid that wears baggy pants and a huge tshirt.

We judge people on a whim based solely on their dress. This is magnified in high schools as kids are trying to find their identities and place an even greater emphasis on clothing. How much better would it be if students started out on a level playing field without pre-judgement based on clothes? This would mean they would have to talk. They would have to discuss their identities and have to express themselves. They could no longer hide behind their clothes.

I know this isn't a "hot topic" or anything that will change the world. It is a topic though that comes up periodically. I don't think it will turn around the school system nationwide or anything. I do think it is an easy change that will promote respect, promote learning and will minimize distractions and minimize some other outside influences, allowing everyone to focus on learning instead of what Suzy or Billy Bob is wearing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My daughter goes to private school. She LOVES the uniforms, and even wears hers on uniform pass day.

It is also a heck of a lot less expensive just to buy 3-4 of each item and be done with it.

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