Many public school systems across the country are instituting school uniforms in an effort to improve overall school performance and to reduce negative behavior. Standardized school clothing has become a heated national debate with experts taking stands on both sides of the dispute. Below is a summary of the pros and cons of school uniforms.
The commonly cited advantages of uniforms are increased academic performance, reduced behavioral problems, increased social harmony, and reduced costs of clothing students.
Many educators believe that students who wear school uniforms perform better academically in school, and a study done in 1998 by Notre Dame shows a slight statistical elevation in student performance among students who wear uniforms. Students are often so focused on their wardrobe that it distracts them from learning. Some experts believe that a mandatory uniform policy will remove this distraction and improve student attention, believing that uniforms set a more serious tone within the school environment that is conducive to learning and can improve student performance. They also believe that school uniforms improve student attendance. Many parents report that their children spend a great deal of time planning and choosing their daily clothing and that uniforms allow students to use this time to sleep or study.
It is generally thought that students who wear school uniforms behave more appropriately in the school environment. They believe that uniforms dictate a stricter atmosphere and that students who wear uniforms are more likely to follow school rules. The US Department of Education maintains that the mandatory use of standardized dress reduces violence within the school.
Some experts believe that, more than in any other area, school uniforms improve the social outcomes in a school environment. Clothing and fashion are often at the root of social conflict. Children are often ridiculed by other children because of the way they dress. Many children use clothing to express themselves and to define themselves. This self-expression and definition often leads to the formation of cliques in the school environment. Many students feel that they are judged according to what they wear by other students, as well as by teachers and administrators. School uniforms remove these factors from the social environment within the school, thus relieving students from the pressure to fit in. Experts believe that, by improving the social environment through mandatory standardized dress, both academic and behavioral outcomes improve.
In some cases, the use of school uniforms is more affordable to families because there is not as much pressure to buy expensive, trendy clothing. Uniforms are made to last, and can be washed easily and frequently. After the initial cost of buying uniforms, there is no need to spend as much money on clothing.
Commonly cited cons of school uniforms include a reduced amount of opportunities for self-expression, a reduced sense of individuality, possible increased costs in clothing and possible reduced comfort.
Many educators and sociology experts argue that requiring children to wear standardized uniforms stifles their self-expression. Self-expression is an important part of child development and some experts believe that curbing it with uniforms can be detrimental to children. Experts also believe that students who are forced to wear uniforms will only find other, less appropriate ways to express themselves, possibly through inappropriate use of makeup and jewelry.
Some experts believe that public education attempts to strip children of their individuality. They believe that public education does not meet the needs of children who do not fall in the norm, and that uniforms attempt to force every student into one mold. They see standard dress as yet another way for public educators to remove student individuality where they should be embracing and celebrating diversity. Some experts believe it is not in the best interest of the child to try to control socialization, which is a part of human nature. They believe that such use of school uniforms does not prepare children for the real world, in which they will be judged by their appearance.
There are just as many experts who believe that the cost of school uniforms is a negative factor as those who see it as a positive factor. Some experts believe that it increases the amount of clothing parents will have to buy for their children because the children will still want and need clothing for the hours they are not in school. Uniforms can be more expensive for a family who buys from second-hand stores or who relies on hand-me-down clothing from friends and family. Some experts believe the cost is a negative aspect of school uniforms because there is no use for them outside of school.
Critics argue that different types of clothing feel comfortable to different people. Some children are more comfortable in a specific material or style of clothing. Uniforms reduce one's ability to choose clothing that fits individual comfort needs. Experts believe that children need to feel comfortable in order to maximize learning, and that uniforms can, in this way, deter academic success for some children.
Delays Transition into Adulthood
Some experts feel that self-expression and self-identification as a teenager helps prepare them to make the leap into adulthood. By forcing teenagers to wear school uniforms, it limits their ability to express in this manner, which may delay their transition into adulthood. One study done in the state of Louisiana found that the only benefits derived from school uniforms ended once the students left middle school, and that no benefits were found for high school students.
Many educators and experts believe that, although in theory uniforms should improve academic, behavioral and social outcomes, in reality they do not. These experts argue that the studies of schools who initiate uniforms do not report improvement in any of these areas; therefore, if the desired outcomes are not reached, there is no valid reason to standardize student dress.
There are also, of course, experts who maintain that uniforms do have advantages. Every school district decides on this issue separately, usually following much debate surrounding the advantages and disadvantages of requiring students to wear uniforms.