Though historically common in the United States except in private or religious schools, uniforms are beginning to take hold. Between 2004 and 2015, the number of schools using uniforms rose from 12.5% to around 20%
The history of school uniforms is unclear. The first school to adopt uniforms was Christ Hospital School in London, starting in 1552. Before that, the Catholic church was the first institution to use uniforms. In 1222, the Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the cappa clausa. Uniforms became common in charity schools to provide clothing to impoverished children. Eventually, they evolved to be a status symbol adopted by universities and private schools. Over the years, uniforms changed alongside society’s style from the conservative robes of the 16th century to the polos and jumpers we recognize today. There have been many debates over the effectiveness and purpose of uniforms. Here are some key advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of School Uniforms
It shifts student’s focus towards studying.
To kids, clothing is a significant distraction. Uniforms remove the obsession with looking hip and distractions of what clothes or accessories their classmates are wearing. Instead, students can focus on paying attention in class. As a result, students will retain more information and achieve better grades.
It reduces student peer pressure.
School uniforms ensure that every student is wearing the exact outfit. Because of this, there is no pressure to wear specific brands or accessories. Students can focus on building genuine relationships instead of superficial ones based on style. Uniforms also reduce bullying by making fewer people stand out. The kids who can’t afford or don’t choose to follow trends won’t be singled out and ridiculed for their clothing choices.
School uniforms cost less than most clothes.
A pair of Levi’s can cost up to $80. Couple that with the fact that kids are constantly growing out of their clothes, this can add up quickly. You can get multiple day’s worths of polos, skirts, or slacks for less than that. Uniforms put less pressure on low-income families to provide clothes for their kids.
It levels the socioeconomic playing field.
As much as we hate it, the status gets associated with our clothes. You know someone with Gucci is of an economically higher class than someone wearing clothes from Walmart. Uniforms erase this distinction amongst students helping to reduce the barriers that poverty places on some students.
It decreases student tardiness and saves teachers and parents time.
Uniformed students know what they will wear for the entire school year. Instead of obsessing over what they will wear, wasting valuable time, students can throw their uniforms on and get on with their day. For younger kids, it saves parents a lot of time when picking out clothes. Teachers save a lot of time, as well. Instead of disciplining dress code violations, they can focus on their lectures.
It can teach adults and children discipline.
One reason the military uses uniforms is to instill discipline in soldiers. The same is true for school uniforms. Children need the discipline to uphold dress code rules. Parents require control to ensure this their children are following the rules every single day. Discipline applies to almost every aspect of life. The most successful people in the world are some of the most disciplined people. This sort of training helps children excel at their studies and hobbies while preparing them for the real world when they graduate.
Schools can identify people not in uniform as intruders.
Standardized appearances allows security officers, teachers, and admin staff to identify swiftly people who don’t belong on campus. A few extra minutes can allow staff to lock the school down and get children to safety before anything happens. In places like the United States, where school shootings are becoming more and more common, these preventative measures could be the difference between life and death.
Schools uniforms make excellent hand-me-downs.
A lot of kids refuse to wear hand-me-downs for fashion reasons. By the time the younger sibling is in school, clothes are out of date. With a little care, unforms can last for years passed from sibling to sibling. Parents will save hundreds of dollars not having to buy new uniforms every year.
It can decrease student tardiness and improve attendance.
A study conducted by the University of Houston looking through school attendance records from 1993 – 2006 found an interesting fact. Schools that adopted uniforms saw improvements across the board to attendance and tardiness. Because the study is quantitative, we don’t fully understand why this phenomenon occurs.
The Disadvantages of School Uniforms
Students will find always find a way to follow fashion.
Kids will always rebel against rules and regulations. They will find gaps in the uniform regulations then exploit them. Jewelry, shoes, and extreme hairstyles are conventional fashion alternatives when a dress code is in place. It may even drive them deeper into certain subcultures with more extreme fashion than they would typically practice.
Uniforms take away individuality and free expression.
For kids, fashion is one of the few things they have control over. Losing their ability to express themselves and carve out their identity can be detrimental. Holistically, it may teach students a form of groupthink by making them act and think like a group instead of an individual.
It is import for kids to learn diversity.
One of the intentions of school uniforms is to curb diversity within schools, which is not something kids can expect later in life. We live in a multicultural world where we intersect with hundreds of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures — pretending that we’re all equal based on trivial aesthetics doesn’t work. Instead, schools should focus on true equality, where our differences celebrated and respected. By removing the barrier of uniforms, schools find it much easier to promote these values.
New school uniforms harm low-income families first.
While school uniforms can be cheaper than the latest fashion, forcing families to buy clothes can put a lot of weight on more impoverished families. Even if it doesn’t seem like much, an extra $40 per month maintaining and buying uniforms can be the difference between eating and going hungry some nights. If a family has more than one child in a school that requires uniforms, this problem gets even more severe.
Taxpayer money could buy uniforms.
People in the United States can be very anti-taxation, especially when it comes to services that do not benefit them. There is already a debate over whether non-parents should have to pay taxes to educate other people’s children. While costing an insignificant amount, the cost of publicly subsidized uniforms is more fuel for the fire.
Punishes poor students by removing them from schools.
Removing students who can’t afford uniforms goes against every principle of equality in education. Since the US Supreme Court ended busing, segregation has reared its ugly head in the United States again. Why add another obstacle when we’re still struggling to achieve equality in education? Even if these students were tor receive new uniforms through charity or public institutions, the stigma would follow them around.
Uniforms can’t stop bullying.
Whether schools have uniforms or not, bullying is going to be an issue. No matter how hard we try to eliminate it, it is a fact of nature for many kids around the world. Other schools will bully students with uniforms. Uniforms can help even the playing field, but kids are smarter than we think. They know whose parents are divorced, whose parents are drunks, and who is poor. Where there is a will, there is a way. Kids will always find a way to bully each other.
Consistent rules can be challenging to enforce.
Applying dress code consistency across large schools is difficult for faculty. One recess with muddy pants and grass stains would eliminate the “sameness” of uniforms. Do you make them change their pants or go home for just having fun? The brands of the outfits may be challenging to enforce. What’s to stop the more affluent kids from getting an expensive GAP Polo, while everyone else bought their’s from Walmart. Schools need to mandate brand and behavior consistency.
Attendance may be better, but grades aren’t always.
In a study by Youngstown University of 63 Public Schools, attendance and disciplinary actions were both improved. The one thing that wasn’t enhanced were grades, which is the entire point of attending school. The reason is that teachers are continually putting the onus on students to improve performance. It is more likely that the real culprit is the teachers, curriculum, and teaching methodology.
Uniforms Do not Increase School Safety.
An essential argument for school uniforms is that they increase school safety. David Brunsma wrote in his 2004 book, The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade, that schools without uniforms are not safer than those that have them. One glaring reason is that districts adopt uniforms primarily for elementary schools. If we wanted to reduce violence in schools through uniforms, we should be utilizing them in high school and middle schools where most school violence occurs.
Uniforms are difficult to adopt in High Schools and Middle Schools.
Uniforms are not utilized heavily in the place they would benefit students the most. High schools and middle schools have the violence and attendance issues that proponents say uniforms will fix. The reason for this is that resistance to them is much stronger in older kids and their parents. The majority of anti uniform litigation occurs around middle schools and high schools, not elementary schools.