In his 1996 State of the Union speech, President Bill Clinton stated, “If it means teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms” (). The topic of whether or not school uniforms is a good idea in high schools remains hotly debated. Therefore, arguments against wearing school uniforms will also be presented.
1. Parental Views
Some parents are happy having a school uniform so they do not have to argue about what their children can or cannot wear to school. Some parents even think schools that insist on school uniforms are the safest. Other parents and some teens are against school uniforms because they perceive that wearing uniforms forces students to give up their individuality and freedom of expression. This essay examines the reasons school uniforms are better for schools - especially when considering the cost of designer clothes to the family.
In agreement with former President Clinton, many echo two main reasons in support of his statement: (1) peer pressure to wear designer clothes is avoided, and (2) poor and rich students can all dress alike. If uniforms help students stop competing over designer clothes and be treated more equally, then high school policy should include the adoption of school uniforms.
One reason I like the idea of school uniforms is because it prevents competing to buy the coolest designer clothes, as well as saves a lot of money and tensions at school. Secondly, when all students dress in the same uniform, then everyone is on the same level. In other words, they may be rich or poor but no one knows by the clothes they wear. This helps students avoid teasing and bullying based on how much money their family may or may not have. Interestingly, school uniforms have been adopted in some schools to help lessen the achievement gap. In order to make the achievement gap smaller for African-American students, “These efforts have focused on multicultural teaching, attempting to raise students' self-esteem; parental involvement; requiring school uniforms; encouraging community partnerships; and so forth” ().
2. Research Findings
Research was conducted to establish what measures help make achievement more equal. Several researchers discovered that academic measures at the school were not the main reasons students bridged the achievement gap. Instead, they detected that the values held within a family were more important than any other variables studied. Another reason school uniforms have been adopted is to help make the school more secure, “In recent years, schools have implemented a variety of security measures, including security guards, video surveillance, school uniforms, and metal detectors” (). Wearing school uniforms is considered a type of “facility safety measure” (). Schools in the northeastern part of the United States were found to be more likely than other parts of America to require school uniforms. Other common strategies listed as more important than school uniforms when it came to security and safety measures were security cameras or locked doors. However, another strategy used for safety in schools is a written guide for student conduct. The code of conduct in high schools included how a student should behave and suggestions on how they should dress for school.
One of the main arguments against wearing school uniforms in high schools is that it may “violate a student’s right to freedom of expression” (). According to this argument, high school students should be able to express themselves freely and that includes clothes they choose to wear. A compromise between school uniforms and no school uniforms could be to establish a dress code. The problem with setting a dress code is that dress codes are harder to define and enforce in primary schools as well as in high schools. In 2007, a school in California was sued for violating a child’s freedom of expression. (She wore socks with a picture of Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh to school and sent home to change). At the school, “No logos were allowed according to the dress code. The school's dress code required students to wear solid colors and banned images or logos on clothes” (). Eventually the school district agreed to allow “images and other than solid colors.” However, this school district is working towards adopting school uniforms since it is easier to require everyone wear a uniform than to enforce dress codes.
3. Legal Influence
It does not seem unusual for courts to become involved in decisions over whether or not a school’s dress code has been violated. For example in the summer of 2007, the United States Super Court ruled that a teenage boy in Vermont who wore a T-shirt with an image of then President G.W. Bush and images of alcohol and drugs. The school’s dress code did not allow students to wear clothing with any images of alcohol or drugs, so the student was suspended. The decision had nothing to do with politics, but rather was about the dress code used by the school. Finally, “the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision affirming a Vermont student’s right to wear” the T-shirt in question (). The U.S. Supreme Court said that references to former President G.W. Bush’s past use of drugs and alcohol “were protected as free political expression” (). This decision was in contrast to one made by the Supreme Court in 2007 over a student who wore an anti-gay shirt to school. The school was upset and “argued that the T-shirt was hateful and inflammatory”. However, the U.S. Supreme Court did not agree with the school. The Supreme Court decided that the student had a right to free speech and the school was wrong. The message sent by the Supreme Court is very confusing. If students wore school uniforms, the issues over images or words on the T-shirts would not have happened. The costs of suing the schools and going all the way to the Supreme Court for a ruling would have been saved.
Research was carried out on Ohio schools to evaluate whether or not school uniforms were positive or negative for a school. The researcher, Virginia Draa, discovered that school uniforms do make a positive difference. The three areas that school uniforms have a positive impact are (a) improvement in attendance, (b) improvement in graduation rates, and (c) lowered rates of suspension. Just the opposite is argued in a book titled The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade by David Brunsma, published in 2004. He argues that past studies on the impact of school uniforms do not show a positive impact. “Brunsma concluded that there is no positive correlation between uniforms and school safety or academic achievement” (). On the other hand, during a research study in Australia some parents expressed the following opinion.
“When our school started talking about smarter uniforms I was outraged And people who are for a better uniform are quite aspirational and say, ‘We want to make it so the people in the street can see that our children aren't from the public school up the road’” (). These Australian parents did not like the idea that school uniforms were part of an elitist way to make some families look better than other families in the neighborhood. In their neighborhood, the parents used school uniforms for purposes that had nothing to do with the school at all.
If uniforms help students stop competing over designer clothes and be treated more equally, then high schools should adopt school uniforms. Also when dress codes were used in a school, they were very difficult to enforce so it is easier for schools to insist that students all dress alike. Brunsma’s research revealed that school uniforms showed no improvements; but, his conclusions were based on old research data. Draa’s research for one state, Ohio, showed school uniforms did have a positive impact. Therefore, it can be concluded from these studies that it is possible for different states to have different levels of success when confronting standards of dress for high school students.
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Draa, Virginia. “YSU Professor Studies School Uniforms.” The News Youngstown State University, January 2006.
Jeynes, William H. “Religiosity, Religious Schools, and Their Relationship with the Achievement Gap: A Research Synthesis and Meta-Analysis.” The Journal of Negro Education, 79.3. 2010: 263.
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Wilde, Marian. “Do Uniforms Make Schools Better?” Great Schools. (n.d.) http://www.greatschools.org/find-a-school/defining-your-ideal/121-school-uniforms.gs