With the failing academic performance of American schools as compared to other first world countries, the uniform has been touted as a possible solution to the problem. Uniform policies should be implemented in public as they reduce distractions and peer pressure, the rates of crime and absenteeism while easing the pressures of social classes. All these factors are instrumental in improving academic performance and student attitudes which benefits all academic stakeholders who are the students, teachers, parents and administrators.
While uniforms have always been part of private and catholic schools that has not been the case in American public schools. Just what is the history of the uniform in public schools? Dussel reports that in Argentina uniforms were introduced in the form of aprons and smocks so as to increase equality among students and also improve the levels of hygiene. In America uniforms were introduced as a way of controlling groups which were considered unruly especially minorities such as Asians and African. Today uniforms serve as a way to control unruly students especially those in gangs so as to increase safety in schools. (184,191&192)
With the advent of social media and the internet, peer pressure among students has never been higher; the media dictates what the students should wear through a celebrity obsessed culture, the rise of consumerism and personal style blogs. In a study carried out among teachers by Huss in a school that had just implemented the uniform policy, the teachers reported that “kids can develop strong feelings of inferiority when they think they do not have the popular clothes.” Uniforms reduced the pressure of fitting in among students and also judgment of those kids that are perceived to be unstylish. This uniformity reduces the stress faced by students in choosing outfits and the emotional problems caused by the inability to fit in like inferiority complex allowing them to concentrate on school work. (35&36)
Another positive effect of uniforms was the reduction of suspensions, there were fewer interruptions and the need for students to live up to the personas they created with their dress codes reduced. This reduced the amount of distractions in class leading to more concentration. (Huss, 36) The rates of crime also came down significantly, in the Long Beach school district a “36% drop in school crime and a 51% decrease in school violence” was reported after uniforms were implemented, this is commendable by any standards. Uniforms also “help establish discipline, reduce violence and crime” as was reported in a Gallup poll conducted on school principals in 1996. This is because the proliferation of gangs and ‘special groups’ is greatly reduced because there are no gang colors or dress codes that are very important in their survival. (Dussel, 192)
The learning environment in schools improved greatly as the students showed more responsibility and respect towards both their peers and their teachers. There was also an increased sense of pride and a readiness to learn because schools were now strictly learning institutions and not places for fashion shows or displays of wealth, all these were instrumental in providing a conducive environment for learning. (Huss,35)
Yet it is not everyone that agrees that uniforms have positive effects on learning, Rockquemore and Brunsma think that “the uniform policy can be viewed as analogous to cleaning and brightly painting a deteriorating building.” They are of the view that according to their studies there is no direct correlation between the uniform policy and the positive changes reported such as decrease in absenteeism and positive attitudes towards schools. Surprisingly the data they presented in their paper shows that whereas there is no direct cause and effect relationship between the introduction of uniforms and improvement in the overall learning environment, there was evidence that showed that uniforms were a major precipitating factor to these changes. They say that the uniform policy was accompanied by other changes in the school such as change in the learning texts used.(58&60) It doesn’t matter whether the effects of the uniform policy were direct or indirect the only important issue is that there are effects, positive ones.
Other dissenting views are of those that say that the uniform policy is an infringement upon the rights of the students, “First Amendment rights and students’ natural tendencies to experiment with their identities”. (Huss,1)Yet they do not see that this so called infringement allows them to get an even more important right, the right to a good education, sometimes where there is no pain there no gain. These students will have the rest of their lives to practice these rights when they have succeeded in school and they are in their dream careers not when they end up in prison because of crimes that could have been prevented while they were in school or due to lack of proper education.
Considering all the aforementioned facts presented, it is quite evident that the uniform policy has positive effects and should be implemented in public schools. It creates a good learning environment that allows learning to take place through the reduction of peer pressure, absenteeism, crime and distractions while instilling a sense of responsibility and positive attitudes toward school and learning in general.
Huss, John. “The role of school uniforms in creating an academically motivating climate: do uniforms influence teacher expectations?” Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research. 2007. Vol. 1, 31-39
Dussel, Inés. “When Appearances are Not Deceptive: A Comparative History of School
Uniforms in Argentina and the United States (Nineteenth–Twentieth Centuries)” Paedagogica Historica. Vol. 41, Nos. 1&2, February 2005, pp. 179–195
Brunsma,David. Rockquemore, Kerry. “Effect of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems, Substance Use and Academic Achievement” The journal of Educational Research. 2001