For most teens, every day is the same. They wake up before the sun even rises and struggle to get dressed because they are not sure what to wear. The shirt they are looking for is dirty and they cannot find their favorite pair of jeans. After running around and almost being late, they finally head off for their seven hour school day. But how much education actually goes on in their classes? Sure there are a few enjoyable ones, but for the most part, all they can do is wait for the last bell to ring so they can go home. What is going on that the children aren’t paying attention in their classes? What is distracting them from their work? Some people would say it is the clothing styles they are wearing. Students are too worried about what brand name they have on, the colors of their clothes, and what type of shoes they are wearing to be interested in schoolwork. Sometimes this is more than a distraction – it is a recipe for violence. Teachers have been assaulted, and students have even been killed over their designer clothing and shoes. Administrators, teachers, and even some students are now turning to the idea of uniforms in public schools to cut down on violence and restore academic focus. It would also cut down on pressure and discrimination due to clothing styles.
Some students feel pressure because of what they wear, or in some cases what they do not wear. Not all students have the means to wear designer clothing and shoes. Students who cannot afford these luxuries are singled out and made fun of. “Uniforms take away the No. 1 reason kids treat each other differently: how they look,” says Sgt. Joe Battle, a Long Beach juvenile officer (Ritter, 1998, para. 5). Who would want to go to school all day and be made fun of because of their clothes? Wearing uniforms would also cut down on the division between social groups. Not feeling accepted by certain groups can be intimidating to other students and can cause tension in the classroom. Fourteen year old Chemiya Carter, a freshman at Wilson High School in Long Beach said she is in favor of having uniforms. She says, “If you aren’t wearing Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren it’s like you are less of a person” (Ritter, 1998, para. 16). Other than not being accepted by social groups, there is the fact that most social groups just do not talk to anyone outside their circle. With uniforms that barrier will be gone, and maybe there will be more friends made than enemies.
There is also the issue of violence in schools and clothes play a role in that. Uniforms assist in avoiding such conflicts by removing the chance for confrontation over clothing (St. John Parish, 1997). In Long Beach, California a study was done to show pre and post uniform statistics. Overall, school crime had dropped about 86%, and Figure 1 shows a more detailed breakdown. Weapons and look-a-like weapons were the highest in 1993, followed by selling or using chemical substances. These numbers drastically dropped after uniforms were enforced and were down by more than 50% in 1999. Other crimes that dropped after uniforms were implemented were sex offences, robbery, and dangerous devices. (Lopez, 2003).
Bill Clinton said it best when he said, “I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.” Former President Clinton was a huge advocate for school uniforms. He saw that there was a problem and knew this would be a way to start fixing it. His ideals were not to restrict or confine the American people; they were ways to make us better as a nation. They were a way to bring us together as a people, and stop the violence over frivolous things.
Another issue Former President Clinton was passionate about was ending gang violence. Now more than ever, gangs and the colors they wear have become a problem in schools. Not only do rival gangs fight between themselves, but it also creates a hostile environment for the rest of the student body. What would happen if a student unknowingly wore a gang color or symbol? Should they be afraid to go to school because they are not sure if their shirt is the color of a gang? Absolutely not and implementing uniforms would not let the gang colors and symbols be shown when students are in school. That will lead to less tension and a safer environment in schools. It also may end up leading to fewer students becoming gang members. Uniforms will not fix every problem, but they will give students a more secure feeling about being at school and learning.
Many cities already have a huge number of their public schools in uniforms. New Orleans, Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, Miami and Cincinnati are six major cities that have widespread uniform use. New Orleans had the highest percentage of uniform use in their public schools, at 95%. The lowest city was Cincinnati at 50%. If the decrease in violence is not enough of a reason to support uniforms in schools, academic achievement should be. Although it cannot be completely linked to school uniforms, school officials have said there is more of an overall seriousness to the students which has caused an increase in attendance and test scores (Articlebase, 2005). Students are taking pride in their work and paying more attention in their classes. Just like getting dressed up for a job interview, when you are dressed nice and have a better image about yourself you will want to do better. Students want to succeed, not just doing what they can to get by.
One issue that deters parents from wanting to see their children in plaid and pleated skirts is the anticipated cost. However, the truth is, uniforms will actually be cheaper for parents in the long run. The cost of designer clothes is high enough on its own, but that does not include when parents have to replace clothing after is has been stolen or ruined. The average cost for a year’s worth of classroom school uniforms ranges from $110 to $140 (Summers, 2007). That can be the cost of one pair of designer jeans. There are many mainstream stores now offering a wide variety of uniforms at affordable prices. Wal-Mart, Sears and Land’s End are examples of stores that now carry uniforms (Woodyard, 1997). Not only are stores making uniforms affordable, but most schools also offer some sort of financial assistance to help with the cost of uniforms. Some schools even get uniforms back after students graduate to offer them to other students.
Another great incentive for parents is that mornings will become much easier when uniforms are enforced. There are no more hectic mornings with not knowing what to dress your younger child in, or waiting for your older child because they cannot figure out what to wear. Students get to wear the same thing everyday and there is a piece of mind that comes along with that. Things will be calmer and there will be more time for important things in the morning, such as breakfast. If you take a step back it is like the domino effect. Everything ties together in some way.
Aside from violence and teasing from other students, there is also the issue of inappropriate clothing and how it is a distraction to students. Speaking for moms everywhere, Cyndi Seibert said, “As the mother of a boy with teen-age hormones, the uniform makes the young lady sitting next to him in biology lab less of a distraction, and the teacher a little easier to focus on, because she’s got on a collared shirt with sleeves instead of a spaghetti strap with her bra hanging out” (Ritter, 1998). Students are able to put their concentration more towards their work because there was not the opportunity to comment or look at what anyone else was wearing. Teachers also do not have to spend excess time making sure that the students are appropriately dressed. When I was in high school there were quite a few teachers that walked around with a ruler to measure the girl’s skirts. Then if the skirt was too short they had to go to the office and either go home or wait for someone to bring them something else to wear. So not only are the teachers taking time away from what they are there to do, the students are missing classes, and in some cases full days, because of what they are wearing. That is such a waste of time and could be completely avoided if uniforms were instituted. There will always be the students that will try to get away with making their skirt shorter, or having their pants sag, but for the most part teachers will be free from having to be the “fashion police” and do what they are there to do, teach.
There are many people that say uniforms will stifle a child’s individuality and freedom of expression. If this is the case then that means we are teaching our children that what we wear is what defines us. That should not be what we are teaching the youth of today. Being an individual comes from within and can be shown through your personality. If a student wants a way to stand out then they should excel in their academics or extracurricular activities. Strive to be the valedictorian or the all star quarterback. Rock it in the band or be a champion chess player. Be different in a real way, not a superficial way. Also, I cannot help but notice that all those things have something in common. The football team, the cheerleading squad, even the band, they all wear uniforms. There is a sense of teamwork and togetherness that comes with wearing uniforms. If it is good enough for the football field then it is definitely good enough for the classroom.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Uniforms are not the answer to every problem that happens in schools, but it is a stepping stone and a way to change the total outlook on education. We are responsible for the youth today and education needs to be made a priority. Overall, I have shown why uniforms would be beneficial in public schools. The facts show that students do better on tests, violence is down, self esteem is much higher, and students just feel better about going to school. Why would parents not want to give their children the safest and most productive environment possible to get an education? We as parents are only hurting the children. They will be the leaders of tomorrow and they will have the power to change the world…that is if we give them the right tools to succeed.
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