School uniforms in public schools have been a hot topic of debate and popular subject for speeches in the United States for decades. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that during the 2011-2012 school year, almost twenty percent of public schools had compulsory school uniform policies in place (National Center for Educational Statistics).
But are school uniforms a good thing or a bad thing? Many argue the benefits of instituting school uniform policies while others argue passionately against it. This sample essay by an Ultius professional writer explores both sides of the argument.
Arguments in favor of school uniforms
Safety and security
One argument for students being required to wear school uniforms is that the requirement can increase student safety and deter crime. A two-year study in Long Beach, CA found in a two-year study that in schools for ages kindergarten to eighth grade, student uniforms helped to bring down the rates of a large number of crimes.
- Assault and battery decreased 34%
- Fighting decreased 51%
- Sexual offenses decreased almost 75%
- Assault with a deadly weapon decreased 50%
- Weapon possession decreased 52%
(“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”)
Comparable studies found very similar results. A middle school in Nevada found there was a:
- 65% drop in police log reports
- 12% twelve percent less firearm incidents
- 15% less drug-related problems
(“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”)
Other ways uniforms can make students safer is gun control. School uniforms make it more difficult to conceal weapons and teachers are better able to keep track of students on field trips. Superintendent for the district of Lodi, New Jersey Frank Quatrone adds:
“When you have students dressed alike, you make them safer. If someone were to come into a building, the intruder could easily be recognized.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
No gang-related colors in school approved clothes
Another way that school uniforms can increase student safety is that they can decrease gang activity. There are several undeniable safety benefits to requiring students to wear school uniforms. The US Department of Education’s Manual on School Uniforms says that these policies prevent members of gangs from wearing colors or insignia specific to their affiliation on school grounds, which encourages a safe school environment and reduce violent crimes (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
Almost half of U.S. high schools report gang activity and schools with uniform policies have reported an almost 50% drop in gang activity when students began wearing uniforms (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”). The safety benefits that uniforms have on a school’s environment are undeniable.
Another common argument in favor of school uniforms is that they keep students’ attention on what they are learning rather than what they and their peers are wearing. When everyone is wearing the same thing, students are less distracted by their outfits and how they compare to their peers in terms of their wardrobe and are free to focus on learning. Studies have found that school uniforms can increase test score (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”). While running for president in 2008, candidate Hillary Clinton advocated for uniforms in school. She said:
“Take that (clothing choices) off the table and put the focus on school not what you’re wearing.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
Clothing choices, school uniforms, and bullying
Schools that switch from no uniform mandate to requiring students to wear uniforms often report:
- Decreased distraction in students
- Decreased drama and bullying
- Increased focus and attention
School uniforms can also help to reduce peer pressure and bullying, enhancing the learning experience again. When students have to dress alike, competition over clothing choices is no longer an issue. A 2013 study done by the National Association of Elementary School Principals reports:
- 86% of school leaders noted a positive impact on peer pressure
- 64% said there was a drop in bullying
(“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”)
When everyone dresses the same, it blurs the lines of economic class, social standing, and other barriers that can contribute to bullying and peer pressure. The University of North Texas’ Director and Founder of the Center for Parent Education stated:
When students had to wear uniforms, it puts, “all kids on the same playing field in terms of their appearance. I think it probably gives them a sense of belonging and a feeling of being socially accepted.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”). It creates a sense of sameness that is beneficial to the school environment.
School colors equal school pride
A third argument in favor of school uniforms is that they increase a sense of unity, school pride, community spirit. There have been several studies that prove that uniforms contribute directly to a feeling of school pride and community.
A study done in 2002 of more than one thousand Texas students found that the students who had to wear uniforms, “reported significantly more positive perceptions of belonging in their school community than reported by students in the standard dress group.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
This is particularly helpful for students who might not have the easiest home lives. Troubled students benefit from this because they are able to find a sense of community and support that they might not find elsewhere.
Research conducted in 2007 found that teachers perceived higher levels of self-confidence among their students when they wore uniforms because it gave them the sense of being part of a team, as well as, “an increased level of respect, caring, and trust.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
The students have an overall better attitude towards each other, themselves, and their environment when they wear uniforms.
Arguments against school uniforms
Right to free expression
Many who are opposed to school uniforms often state that they restrict a student’s constitutional right to free expression listed in the Bill of Rights. and that they prevent students from expressing their individuality. Courts have been in conflict over this perceived right.
SCOTUS: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District
The US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that a student’s constitutional right to free speech is not related to clothing when students were forbidden from wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War (Tinker).
Canady v. Bossier Parish School Board
In 2001 in Canady v. Bossier Parish School Board, it was ruled by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that a uniform policy:
“Is in no way related to the suppression of student speech. [Students] remain free to wear what they want after school hours. Students may still express their views through other mediums during the school day.” (Canady).
Students still free to express themselves
In terms of students being able to express their individuality, there are still a number of ways that students can do that with a uniform policy in place. A junior high school student reported:
“Contrary to popular belief, uniforms do not stop students from being themselves. Uniforms do not silence voices. Students can wear a variety of expressive items, such as buttons or jewelry.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
There are also a number of teen magazines and advertisements that have offered tips and suggestions on ways to add their own style to school uniforms, such as bags, scarves, nail polish, hairstyles, and socks. Studies have found that most students who wear uniforms feel that they are still able to express themselves when complying with school uniform policies (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”). There are still ways for students to express their individuality when they have to wear a uniform.
No individualism or free choice in school regulate clothing
The most common argument against school uniforms is that they restrict a student’s individuality and freedom of expression. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that all citizens, even children, the right to freely express themselves. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada stated:
Clothing choices are, “a crucial form of self-expression… Allowing students to choose their clothing is an empowering message from the schools that a student is a maturing person who is entitled to the most basic self-determination.” (“Four Reasons Public Schools Should Think Twice Before Instituting School Uniform Policies”).
Clothing is also a very popular means of expressing support for social causes, teams, and organizations, and this is restricted by school uniform policies. In 2013, a high school in Prince George’s County, Maryland forbid its student body from wearing pink in support of Breast Cancer, resulting in three-quarters of the students receiving in-school suspensions for breaking uniform restrictions (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
Courts at odds over clothing rights
Though there have been court cases that disagree with this, others did not. A 1970 case before the US First Circuit Court of Appeals decided in Richards v. Thurston:
“Compelled conformity to conventional standards of appearance” does not “seem a justifiable part of the educational process.” (Richards).
Others believe that uniforms support conformity rather than diversity and acceptance. A junior high school student wrote into the Huffington Post to say:
“They decide to teach us about people like Rosa Park, Susan B. Anthony, and Booker T. Washington… We learn about how these people expressed themselves and conquered and we can’t even express ourselves in the hallways.” (Sumter).
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Comparing prison clothing to school uniforms
Some compare compulsory uniforms to clothing requirements in prisons and gangs, which aim to squelch rebellion and individuality. Some schools only offer gender-specific uniforms, meaning pants for boys and skirts for girls. This form of gender discrimination can be harmful to students who are transgendered or gender-fluid. One transgendered boy said:
“Sitting in a blouse and skirt all day made me feel insanely anxious. I wasn’t taken seriously. This is atrocious and damaging to a young person’s mental health; that uniform nearly destroyed me.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
Uniforms policies often do not address children who identify as such and therefore can ostracize certain students. While some studies report that school uniforms make the school environment safer, other research finds contradictory information. In 1999, one study found that discipline problems rose by twelve percent after students were made to wear uniforms while another study was done in 2007 by Texas Southern University that “school uniforms increased the average number of assaults by about 14 [per year] in the most violent schools” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
Other studies reported more alarming changes; the Miami-Dade Country Public Schools Office of Education Evaluation and Management found that fights nearly doubled within a year when middle schools instituted mandatory uniforms (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”). The great benefits of uniforms on student safety that some studies report are definitely not supported by all such research.
Some studies also show that school uniforms can enhance the socio-economic divisions in education racial and social injustice in schools that uniforms supposedly eliminate. A 2013 study found that almost half of high-poverty public schools institute school uniform policies while only six percent of low-poverty public schools require them (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”). This is affecting the way that parents and students see schools and what uniforms represent. The Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research for the College of Education and Public Service at St. Louis University is a proponent of school uniforms but feels:
“We’re creating a culture where parents think that a public school where children wear uniforms is an unsafe place to send their child. In other words, school uniforms in public schools are becoming associated with schools facing violence problems.” (“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?”).
Teachers have stated that while uniforms may make it hard to determine a student’s socioeconomic status in the beginning of the year, within a month or two, those things are apparent by the way that lower-income students still have to wear uniforms that become faded, tattered, or torn.
School uniforms are hardly anything new and are unlikely to be eliminated in public schools no matter how many essays are written. But are school uniforms good for students? Most public schools do not have such policies in place, but the percentage of schools that do is on the rise (National Center for Education Statistics). While some argue that school uniforms are beneficial to a student’s safety and well-being, others argue just as strongly that those benefits are inaccurate and school uniform policies are actually more harmful than good.
Canady v. Bossier Parish School Board. 240 F.3d 437. US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. 2001. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 30 May 2016.
“Four Reasons Public Schools Should Think Twice Before Instituting School Uniform Policies.” American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. ACLU of Nevada, 19 Dec. 2008. Web. 30 May 2016. http://www.aclunv.org/category/issue/education/uniforms.
National Center for Education Statistics. NCES (NCES). Web. 30 May 2016. https://nces.ed.gov.
Richards v. Thurston. 424 F.2d 1281. US First Court of Appeals. 2970. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 30 May 2016.
Sumter, Kyle. “History Repeating: Don’t Censor What I Wear, Let Me Be.” Huffpost Teen. Huffington Post, 28 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 May 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-oped-project-/history-repeating-dont-ce_b_4434121.html.
“Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms?” ProCon.org. ProCon.org, 2016. Web. 30 May 2016. http://school-uniforms.procon.org/.
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. 393 US 503. US Supreme Court. 1968. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 30 May 2016.