The School Uniform Debate
January 31, 2021
The topic of school uniforms can result in fiery and intense debates depending on whom is asked. School uniforms were traditionally only enforced by private and charter schools, so why exactly are they being pushed onto public schools? This topic really started to take its toll in the ’80s and does not look like it will be stopping anytime soon. The NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) shows that public schools requiring uniforms “increased from 12 percent in 1999–2000 to 20 percent in 2017–18.” This data means that about one in five public schools in the US requires students to wear uniforms.
One common argument among those who support school uniforms is that they create a sense of community and break down the economic and social barriers between peers, which lessens bullying. However, with a little more of a thorough dive, other reasonable arguments turn up.
In 2013, a study was conducted by two researchers at the University of Nevada on three Nevada middle schools that had recently adopted a school uniform policy. A survey revealed that, although 90 percent of the students did not like the idea of having to wear a uniform, “various benefits to wearing uniforms were reported, including decreases in discipline, gang involvement and bullying; and increases in safety, ease of going to school, confidence and self-esteem.” Even statistical data showed that “discipline referrals were reduced by about 10 percent the first year the uniform policy was implemented” and a “63 percent reduction in police log reports” in one of the schools.
Furthermore, school uniforms can increase student and staff safety during an intruder event in a school building. Intruders will be easily recognized, and it is thought that the issue will be resolved swiftly without any dangers escalating.
However, is it really effective and worth implementing these policies? One common argument against school uniforms is that forcing students to wear uniforms goes against the First Amendment of the US Constitution, undermining their freedom of expression. Others say that implementing a school uniform policy in public schools would have negative effects on low-income families.
In a 2013 article written by 16-year-old Kyler Sumter and published by the Huffington Post, Sumter expressed the belief that schools are being highly contradicting, teaching them about “Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and Booker T. Washington” who “freely expressed themselves, people who went to jail for what they believed in,” but that they (the students) cannot even express themselves within the walls of their schools.
Additionally, school uniforms are very sex-based. This can be harmful to transgender students and those who identify outside of the gender binary. In an article published by the Irish Times called “No skirting the school uniform debate,” Seamus, a 16-year-old transgender boy, stated that “sitting in a blouse and skirt all day made me feel insanely anxious” and that his peers were not taking him seriously because of the way he dressed. Furthermore, he said it was incredibly damaging to his mental health.
Central Students’ Opinions
So what are Central students’ opinions on the school uniform debate? A survey was released on January 7th, 2021, for students to say what they think about school uniforms. 174 students filled out the survey, and the results are shown below:
Of the 174 Central students surveyed, the majority (60.5 percent) did not like the idea of school uniforms, with many of the reasons being similar or the same to those discussed above. One student explained that “fashion and clothes are an optimal form of expression” and that they allow a person to “convey their own thought, style, position without saying a word.” Another student stated that school uniforms “limit student individuality and choice, and enforce the idea that clothing has a gender (girls having to wear skirts, and guys pants).” Additionally, a student made the point that spending money on uniforms is “an extreme waste of money” and that the focus should be on “teachers, support systems for mental health, nutrition, and so much more.”
However, about a quarter of students surveyed stated that it depends on how the school uniforms look or how comfortable they are. One student said they would be fine with school uniforms as long as they included “gender-inclusive uniforms, and not just male/female uniforms.” Another student stated that “it would be easier not to have to pick out an outfit every day, and also there would not be as much room for unfair rules in dress codes,” but only if the uniforms were physically appealing and comfortable.
Only 9.8 percent of the students surveyed were open to the idea of school uniforms. One student said they believe “uniforms would allow for people to feel more comfortable and less embarrassed about certain trends/styles/outfits,” and that “uniforms would create a leveled playing field” for all students so students would not be made fun of for how they dress.
In conclusion, it would be wrong to say no benefits result from implementing a school uniform policy, but do those benefits outweigh all the negatives? Before doing anything, schools must consider the feelings of students and should carefully compare the negatives and positives before making a final decision. A uniform policy could very much be a hit or miss for students.