20 August 2021 (updated)

School Uniforms: Restoring Sanity or Restricting Freedom?

While most parents who can send their kids to school in the midst of the COVID chaos are most concerned about which face masks to buy, many remain conflicted on the issue of school uniforms.

Some American students proudly wear them; others feel they restrict their freedom. School uniforms have been an issue for teachers, students, and parents ever since the first students went back to school. Here's a closer look at the school uniforms debate.

A Brief History of School Uniforms

First introduced in England in 1222, school uniforms were traditionally associated with private schools, and therefore, the upper class. A status symbol of the rich and privileged, private and religious school students most frequently wore them. Many centuries later, they crossed the Atlantic to the USA.

At first, school uniforms were typically seen in private schools and served the same traditional purpose they had in England. But times quickly changed! According to recent findings by the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of American public schools requiring their students to wear a school uniform has almost doubled in only 15 years. Given the current trend, more and more kids will go to school following a dress code. But what are the benefits and possible disadvantages of school uniforms?

What Do School Uniforms Look Like?

In the past, school uniforms were very formal. Ties, blazers, and a hat for boys. Long skirts, blouses, and blazers for girls. Nowadays, many US schools have a more relaxed approach to the look of their uniforms. Instead of enforcing a specific set of student clothing, they tend to apply a certain dress code. This dress code outlines which type and color of shirts, blouses, pants, skirts, shoes, and blazers their students should wear.

At many schools, students have flexibility with their uniform attire. You'll see lots of polo shirts and khaki or navy pants and skirts. You might also see a cardigan or sweatshirt rather than stuffy blazers, trousers, and uniform school shoes.

What Are the Benefits of a School Uniform or Dress Code?

One of the main reasons for school uniforms is that they promote equality between students of all backgrounds. You don't notice who might come from an underprivileged background and who has a privileged socioeconomic status. There's no reason to feel ashamed about your clothes when you're all wearing the same thing.

Uniforms create a sense of community at the start of the school year. They make the students feel like they belong to something greater than themselves. In addition, they can promote a spirit of unity as well as school discipline. When you're wearing a school uniform, you know it's time to learn.

As parents well know, image is very important to young people. Wearing a school uniform removes this fashion element and enables students to focus fully on their studies. It can also save a lot of money on children's clothes when you're back-to-school shopping. A recent study by the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that the average cost of uniforms was $150 or less per child. By comparison, the average parent spends up to $1400 per year on clothing for an older child according to a 2017 study by the USDA. So that's a pretty economical solution. What a bargain!

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, school uniforms combat gang culture. That's because they remove the chance to display gang colors and insignia. A further security benefit is being able to identify unauthorized intruders into the school environment. Therefore, school uniforms can reduce adversity and violence in schools.

What Are the Disadvantages of a School Uniform?

First of all, some say that wearing a school uniform denies students this essential idea of American individualism. There are also concerns about students’ loss of creativity and, more importantly, freedom of expression. They'll often refer to the Tinker vs. Des Moines Supreme Court Case in 1969. Students in Des Moines, Iowa, wanted to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. They were suspended, and their parents sued. They took their case to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the students.

Even though school uniforms are relatively inexpensive compared to other clothing expenses, this extra cost could be a burden for some families if they don't receive extra financial assistance.

Teachers can end up spending hours enforcing the school’s dress code and uniform rules. Young people naturally want to express themselves. And they often do so by altering the way they dress. Students might even use deception or other tactics to skirt around the requirement or uniform code of conduct.

Some might consider uniforms unnecessary. Even with school uniforms, students might find other ways of showing off their social status. They might wear a higher-quality version of the uniform. Or perhaps purchase an expensive school bag or other branded items to advertise their status. If kids can find ways to skirt around these requirements, is the hassle of uniforms really worth it? On top of that, they could be especially challenging for kids with sensory challenges.

How Can You Show Individuality in a School Uniform?

Even if you have a school uniform or dress code that won't let you wear denim, there are lots of great ways students can express their individuality within their school system. Here are a few ways to escape the confinement of uniformity, whether you're in secondary school or high school.

  1. Pay attention to good grooming. Even in the pandemic, when your learning experience might be hampered by a face mask, you can still look clean and polished.
  2. Consider ways other ways to stand out from your classmates. It's not worth risking expulsion to fight uniform guidelines. Get a really stylish hairstyle, or maybe wear cute leggings underneath the uniform skirt. There are lots of ways to be unique.
  3. Have fun with accessories. Whether you have a great new backpack or water bottle when you return to school, you can enjoy non-uniform elements.

A New Approach to School Uniforms

School uniforms will always be a controversial issue. So you’ll have to look at both sides and make up your own mind. But it doesn’t have to be black and white. One recent initiative by schools in North Carolina included students in the process of designing their own uniforms. Students worked together with a design company to research, design, and produce the final school uniform.

Considering all the pros and cons, this collaborative approach could be a way forward. What do you think? Comment below or on FamilyApp.



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