03 March 2021 (updated)

School Uniforms: Restoring Sanity or Restricting Freedom?

While most parents who are able to send their kids to school in the midst of the COVID chaos are most concerned about which masks to buy, many remain divided 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. 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. As an example, this school in Florida details what kind of clothes students are allowed to wear throughout the different seasons.

Benefits of a School Uniform or Dress Code

One of the main reasons given for school uniforms is that they promote equality between students of all backgrounds. You don't notice differences in socioeconomic status as much when you're all wearing the same clothes.

Uniforms create a sense of community and 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 when you're back-to-school shopping.

According to a publication by the National Crime Prevention Council, school uniforms are also effective in combating 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 violence in schools.

Disadvantages of a School Uniform or Dress Code

An important element of growing up is developing your own personality, individual tastes, and ideas. Some people 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. An often referred to the example of this is the Tinker vs. De Moines 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.

Another significant issue is the cost of school uniforms. Especially for parents on a low income with several children, buying school uniforms presents a great financial challenge.

Last but not least, teachers can end up spending hours enforcing the school’s dress code. Young people naturally want to express themselves and often do so by altering the way they dress. Rolled up sleeves, shortened skirts, piercings, and make-up are all issues teachers have to deal with. Therefore, valuable school time is lost, and instead of youngsters not caring about their clothing, it becomes the very issue it was never supposed to be!

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 and 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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