Public Schools Mandatory Uniforms

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The debate about public school uniforms in America has been around for a very long time. This issue was even mentioned by President Bill Clinton in a State of the Union address in 1996. In his 1996 State of the Union Address, President Clinton decreed,” I challenge all of 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” (Clinton 1996). Public schools requiring mandatory uniforms for their students are a major topic as it deals with moral and economic concerns about how America’s public schools are operated.
Lack of parents support is the most significant reason for schools failing to implement any sort of school uniform code. Parents, teachers, and students should support the need for school uniforms in public schools so that they may be able to achieve higher educational goals. This paper will discuss many of the pros to the debate on uniforms in public schools as well as touch on some of the cons on the subject. After weighing the two sides, it will demonstrate how the pros are a more sensible alternative and why schools should require mandatory uniforms for their students.
Supporting a school uniform policy would help to raise the academic performance level. Students normally wear a variety of clothes that are a distraction in the classroom for a variety of reasons i.e. sports logos, political messages, personal interests, etc. School uniforms would remove this distraction along with the stress of a student having to choose what to wear to school each day. Students that are less worried about their fashion will tend to be more focused on their school work as Helen Woods states, “Research studies included in this research shows that parents have opinions favoring a uniform dress code with the two foremost reasons being competitiveness among the children and their peers to wear the latest designer fashions…” (Woods 1992). School uniforms would remove the friction between students that do not wear the style clothes that fit in with their peers. Students that cannot wear competitive designer clothing will, in the name of competition, be considered a loser and no student wants to be considered a loser just because they cannot afford expensive designer clothing.
The cost of the uniform depends upon what type of uniform is required.

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There are many programs to assist students with financial requirements of purchasing a uniform. Parents that are frustrated over the cost of clothes can upset a student making them dwell on what they can’t have and how they will be treated at school because of their parent’s decision. A uniform would therefore reduce the overall stress Helen Woods responds, “Research studies included in this research shows that parents have opinions favoring a uniform dress code with the two foremost reasons being…, and the expense that they can save on school clothes” (Woods 1992). Designer clothes can cost a small fortune while on the other hand, a simple school uniform can be cost substantially less. When purchasing a uniform the parent should choose one that is not only affordable but also easy and inexpensive to maintain. Programs should be available that offer a small allowance for financially unstable families so that they are able to wash and maintain their uniforms. Many different styles of uniform styles are available based on the economic level of the community being served ranging from just a required shirt and pants to a complete suit. There are also alternatives to a full school uniform policy. For instance a school can substitute a required type/color of shirt for an actual uniform as many charter schools require. A revised and much more limiting dress code can be effective if designed and enforced properly. Improved dress code enforcement would greatly reduce the need for and argument about a school uniforms. High school students have this to say about uniforms;
ACLU polled high school students to solicit their ideas about how to address school violence. Their suggestions included the following:(1) Confront and discuss issues of racism and cultural conflict, (2) institute "safe corridor “programs to protect students on their way to and from school/class, (3) secure school entrances, (4) establish more extracurricular activities and clubs, (5) hold open-microphone assemblies where students can freely express themselves, (6) establish programs to help students find part-time jobs, and (7) teach conflict-resolution techniques (Siegel). Those polled did not feel that restrictive dress codes or uniforms would be helpful in reducing violence. (Lumsden 2001)
High school students do not believe that school uniforms will help to reduce violence in there schools. Students did however have several good suggestions that could reduce the need for school uniforms. Disagreeing with the argument for mandatory school uniforms are Linda, and Eugene Lumsden explaining;
“Clearly, it is naive to think of uniforms or restrictive dress codes as a stand-alone solution to the safety concerns and discipline problems that plague many schools today. As Forest notes, instituting uniforms to stop violence is like putting "a bandage on an enormous wound, instead of attempting to find ways of truly dealing with the bleeding." On the other hand, when well-conceived and coupled with other appropriate Interventions, uniforms or strict dress-code policies may have a positive impact on school climate, student behavior, and academic success.” (Lumsden 2001)
Even though mandatory school uniforms may not alone solve violence in schools, uniforms can be used effectively in conjunction with multiple other policies that have a combined effort to reduce violence.
Behavioral problems can be solved by stricter enforcement of school policies and implementing school uniforms. Students wearing uniforms are better established in their role as a student as Alex Joseph explains, “Uniforms legitimize the roles in a given situation by certifying membership and role.” Students would be wearing a constant reminder that they are at school. Joseph theorizes, “The uniform is a symbolic statement that an individual will adhere to group norms and standardized roles. Furthermore, the uniform acts as a guarantee that an upper level in the organization will control the members and, in turn, the members will conform.” (Alex Joseph 1979). Students wearing this constant reminder should be more willing to follow the rules and authority figures would have more control.
Violent affiliation concerns can be controlled with a school uniform policy as well. Associations, many with symbols that are not school appropriate or that can promote violence, can be kept out of schools. School uniforms will also help to avoid the “colors” worn by unfriendly organizations such as violent and destructive gangs. By prohibiting the use of uniforms based on outside groups i.e. sports, gangs, organizations, etc. students will adapt to conform to the uniform. This will help to remind them that while they are at school they will conform to all rules and policies so that all gang violence can be avoided. Fights that are instigated from what a student is wearing can be better avoided. School uniforms can also help to keep weapons out of our schools. Banning baggy clothes, book bags, and large purses will make concealing a weapon much more difficult. Schools that have banned backpacks have policies set up so a student would possibly need to bring nothing to school or have a clear or see through back bag. Ben Brown’s article expresses, “The only security measure which the majority of students disliked was the policy that all backpacks be translucent.” (Brown 2005) A school campus that can prevent students from carrying concealed weapons will in turn be a safer one. Safe schools are established by teachers, parents, and students concerned about the school as a whole Alex Joseph declares, “Uniform wearers tend to internalize the norms of the group, assuring organizational efficiency. Even if not fully internalized, the wearer in uniform is subject to external constraints by peers, and outsiders aware of the norms to which the wearer is expected to adhere.” (Joseph, Alex N. 1979) If a student were to possess a prohibited item the student could be identified as a potential threat. Students unified with a uniform would be more likely to not accept this behavior. If a serious incident were to occur amongst the student body, unified students would see to it that school security would then be contacted quicker in most cases preventing anything serious from happening. Security can then at that point follow the proper search procedures to insure that the student is not carrying a weapon or any other illegal items.
Theft in schools is a concern of many students and parents that can be partially corrected with a uniform policy. The theft of non-uniform apparel would be distinguishable from school apparel since students should not have such apparel with them. Students will also no longer have to worry about the theft of their footwear because a school uniform policy would require that a student wear a specific kind of footwear. If theft is reduced from schools by using uniforms then overall crime should be reduced as well. Reducing over-all crime has a number of positive effects on a school district Jackie Baker Padgett clarifies;
“In Long Beach, California, uniforms are mandatory in all elementary and middle schools. Long beach was the first major U.S. city to make uniforms standard dress for all of its public schools. This program comprises approximately 59,000 students. School district officials state that in the first year of wearing uniforms, overall school crime decreased 74 percent, weapon offenses decreased 50 percent, and assault and battery offenses decreased 34 percent. In addition, vandalism decreased 18 percent which ends up saving the district $100.000 per year. (Padgett 1998)
This is by no means the only example of the results of having mandatory uniforms there were several changes that helped reduce the total overall crime. Without mandatory uniforms in Long Beach public schools the decrease in crime would not have been so significant. These statistics reflect that mandatory uniforms in public schools do work towards solving the behavioral problems of the youth today. Uniforms are reducing not only the financial cost to the school and parents, but the moral/ethical cost as well.
A school uniform will unavoidably take some individuality away from the students but would not shut out children’s entire personality. Parents and students argue for individuality. In a student’s eyes, what most students are wearing makes them feel that they are conforming to the rest of society. The reality though is that they are expressing nothing, but the fact that they want to be part of a group. Students in lower income families cannot conform to the rest of society and are singled out. School uniform policies will let these students be part of a whole group. Low income students would not have to worry about fitting in because of what they wear and students trying to conform to a group would happily be accepted as part of their school when in uniform. Schools uniforms are a form of expression. They express that an idividual belongs to an education institution Alex Joseph defines,
“The uniform designates a group. Ones’s dress indicates membership in the group. Because of its identification within the group, the uniform assumes the properties of a totematic emplem and embodies the attributes of a group. In a sense, the uniform becomes the group. The uniform provides the symbol of a group toward which the public may demonstrate its attitudes.” (Joseph 1972)
It may be difficult for an outsider to tell one student from another but the outsider would recognize where the student is from and what is expected of them. A teacher familiar with the students should be able to easily distinguish them from another. The school spirit should rise as the students are more united.
In conclusion, public schools can reach a higher level of education with a uniform policy in place. Only in this way can the distraction, thefts, and dangers students face while on campus be vanquished. American’s public education can then reach the educational standards that other nations have set so high. There needs to be uniforms in public schools. The alternatives that have been in place for a very long time have not worked effectively enough up to this point. The time for a change has come and that change is mandatory school uniforms for public schools.





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