Though there is a general consensus on the fact that individuals need education, such a consensus does not exist for school uniforms, because on one hand, there are those who feel that school uniforms are necessary, but on the other hand there are those who feel that they are unnecessary. The two sides of the debate are supported by different arguments. In the U.S, the number of schools that require students to wear school uniforms is quite low because according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2015), as of 2012, about 19% of public schools required students to wear uniforms. Nevertheless, this percentage was slightly higher than that recorded in 2004 which was 13%. These statistics demonstrate that there has been a steady increase in the adoption of school uniforms in public schools. On this basis, this essay argues that school uniforms have more merits than demerits. By delineating the potential positive impact of school uniforms on students, more schools can adopt uniforms to realize such benefits. When students wear school uniforms, a number of problems that affect students, parents, and the society such as classism, bullying, high costs of clothing, and crime will reduce, but students’ academic performance will increase.
By making it necessary for students to wear uniforms in school, classism is likely to reduce within school settings, and this would benefit students’ overall development. Classism is a major problem within the school settings because it supports separation and discrimination. This means that students who belong to the lower social classes are likely to be victims of discrimination since their home clothes are likely to predispose them to less powerful positions. According to Twigg (2009, p. 1), “identity and dress are intimately linked”. In this case, dress is linked to class identities because “clothing [is] a marker of class distinction” (Twigg, 2009, p. 1). Classism is a major problem in society because the lower classes are often subordinated and this limits them. From a sociological perspective, lack of uniforms opens up the opportunity for students from higher classes in public schools to use their class identities as the basis for discrimination and subordination of others. Through fashion, the school setting becomes a stage where dress is used as a cultural capital aspect that is used by students from higher classes to “establish, maintain, and reproduce positions of power, reinforcing relation of dominance and subordination” (Twigg, 2009, p. 2). This quote is vital because it forms the basis for a discussion on the impact of classism in public schools as explained below.
Basing on the discussion above, it is feasible to note that students might be bullied due to their clothes and this causes problems for the perpetrators and the victims of bullying. Schwartz (2013) makes reference to a particular incident in Utah in which a parent felt it was necessary to punish her daughter, because she teased another student about the clothes she was wearing. In support of this, Jacob (2014) stated that home clothes gives rich kids the opportunity to “lord it over with poorer ones with their flashy jumpers and Huarache and [students are] teased for not following the latest trends”. Jacobs (2014) and Twigg (2009) clearly agree on the fact that home clothes pave way for classism and this leads to bullying. Rich kids assert their dominance over poor kids through home clothes, and this predisposes poor kids to bullying. This is a vital point because bullying often makes students underperform in the academic realm. By making school uniform mandatory, fashion cannot be used by rich kids to intimidate poor kinds, and compromise the extent to which poor kids can succeed.
Furthermore, ensuring that all the students wear school uniforms will reduce parents’ costs, because they will not need to purchase so many clothes for their children. This is a vital positive outcome for students who come from poor families because most of them attend public schools. Jacobs (2014) noted that when students wear home clothes they often feel the pressure to change their clothes depending on the current fashion trends. This point is closely linked to that of classism because students from rich families are better placed to afford new clothes frequently. However, this point can also be analyzed from the cost perspective. Parents are the ones who suffer in this case because they must find ways to ensure their children get the clothes they want. For example, Davis (2015) stated that in the U.S. children are increasingly trying to keep up with fashion trends, and teens receive clothing allowances that range between $20 and $78 every month. If students wear uniforms, their clothing allowance is likely to reduce, and this would relieve parents of the need to restock their children’s clothes often. The reduction of costs would also affect the students as explained below.
There are instances when students wish to keep up with the current fashion trends, but when their parents cannot afford them, they resort to stealing. For instance, students may opt to steal from their employers in case they have jobs. In support of this, Roberts (2012, p. 66) stated that in case youth are employed in part-time jobs, they might decide to steal “from their employers in order to keep up with fashion trends that [are] beyond their financial means”. This shows that students could engage in crime just to keep up with fashion. Moreover, Seo (1993) made reference to case studies in which students actually steal clothes from stores to keep up with fashion trends at school, when their parents cannot afford to buy them new clothes. One student, who is named Jody, stated that, “people talk about you if you don’t dress up. But people know I’m a good dresser, so if I don’t dress up, they’ll say, Oh, Jody must have a cold or be in a bad mood”. Moreover another student named Susie stated that, “when they go in the dressing room, they’ll hide stolen clothes underneath their bags” (Seo, 1993). This demonstrates that in fact, without school uniforms, students could opt to engage in criminal activities such as stealing just to get the latest fashion trends. If all the students wear uniforms, costs will be reduced for parents, and students will not feel the need to steal from their employers, or to steal clothes in order to remain fashionable.
Some of the challenges resulting from lack of school uniforms could affect students’ performance negatively. For example, Classism, as noted by Twigg (2009) could make it difficult for students to develop social relationships that could facilitate better academic outcomes. Moreover, bullying could negatively affect students’ performance within the school setting. Similarly, stealing could be distractive, or it could predispose students to criminal charges that may interfere with their learning and their overall performance. However, there are some counterarguments against some of the outlined benefits of school uniforms.
Isaacson (1998) noted that some individuals claim that even if student are told to wear uniforms to fight against classism in school, the students would still have other objects that evidence their social standing. For example, students might go to school with expensive bikes, jewelry and backpacks. This is a valid point, but the supporters of this argument seem to support the idea that there is no need to alleviate classism within public school settings at all. In essence, they are against an action that could reduce classism significantly on the premise that it cannot be completely alleviated. This perspective is flawed because it is clear that reducing an undesirable aspect is better than leaving it to worsen. This perspective implicitly supports classism, and its negative effects in school.
Another argument against school uniforms is that uniforms limit students’ abilities to express themselves. Jacobs (2014) claimed that uniforms lead to dullness and students do not get the opportunity to display their individuality when they wear uniforms. Thus, “fashionistas” who are budding may be suppressed. This point is also viable to the discussion, but it is challengeable because it implies that if students are not allowed to wear home clothes, they cannot express themselves through fashion at all. On this basis, this counterargument ignores the fact that students actually spend many hours of the day away from the school setting. Thus, students still have the opportunity to express themselves and bring out their individuality through fashion within other settings. Moreover, this counterargument is based on the generalization that all students wear clothes that enable them to express themselves. Although some people express themselves through fashion, others don’t. In fact, people are often judged on the basis of their clothing, and this may lead to misconceptions. Therefore, fashion is only limitedly expressive, and this weakens the argument which supports wearing home clothe for purposes of self expression.
In conclusion, this discussion demonstrates that school uniforms have more positive than negative effects on students, parents, and the society. Perhaps this explains why more schools gradually embraced school uniforms over the past decade. The major implication from this discussion is that educational leaders should take steps that will ensure all students at the elementary and high school level wear school uniforms. This will facilitate the attainment of one of the most fundamental academic goals by supporting positive academic outcomes.
Davis, B. (2015). How Much Money do Parents Spend on Their Kids’ Clothes? Retrieved March 12, 2015, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/1005266-much-money-parents-spend- kids-clothes/
Isaacson, L. A. (1998). Student Dress Code. Oregon: University of Oregon.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Fast Fact: School Uniforms. Retrieved March 12, 2015, from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=50
Roberts, B. (2012). Sex and Drugs Before Rock ‘n’ Roll: Youth Culture and Masculinity During Holland’s Golden Age. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University.
Seo, D. (1993, November 21). Urban Fashion’s Big Attraction: For Many Students, Brand-Name Clothes and Shoes Are the Ticket to Status. But Being Trendy Costs a Lot of Money-and It Can Be Dangerous, Too. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 12, 2015, from http://articles.latimes.com/1993-11-21/news/ci-59646_1_tennis-shoes
Twigg, J. (2009). Clothing, Identity and the Embodiment of Age. In, J. Powell and T, Gilbert (Eds.), Aging and Identity: A Postmodern Dialogue (pp. 1-19). New York: Nova Science Publishers.