A Uniform Code Essay, Research Paper
A Uniform Code
School uniforms, once a symbol of prestigious private academies, have gone public. Since President Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union Address, in which he endorsed school uniforms, the trend toward restricting student dress as a means of controlling violence has come front and center in the national debate. Alarmed by increased youth violence, a perceived breakdown of discipline, and poor academic performance, the public is clamoring for some concrete means of reasserting school order and safety. In one school district after another, school uniforms are proposed as the solution. I agree with this statement and believe that if all public schools in America institute school uniform policies, than violence, peer pressure, and other social problems can be alleviated.
School uniforms and dress codes are nothing new. My mother recalls the days when girls were not allowed to wear pants or shorts to school and the principal walked around carrying a yardstick to measure their skirt lengths. It seems an odd thing to do nowadays but back in the early 1970s, it was a sign of the times.
THE CASE FOR UNIFORMS
Many people believe adoption of school uniform policies will lead to increased school safety, student discipline, and student learning. More specifically, many have argued that school uniforms assist in reducing school violence and theft; preventing gang activity, such as students wearing gang colors and gang insignia; providing discipline in students; helping students to concentrate on their school work; helping students to resist peer pressure; and helping school officials easily recognize school intruders.
The school should provide a safe and disciplined learning environment for students. Violence in schools destroys such an environment and can negatively affect student motivation for learning. Everett and Price found that “due to increased prevalence of school violence, one in five public school students feels less eager to go to school every day, one in seven feels less inclined to pay attention to learning in school, and one in 10 stays home from school or cuts class” (Everett & Price, 1995, p. 345). In unsafe school environments, teachers cannot teach to their maximum potential, and students cannot learn to their full capability.
Youths who feel safe, secure, and free from threats of violence perform better academically. Those who fear for their safety in school or on the way to school may not learn effectively, and they may turn to truancy as an alternative to facing the daily threats of violence. One of every 10 to 12 youths who stays away from school does so because of fear (Everett & Price, 1995). In their response to increasing school violence, several teachers, principals, parents, and students believe uniforms could help reduce violence.
In a survey of the United Teachers of Dade County, Florida, approximately 60% of the group’s members supported mandatory uniforms for school children (Grantham, 1992). Similarly, of the 5,500 principals surveyed as attendees of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ annual conference in February 1996, more than 70% believed that requiring students to wear uniforms to school would reduce violent incidents and discipline problems.
Some school personnel believe students and teachers tend to behave the way they are allowed to dress. Instead of adopting a policy for mandatory school uniforms, several schools have adopted a mandatory dress code policy for teachers as well as students, which aims to establish clear appearance and behavioral standards for all.
Long Beach Unified School District was the first large urban school district in the United States to require school uniforms for all students in grades kindergarten through grade eight, and it subsequently experienced great decreases in school violence, crime, and negativity (See table 1). Despite allowing parents the option to request exemption from school uniforms, less than 1% of all parents requested exemption in the first year of implementation. Again, during the 1995-1996 academic year less than 1% of parents requested exemption.
Other schools have followed the Long Beach example. To date, 12 states (California, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington) have state policies that permit individual schools or districts to adopt school uniform policies or dress codes. Nonetheless, Long Beach Unified and Oakland are the only two school districts to have adopted mandatory uniform policies at the district level. Most school uniform policies are determined at the individual school level. The White House Manual on School Uniforms revealed that several schools with mandatory uniform policies have shown subsequent decreases in school violence and truancy and increases in positive student demeanor.
Discipline Problem 1993 1994 % Change
Assault & Battery 319 212 -44%
Assault with deadly weapon 6 3 -50%
Fighting 1135 554 -41%
Sex Offenses 57 15 -74%
Robbery 29 10 -65%
Extortion 5 2 -60%
Chemical Substances 71 22 -89%
Weapons or look-alikes 165 78 -42%
Vandalism 1409 1155 -18%
Dangerous Devices 46 23 -50%
Table 1: Changes in incidents of school disciplinary problems in Long Beach Unified School District in the year following the introduction of school uniforms. There were 58,500 students in the district attending 56 elementary schools and 14 middle schools at the time of the study.
THE CASE AGAINST UNIFORMS
While most parents and teachers seek to ensure the safety and security of their school children, some believe adopting a mandatory school uniform policy is not the appropriate method for ensuring such safety. Two groups opposing mandatory school uniforms are civil libertarians and older students. Loren Siegel, who is director of the ACLU Public Education Department, has stated that no one knows for certain whether school uniforms are actually beneficial. While Long Beach Unified School District claims that mandatory school uniforms resulted in decreased school crime and violence, other steps to improve student behavior — such as more teachers patrolling hallways during class changes — were implemented at the same time as the school uniform policy. Due to these possible variables, the ACLU has stated that it is currently impossible to determine whether uniforms were responsible for the results. In addition, no experiential studies show that uniforms consistently produce positive changes in student behavior over time.
The ACLU has also labeled mandatory school uniform policy as not constructive, since such a policy only serves as a “band aid” to a set of serious problems that require multifaceted, multidisciplinary actions. The ACLU stresses that, instead of being directed toward uniforms, resources should be directed toward creating more attractive, clean, and safe school buildings; smaller classes; well-stocked libraries; easily accessed computers; more elective courses, such as music, drama, and art. Such measures could help schools foster long-lasting, positive changes among school children (Siegel, 1996).
Some individuals feel that mandatory school uniforms may teach students a negative lesson about conformity. Some believe that students should base life choices on their own internal values, rather than on rules and regulations arbitrarily set for them, and that this is vitally important to their future health and discipline. Such an argument touches directly upon the rights of freedom of expression for all U.S. citizens. In turn, the ACLU has argued that mandatory uniforms violate students’ free expression rights. Although most younger children seem to be amenable to uniforms and even like them, many older students, especially adolescents, respond very negatively to school uniforms (Siegel, 1996). Adolescence is a period when youths attempt to find their own uniqueness and individuality in various ways. One way is through fashion. While many political cartoonists joke that today’s youths already wear uniforms of baggy pants, T-shirts, and baseball caps worn backward, these uniforms are acquired by free choice, not enforced by authority figures.
The ACLU conducted a series of focus groups and discussions with high school students to identify what students believed to be solutions to the problem of school violence. School uniforms were not among the solutions students mentioned. Their suggestions did include schools seriously confronting and discussing issues of racial and cultural conflict; providing “safe corridor” programs, which protect student safety to and from school; securing their entrances; providing them more extracurricular activities and clubs; establishing open forums to give them opportunities for self-expression; helping them find part-time jobs; and teaching them conflict resolution skills (Siegel, 1996).
In October 1995, working on behalf of low-income families, the ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach Unified School District. The lawsuit claimed that the district fails to help low-income students purchase uniforms and has punished students who do not wear them. It also claimed the district does not adequately inform parents about their rights to request exemption from the program. ACLU attorneys assert that low socioeconomic families are going without food, utilities, and rental payments in order to purchase mandatory school uniforms (Siegel, 1996). In response to these claims, Long Beach Unified School officials state that the district has spent more than $100 thousand in donations from individuals and organizations to purchase uniforms and other supplies for financially burdened students. The officials quickly point out that typically, a set of three school uniforms for the year costs between $70 and $90, an amount far less than many students spend for one item of designer clothing.
Another argument against implementing school uniforms involves using student clothing as a barometer for possible personal problems, such as drug use, gang involvement, or sexual abuse. Students’ school uniforms may cover up such problems that their clothing might otherwise reveal. In addition, some argue that a mandatory uniform policy tends to penalize everyone as opposed to addressing the children who cause the majority of problems.
INFLUENCE OF UNIFORMS OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT
Evidence that the influence of student uniforms can spread beyond the school comes from several reports. Ruffner Middle School in Virginia reported that many adults including business people, police officers, grandparents and others called the school to report that they noticed the new way that students carry themselves (Hoffler-Riddick & Lassiter, 1996). One police officer reported that as he was driving by a bus stop he couldn’t believe the change in the students from last year. “They looked so good that I rolled down my window and talked with them.” The authors suggest that the gesture of kindness and respect from adults toward the students has had a positive impact on their self-image. One student noted “If one more person tells me I look nice, I don’t know what I will do. I have never had so many people tell me nice things before.” Parents of students at that school also reported positive behavior changes in their children at home. Unfortunately, none of these effects have been studied systematically or documented.
Tanioka and Glaser (1991) provide further insight into the issue of wearing school uniforms by showing the rates of juvenile crime in Japan and its possible connection to wearing uniforms. Both public and private schools in Japan have worn uniforms for many years. Their rates of documented juvenile crime are significantly lower than in the U.S. The authors’ study examined the relationship between self-reported crime and many other variables. They report that one of the strongest predictors of both crime incidence and prevalence is whether the students changed out of their school uniforms on their way home from school. Since uniforms are typically distinctive for each school, this behavior would lessen the identifiability of the offender but also perhaps change the dynamics of interactions between community members and the juveniles.
Clearly, school uniform adoption and usage will not single-handedly reform America’s schools and eradicate juvenile crime. However, uniform adoption does appear to have a positive effect with important and positive changes in student behavior, student self-esteem and community perception of young people. Ultimatley, it is the school administrators, students and parents who have to decide whether uniforms will help reform our schools and improve educational performance. Although we are only in the beginning stages of instituting school uniforms across the nation I believe that if we follow the ways of the Long Beach School District and institue school uniform policies nationwide, than we will achieve our goal, a safer, more productive education system.
10 Feb. 1999
A Uniform Code
Thesis: If all public schools in America institute school uniform policies, than violence, peer pressure, and other social problems can be alleviated.
II. The case for school uniforms
A. Uniforms have been proven to reduce various problems.
2. Peer pressure
3. Parental pressure to buy expensive clothes
B. Uniforms have many benefits
1. School intruders are identified
2. Fosters a better learning environment
3. Students and teachers feel safer
C. Table on Long Beach school district
III. The case against school uniforms
A. Restricts students freedom of expression
B. Monetary concerns
C. Uniforms as a barometer for possible personal problems
IV. Influence of Uniforms outside of the School Environment
A. Teenagers get more respect
B. Japanese study
Everett, S., & Price, J. (1995). Students perceptions of violence in public schools. J Adol Health, 17, 345-352.
Grantham, Loretta. (1992, Aug 24). Dress rehearsal. Palm Beach Post. pp. 1D.
Hoffler-Riddick, P & Lassiter, C. (1996) No More Sag Baggin — Student
Uniforms Bring the Focus Back on Instruction. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Winter, p. 27-28.
Siegal, L. (1996, Mar 1). School uniforms online. http://www.aclu.org/congress/uniform.html.
Stover, D. (1990). The Dress Mess. American School Board Journal, pp 26.
Tanioka, I. and Glaser, D. (1991) School Uniforms, Routine Activities, and the Social
Control of Delinquency in Japan Youth and Society 23, (1), 50-75.
Zirkel, Perry A. (1998). A Uniform Policy. Phi Delta Kappan 79 (7), pp. 550.