When the discussion of school uniforms is approached in education and in homes, some may feel the enforcement of uniforms achieves academic success. Others that discuss school uniforms may see the lack of progression it has regarding youth development. What are the pros and cons of school uniforms?
According to the most recent findings from the U.S. Department of Education, one in five public schools required uniforms in 2010, a 60% growth from one in eight public schools in the early 2000s. Though there is an increase in uniform enforcement, researchers and educators note the inconclusiveness of uniforms supporting academic success.
The three pros discussed in enforcing uniforms in schools are unity among students and teachers, a standard dress code for all, and a simple morning routine for students and families. The three cons discussed will be the restriction of students’ individuality, a lack of focus from actual problems in the education system, and extra expenses put on to families.
The Pros of Wearing School Uniforms
Fosters Unity and Community Within the School
Wearing uniforms enhances school pride, unity, and community spirit. School is where students begin to form their own community with other students in the same environments. Students wearing uniforms enhance a sense of pride and unity between students and teachers. When students go to their school or visit another school, they will be able to see which groups of people are part of their school’s community and this can create a sense of belonging to a team that all work together and support one another.
Also, uniforms at school reduce any threats of violence, which is a major concern for many public schools. Outsiders who do not belong in the school and on campus are easily identified, thus, allowing for students and teachers to identify those belonging to the school and those who may need to be approached for students’ safety.
Standard Dress Code for All Students
Uniform policies save valuable class time because they are easier to enforce than a standard dress code. When students wear a uniform, there is a lower risk of distraction and interruption of discussing uniform policies in the classrooms. School uniforms make dress codes much easier to enforce because all students can be held to the exact same standards. All students have the same uniforms and this lessens the chances of any conflicts regarding student attire.
Public schools without dress codes or uniforms have come across incidents with students spending time in school offices for not dressing according to schools’ dress policies. The less time that students are spending in an office the less time they are in a classroom learning materials they need to know. Schools that enforce a school uniform are able to have students and teachers focus on the lessons and information they are receiving and providing rather than what students are wearing.
The last thing a parent or student should worry about in the morning is deciding on what clothes they will wear to school. School uniforms make getting ready for school easier and simple, which can improve punctuality. School uniforms or formal dress code policies eliminate the pressure and stress of students to dress a certain way to appease peers.
Students and families will be able to save time in their morning routine because there would be no need to question the attire that the student will wear for the day. School uniforms make it easier to get students ready in the morning and focus on preparing for the day.
The Cons of Wearing School Uniforms
Focusing on Uniforms May Distract From More Pressing Concerns
Focusing on uniforms takes attention away from finding genuine solutions to problems in the education system.
Though having school uniforms may seem like the school has a united front and is trying to prevent students from various systematic problems within the school, the uniforms also distract from solving real issues regarding the fundamentals of the education system. Spending time and effort implementing uniform policies may take away from more effective efforts to reduce crime in schools and boost student academic performances.
More substantive improvements to public education could be achieved with smaller class sizes, tightened security, increased parental involvement, improved facilities, and other measures. These improvements focus on ways the school can enhance the learning environment and academic success for the student’s needs rather than students changing their natural development to adhere to the school’s policies. School uniforms are a distraction from focusing on systematic and fundamental transformation to improve our schools.
May Restrict Students’ Freedom of Expression
School uniforms restrict students’ freedom of expression. Clothing choices are a real form of self-expression that children and even adults explore as they journey through different paths in life. When students are at the stage where they most want to explore their self-identity and expression, schools are restricting them by enforcing uniforms. Allowing students to choose their clothing is an empowering message from the schools showing that a student is able to safely and supportively explore self-expression with peers whilst developing into a maturing person. Students should be entitled to basic self-determination just like adults and other peers in their lives have.
Uniforms take away the ability to use clothing as means of expressing support for social causes. In schools where uniforms are specifically gendered with girls required to wear skirts and boys must wear pants, this ostracizes youth and teens who identify and explore gender nonconformity or gender fluidity. They are no longer free to choose their clothes and to decide how to appear in public. This might be quite harmful to personal character development. There have been recent years of transgender children and teens being forced to dress according to their birth gender which can create mental and physical stress and anxiety.
Youth and teens development is where they are just understanding their place and role in the world, so students who are unsure of their place on the gender spectrum or are experimenting with different forms of gender presentation can feel that school presents a challenge and confrontation to something they are just naturally expressing and exploring. By refraining from school uniforms, students could choose clothes they feel most comfortable in, which can improve their overall well-being but may also lead to more efficient learning experiences in school
Imposes Extra Expense for Families
School uniforms in public schools undermine the promise of free education by imposing an extra expense on families.
Parents may not have to deal with the struggle of picking out clothing for their children or having to wait for them to pick out an outfit for the day if school uniforms are enforced in schools, but school uniforms still are costly, especially if there is a multi-children home. Parents still need to buy regular clothes for their children to wear when they’re out of school as well. The cost of school uniforms can be steep and this can add additional financial stress to families of underrepresented and underfunded communities.
Typically, uniforms are more expensive up-front, because parents must invest in all of the pieces of the uniform at the beginning of the school year, for example, there are collared or polo shirts of various colors, khaki or black pants, black or brown belts, and shoes, and solid-colored sweaters for the colder months. Though this is an expense at the beginning, there are only small expenses that need to be made as the school year progresses.
On the other hand, this expense has parents argue that uniforms are not economical as they must purchase both a school wardrobe and a casual wardrobe as children do not want or may not be permitted to wear their uniform clothes outside of school. As mentioned before, another economical stress that comes with the school uniforms is the purchase for each child enrolled in that school if a family has multiple children.
Every year back to school shopping comes around, parents and students continue to go back and forth between the cons and benefits of having uniforms. The effectiveness of uniforms will be a continuous subject as research is looking into solutions to socio-economic problems of attendance, discipline, bullying, student motivation, family engagement, or economic need.
Dr. Alan Hilfer, a senior child and adolescent psychologist, states it best, “Uniforms do eliminate competition, pressure, and assaults perpetrated by kids on younger kids for their sneakers and possessions. They also allow some kids to focus better, especially in the lower grades… [However], clothes are a source of expression for children, and as kids get older, they become increasingly resentful of uniforms.”
Understanding what elements are most important for the parents and the child will help parents determine if going to a uniforms-enforced school is the right fit. A school is a place for learning, community, and self-development, street clothing may not be the main factor in the success of a child’s academics and uniforms may not be a large issue for some parents and schools. But many continue to share that students being able to choose the clothing can support their emotional and physical development as they journey through their schooling.