With gang violence, socio-economic clashes, bullying and discipline issues plaguing many public schools, administrators have in some cases turned to school uniforms. The arguments presented in favour of this decision are that wearing uniforms will prevent students from bullying one another over brand names or baring too much skin. While these all sound like worthy goals, students also learn important social and life lessons by choosing their own fashions.
Learn to Adapt
Students who choose their clothing each school day learn to adapt to shifting social standards and contexts—skills that will serve them well as adults. When they prepare for their first college visits, job interviews, internships or promotions, they will need to know how to make appropriate choices and uniforms do not facilitate this. After all, uniforms provide a cookie-cutter, conformist solution, while workplaces and social situations demand diverse standards,. In addition, teens forge independence by living with the consequences of trial and error.
Encourage Independent Thinking
Children and teens that confront a range of clothing styles at school also confront a range of visible social groups, economic classes and ethnic or religious traditions. While these differences can spark conflict and even fuel social segregation, they can also inspire kids to appreciate diverse points of view and engage in critical thinking.
Promote Conversations with Parents
Arguments over clothes give kids an opportunity to express their identity and values to parents, and equally important, they give parents a platform for transmitting their values. Respectful disagreements can facilitate maturity. In addition, allowing a little fashion rebellion may help prevent worse rebellion later on—such as drug experimentation.
Monitor Gang Affiliations
When students wear their own choice of clothing, teachers, administrators and law enforcement will be able to monitor gang membership more easily, because gang members often wear particular affiliation symbols or colors. Parents and school officials often argue that uniforms put the brakes on gangs by removing this subtle communication method. However, uniforms do not eliminate gangs, and in fact, standard-issue clothing can potentially make symbolic gang clothing more difficult to identify or interpret—reinforcing a false sense of safety. For example, gang members might use something as subtle as a belt to signify membership.
Ease Budget Burdens
Allowing students to wear their own choice of clothing makes life easier for low-income families who may not be able to afford uniforms, and for the schools who might be required to provide financial assistance to such families. While many families might find uniforms cheaper than brand-name clothing, the price of a standard-issue uniform might stretch the budget for some families. Department of Education guidelines include financial assistance for families who cannot afford the uniforms. This means school districts have to pony up money from an already-strapped budget—perhaps draining money from academic or technology needs. Keeping non-uniform clothing choices prevents such cuts.
Karen Murdock holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. She has taught college composition since 2005 and written for a variety of publications since 1996.