Uniforms in an Age of Expression

In an age of self expression, it might seem ludicrous to force a strict mandate of clothing on students, but some feel there are great benefits with doing so, and that expression would not necessarily be hurt.

The debate between having lenient dress codes which allow students to wear what they want, so long as it is within reason, and having strictly enforced uniforms that require students to wear only a certain allotment of clothes may not be as large an issue as it once, though it is not any less relevant, some taking their stance on the matter to heart. With each side of the argument holding very convincing points, it may be difficult to decide which route is better. To truly form an opinion, one must first observe and analyze the points each side presents.

The idea behind uniforms is that they promote a healthy, equal environment among all students – economic divide in the classroom is no longer an issue, and bullying related to such matters is absent. Discipline is taught. Students feel professional and ready to succeed. At least, according to the arguments, these are the results of uniforms.

Studies have shown that children, even at early ages, are able to identify differences between classmates based on what is worn. For fear of inferiority, judgement, exclusion, or bullying, among other social disputes, many “have-nots” often result with lower rates of self-esteem. Such a heavy burden on the mind may lead some students to be behind in their education.

A 2017 study in the Cleveland, Ohio school district showed an increase in attendance rate of students once uniforms had been incorporated, with many other studies have yielding similar results. Yet signs of grade improvement, specifically in grades 6 – 12, have not been prevalent. Even if there is a rise in attendance rates, uniforms do not eliminate problems outside of school and other factors which could be stunting a student’s education.

The claim that requiring students to wear uniforms will instill obedience and improved behavior is partially set in psychological conditioning. Teach, do, or say something enough, and the target audience will eventually “tag on” and adopt behaviors, expectations, etc., pertaining to what has been enforced. It is believed that when students wear uniforms, they learn disciplinary values and to respect rules and authority. While that may be true for some, multiple cases have shown that not only do uniforms fail to succeed in decreasing negative behavior, but for some, actually increases it, leading to a higher rate of suspension among middle and high schoolers. Not only that, but making it so that students must adhere to a uniform lest they be removed from their education could be seen by some not so much as instilling respect for authority, but compared to forcing a conformity and discouraging independent thought.

In addition to the stifling of free thinking, forcing uniforms upon students also hinders self expression. When everyone in a body of people are forced to dress the same, they become more like faceless soldiers, rather than  expressive, innovative, and independent individuals. When students are not restricted to a uniform code, they can wear clothes they are emotionally comfortable in, expressing their interests, who they are, etcetera. This may lead to students making friends with peers who hold similar interests, peers they may otherwise only see in the call or across the classroom, never having the opportunity to discover the potential similarities between themselves. When students can wear what they want, they are also able to dress more comfortably, which may increase attentiveness, improve attitude, and even raise confidence.

However, arguments have been made in favor of uniforms that claim implementing them promotes expression by means other than appearance.

French Toast, a strong advocate of school uniforms, says students can instead express themselves through extracurricular and academic activities. While those are certainly ways through which students can express themselves, they provide a level of expression focused around broad interests and not the complexity of interests each pupil holds within.

As many upsides as there may appear to be in the ‘uniform package’, there are just as many downsides and contradictory points. The positives and negatives of uniforms may vary widely from individual to individual, from school to school, and district to district.When taking both sides into account, it may be very difficult to say whether or not uniforms are truly a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing to require students wear. Perhaps the focus should not be on mandating a strict style of attire, but instead addressing the problems uniforms are thought to correct.