Meet Isaiah, he is 8 years old and goes to his local public elementary school where is bullied every day. Isaiah tries to put up with it, but as time goes on, his grades drop, and his motivation to go to school every day diminishes quickly. Even though Isaiah is extremely funny, and is very talented, he isn’t even given the chance because he lacks the ability to wear the newest trendiest clothes. Meet Isaiah’s mother, she is a single mother taking care of 3 children and works 2 jobs. There is no lack of love for her children, but there is a lack of money to be able to pay for Isaiah and his siblings to get new clothes every year before school starts. Sadly, Isaiah isn’t the only child who struggles with the embarrassment and harassment that comes with the inability to wear the newest trends in fashion. Isaiah’s mother moved him to a local private school that requires all students to wear a fixed uniform every day. He is no longer bullied and had a genuine liking for school. His grades went up significantly and he can’t wait to go to school every day.
Isaiah’s situation is nothing new, children in public schools are bullied on the grounds of how they look and what they wear all the time. Treatment like this has an effect on a child’s mental and physical state, which may lead to poor performance in school or even self-harm. Change must start somewhere, and the implementation of school uniforms will begin to help these issues. Although some would argue that school uniforms encourage conformity, destroy the individuality of students, and lower students self-esteem, I believe that the implementation of school uniforms will not only level the playing field amongst students, but will also reduce gang activity/colors and distractions caused by clothing from the school and classrooms and may begin to increase the attendance, performance, and decrease violence in public schools.
School uniforms are nothing new, the first evidence of school uniforms dates back to 16th century England, where they wore “a robe-like outfit called the ‘cappa clause” (procon.org). In countries like the United Kingdom, South Africa, and many parts of Asia, a strict school uniform is required for all students. Although the uniform itself has definitely evolved, the idea still stays true to this day. The earliest uses of school uniforms were to promote cohesion and the ability for students to be able to fit in regardless of their socioeconomic background. The idea of the uniform has gone from the traditional slacks and tie to a more modern khaki bottom and polo-type shirt. The effects of this show that over time, the use of school uniforms has gone beyond the level playing field as they began to see the effect on attendance, grades, and violence levels. As time went on, leaders in places like the United States started to realize that the use of uniforms was producing positive results, and continued to implement them. It quickly spread throughout the world.
The United States started to see the rapid implementation of uniforms, and decided to test it out “in Maryland and Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1987, with Cherry Hill Elementary School in Baltimore, MD” (procon.org). From there on, it made its way quickly into mostly all private schools and begins to make its way into public schools. In the 2015-2015 school year, nearly 1 in 5 public schools have incorporated a uniform into their dress code. It has been found to decrease bullying levels and increase performance levels. Students can learn a lot from getting into this habit such as the ideas of discipline and professional dress at a young age can provide students with a great advantage in life.
One of the many positive effects of implementing school uniforms is the fact that it levels the playing field for all students of any income and is far more cost-efficient. If all students are wearing the same outfit, others will not be able to judge them solely based on the product of the clothes they wear and will be forced to be based on the content of their character. A common misconception amongst people is that uniforms are very costly, and although this is not necessarily false, there is a catch. Assuming the average cost of a school uniform that includes shoes, shirt, pants, and all are around $100 dollars, and the average student will need 4 sets for the year. That adds up to $400 on clothes for a student to go to school for a whole year. Whereas, if there was no dress code in place, to buy the most popular pair of shoes in 2017, which according to Sole Collector is the Nike Air Huarache, which sells at a minimum of $110. That alone is a quarter of the price of 4 uniforms, and a pair of shoes is only about a tenth of what a child needs for a whole year of school clothes and accessories. Furthermore, if a child wears a fixed uniform 4 or 5 out of the 7 days, a parent only has to buy “street clothes” for 2 or 3 days which can really cut down on costs for parents. No matter the income of a family, the students will still wear an outfit that is provided by the school or that has guidelines that every student must follow. This completely eliminates the idea of students being judged based on what they are wearing because they can’t afford nice clothing.
Furthermore, the implementation of uniforms in school has been seen to produce better attendance rates, reduce violence/disciplinary issues in schools, and sometimes increased test scores. In an article by Elisabetta Gentile and Scott Imberman called “Dressed for Success? The Effect of School Uniforms on Student Achievement and Behavior”, Imberman and Genile write on the direct effects of school uniforms in the public and private school system. They touch on the negatives and positives of the topic and statistical evidence of what it has done for students in particular scenarios. Gentile and Imberman are both Economics professors that specialize in education and education policy. Imberman has published pieces found in outlets such as the American Economic Review, the Review of Economics and Statistics, Education Finance, and Policy. First, school uniforms affect the attendance of the students. This could be due to the fact that students who can’t afford to buy the newest trendiest clothes are being bullied because of it and fear coming to school. Implementing school uniforms will do away with this issue because students will all be wearing the same standardized clothing. In Gentile and Imbermans article, they note that “In contrast to most of the prior literature, we find that uniforms generate improvements in student outcomes, particularly for girls. Attendance rates for females in middle or high school significantly increase after schools adopt uniforms”. Although this is a focused example, it does show how, as the uniform was implemented, it resulted in students coming to school more. The students no longer felt afraid that they would be judged because they didn’t wear the right jeans or that their shirt doesn’t fit right. The more students are able to come to school and do so with a focused clear mind, they will be able to succeed much more and not fall behind. In Gentile and Imbermans article, they looked at an elementary school, and what the effects of school uniforms were before and after implementation. Elementary school children are very good examples to look at because they are much easier controlled and are less likely to rebel at a high level. Imbeman and Gentile write, “For elementary students, there is a clear drop in test scores prior to adoption but then test scores increase dramatically starting immediately after adoption. This suggests that elementary schools may have adopted uniforms in response to falling test scores”. This in turn may lead to students getting better grades. With the distractions out of the way, and students being at school more, they will be in a much better position to get better grades in school. Lastly, when school uniforms are implemented, they have been seen to reduce the violence levels in schools. This may be due to many factors including gang violence dropping, and kids being more focused on education. Imberman and Gentile explain “ that the increases in male disciplinary infractions drop nearly to zero over the same time frame suggest that both male and female students in middle and high schools benefit from uniforms after an initial adjustment” as well as “We also find some evidence of improvement in behavior for both males and females in middle and high school. While overall there is an increase in disciplinary infractions for these students, they are mostly from an increase in in-school suspensions, which are likely in part due to uniform violations, while out-of-school suspensions drop significantly. After the initial adjustment to the uniforms was made, the student’s discipline levels dropped. This is to be expected, whenever something new is introduced, but the important part is that after the fact, the students began to be less violent due to uniforms being implemented in their school.
One common criticism of the school uniform debate is that having all students wear the same thing destroys the individuality amongst the students. Some claim that If students all have the same outfit on, they will not be able to truly express themselves and show their true selves. It is very important for young people to be able to experiment and express themselves in many ways as they figure out who they are. Self-expression is important to young people because it distinguishes them from the rest of their peers and portrays the things they believe in. Although this may be true, there are more ways to express oneself other than through clothing. These include music, drawings, stories, actions, etc. Also, even if the visual expression is mainly important, the uniforms that students have to wear may offer variety, and if a casual dress day is implemented the students may express themselves on that day. Also, students have the weekend and any time off school grounds, they may wear anything they please. Another criticism of the school uniform debate is it lowers the self-esteem of the students if they do not fit right, are too tight, are too thin, etc. If the clothes that make up the school uniforms do not fit the students properly and show off their imperfections in a way that embarrasses them, they will lose self-confidence and are subject to bullying. This is a valid point, and if uniforms are not properly implemented, this will be a huge issue. Ditch the Labels states “40% of respondents reported being bullied for personal appearance 36% reported being bullied for body shape, size, and weight”. Body shaming and bullying related to it are very prevalent and students who are being forced to wear uniforms that don’t fit will be the first to be bullied. This is a valid point, but in order to avoid this, the school must be willing to work with the students to prevent this. There is no way to help every student with this, but there are ways to improve it. Rather than setting a specific 2 or 3 sets of clothes that must be worn every day, set a general dress code and the students can buy what they need based on that for the right fit. This along with many steps to help create a non-destructive, healthy uniform protocol can be taken to better the public school system.
The truth is, there is no perfect way to end gang violence, or stop bullying, but if there is a way to help the issues and head towards a better school system, implementing school uniforms are a great place to start. It’s not going to get %100 percent attendance rates, and there will still be a number of children who will struggle to pass classes. But, implementing a way to begin to get rid of these things is the way to go. If the implementation of a school uniform can help a group of students in a positive way, there is no reason to not go in that direction or at least try. There are many ways to implement a school uniform, but many will fail.
To implement a school uniform, it is important to come up with a full plan before presenting it. Know how it will get out to the public, know the guidelines, know the arguments against it and how to prove them wrong, and most importantly know where to start. To implement a great uniform protocol, come up with a plan. I believe that the uniform should be implemented between kindergarten and first grade. Students that are younger are much more willing to conform to what’s going on, whereas starting a uniform in the high school years would be much harder because high schoolers are much more willing to rebel and don’t care about the consequences. Also, it is important to come up with what the uniform will actually entail. I believe that the uniform should be guidelines of what students should wear, not specific clothing. For example, male students will wear something along the lines of khaki or black pants/shorts, white or black dress socks, tan or black dress/boat style shoes, and a blue/black/white collared shirt, and females will wear a black or blue skirt, with white or black dress socks, formal shoes, a black, tan or collared shirt or something along those lines. This can be tough because it can be easily misinterpreted or taken to the extreme, but it lets students go out and choose clothes abiding by the guidelines that fit them properly. This in turn will mainly get rid of the argument that the children may be forced to wear clothing that exposes undesired characteristics of their body.