School uniforms, in my deepest conviction, receive more attention than they should. After all, what a person wears should never eclipse what kind of person this is. In this sense, school uniforms are just an attempt to regulate what one thinks and does through clothing – and as every attempt of this kind it seems futile and hopeless. I believe that introduction of uniforms is pointless when teachers want to discipline their students. In terms of psychological development of the child, it may be even harmful for the young personality.
The connection between introduction of uniforms and improvements in children’s behavior do not seem to be well-proven. The author of “Can Uniforms Save Our Schools?” states that “experts such as Ray C. Rist, a professor of education and sociology at George Washington University, also warn about other factors that may have influenced the Long Beach experience”. The scholar cites the so-called Hawthorne Effect when people whose behavior is scrutinized alter their conduct patterns. There can be other factors such as demographic changes in the neighbourhood, combination of uniform regulations with other improvements in school policies, new methods of working with children etc. In any case, as children themselves do not perceive changes in their behavior as a result of uniform introduction, there can hardly be a consensus that there is a causal link between uniforms and progress made in behavior of students in Long Beach. Besides, to make judgements based on one case of one school would clearly be misleading.
While there is no certainty that uniforms will lead to any positive changes, one can readily notice their negative effects. The most evident consequence is the debate associated with the innovation that takes the attention of teachers off more important things. New York school board president William Thompson Jr. is right when he says that uniforms will not solve problems of teaching methods, improvement in school administration, size of classrooms and other things. Teachers and school administration should really put their effort in improving curriculum, extra-curricular activities, normalising relations between students from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, and promoting unity in the student body.
The introduction of student uniforms as a way to discipline students addresses the issue from the wrong side. Controlling people’s behavior with the help of limitations only, such as administrative watchdogs and penalties has never been effective. In a school setting, the goal should be to educate the student to avoid fighting with other people or inflicting pain on them. This is the only viable way to make behaviors more adequate and tolerable to the teachers and parents. School kids should behave well because they do not want to hurt the feelings of others, not because they feel intimidated and put in strict conditions. Uniforms, with their monotonous look, remind of the army or any other special government unit where discipline and submission to the authority is the highest desirable goal. Then the question arises: should school be indeed similar to the army? Were it a military school preparing children for a life in the troops, uniforms would be appropriate. Today, however, most schools are neither military detachments nor monasteries; they are lay institutions, preparing students for work in corporations, non-profits, academic settings, and government institutions. If a uniform improves organizational loyalty, it should be surprising that major corporations do not require their white-collar employees to wear identical suits. A school should be more akin to an intellectual establishment or even manufacturing firm than to an army regiment.
Uniforms also take away diversity from students’ attire and reduce opportunities to express personal tastes through dressing. Some may say that they also eliminate differences between clothes of rich and poor students. However, if a student does not learn to dress properly for an official occasion at the school wearing uniform all the time, he or she will not learn to “dress for success”, a skill important in the later career. Without exercising one’s judgment in the process of clothes selection, a student will take a long time learning to dress with taste and appropriateness. Limiting choices of garments is equivalent to limiting choices of individual self-expression that is not always palatable to everybody but nevertheless constitutes a prerequisite for successful personal development.
Therefore, introduction of school uniforms can hardly be expected to effect positive changes in student behavior and attitudes per se. A change in attitudes toward school and learning is not that easy. This effort requires new teaching initiatives, development of extra-curricular activities, and better rapport with students. Uniforms will simply divert teachers’ attention from these important matters and turn into another issue they have to enforce on students. It will also turn the school into a semblance of a military unit, bringing in the spirit of submission and control that is inappropriate in a teaching establishment. Thus, students should be given free rein in what they were – in addition to controlling them in other areas.
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