School Uniforms: Restrictive or Liberating?
The school uniform debate. Oh boy. Where do I begin?
I'm sure you've heard numerous arguements for both sides of the coin. In case you haven't, let me quickly get you up to speed.
The "yay school uniforms" camp says that uniforms bridge economic divides, put the entire student body on a level playing field, cause fewer classroom distractions, and make for an overall safer campus.
The "no school uniforms" camp says that uniforms violate our constitutional rights of expression, are just a bandage for underlying problems, and are expensive. They also say blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Can you guess which camp I'm in? No? Let me say it more clearly then.
People who think that school uniforms don't make a difference are dumb stupid obviously disconnected.
I spent 13 years of my life wearing a school uniform. Beginning in the kindergarten classroom of what became my school for grades K-7, I wore the same exact thing to school every day. I changed schools for high school, which began in grade 8 for me, and for the next 5 years I again wore the same exact uniform for every single school day.
In grade school, I didn't really care. My uniform was what I wore, it was what everyone else wore, and it was comfortable. That was pretty much all I needed to know.
In high school I loved having a uniform. High school can be so competitive in it's own right, and I was way more interested in competing for the best grade in the class than I was for having the most expensive handbag or shoes. (Nerd alert! Nerd alert!) Uniforms leveled the playing field and took money out of the equation. (that is, until I got my first car - a 1990 Honda Accord. I pulled into the parking lot and realized I would be forced to park it between a convertible BMW and an M-Class Mercedes. Nice. Too bad there wasn't an automobile policy much like the one that regulated our uniforms.)
I pitied my friends who went to different schools who had to figure out what to wear to school every day. That seemed stressful, and unnecessary. I knew what I would be wearing every day - shirt, skirt, socks, shoes - with a sweater if necessary. I never had to think, had to fuss, had to worry. It was wonderful.
I also experienced the other side of this coin as a teacher. In my earliest days of teaching I was at a public high school where uniforms were not mandatory (but were optional). The student's clothing created a distraction, a higher need for teacher discipline (I once had a kid show up wearing a Jägermeister t-shirt, and another with a shirt that said "Your mom is a MILF" - those were definitely against school policy), and a need for increased vigilance on campus to determine which students belonged on campus and who did not - obviously a major safety concern (this was right around the time of Columbine).
When I made the switch to teaching at a school with uniforms, I realized how conducive they were to a healthy learning environment. Even the students who disliked being forced to wear a uniform could bond with their friends over how much it sucked, so it instantly gave them all something in common, and a way to commiserate with each other and complain about authority (which, let's face it, is how a lot of bonding happens throughout life in general). Plus, when there are less "oh em gee I love your shirt" moments happening in your classroom, there is considerably more time to teach. And of course while safety is always a priority it was much easier to see which students belonged on campus - they all looked alike and visitors, in their "street clothes", were glaringly obvious.
So my answer to the decades-old debate on uniforms being liberating or restrictive? Wholeheartedly I say that uniforms are liberating. They allow the student to be free to learn, free to concentrate, and in a much more controlled, safe environment.