Due to increased gang-related activities, relatively poor attendance performance and the need to keep schools safe and nondiscriminatory, there have been attempts to introduce policies to achieve these states without having to violate human rights and also not involve police all the time. Many schools are still brainstorming which way to go. It is due to this reason that some schools in The Long Beach, California, unified school district initiated mandatory uniforms for all K-8 students in 1994. What followed was a 76 reduction in all incidents of school crime, including assaults and weapon violations, within one year. This result was appreciated by the community at large with only 600-700 out of the 70,000 students in the district preferring to be exempted from wearing uniforms, which mean a whopping 99 of students preferred uniforms (Cohn and Cohn). This policy was adopted in other states with positive results being registered in all cases. This argument is supported by North Carolina Family Police Council Director Stephen Daniels’ publication on students’ dress codes in which he asserts ‘Dress codes reduce conflict associated with name brand and gang clothing, decrease the gap between poor and rich students, and encourage a sense of belonging that contributes to overall order and discipline.’ (Daniels). This also supports the proponents of the debate.
Considering that constitutionality of school uniforms has been challenged in court and the decision was in favor of dress codes, it is evident that proponents are winning the debate. They seem to have support even from the few research results available as well as The Center for the Prevention of School Violence who pointed out that the “3Ps’ of school safety-place (physical security of school,) people (those in the school) and purpose (mission of the school) can be impacted by school dress policies” (Daniels). However, the center was concerned about the limited nature of the research on that particular issue. It is because of the limited research on the relationship of dress code and the factors above, coupled with public demands for absolute knowledge on the area, that forms the basis for this research. Evidence indicates that school uniforms reduce the gap between socioeconomic statuses, improve learning achievement, and combat the formation of criminal gangs in school.
History of School Uniforms
School uniforms started way back in 1552 in London in schools such as Christ hospital in Horsham, West Sussex. However, in USA, Uniforms had not received the maximum attention by as later as 1979 when the first introduction attempt was made to tackle the problem of violence among students who fought for designer clothes. The uniform policy was to be later on implemented by President Bill Clinton to help in stopping the gang war related problems. To the president, the major concern was the gang war related issues. In recent times, many questions have risen with regard to uniforms following the latest trends in schools adopting the uniform policy. The topic has attracted criticism and support in a biased manner in favor of the proponents. “However, according to the debate on whether there should be uniform at school or not, only began in the in the 19th century’’ (Listland)
The opponents have been consistent in the way of their reasoning. Most of their arguments revolve around the constitutionality of uniforms, right of expression, culture and lately a fierce criticism of the reasons put forward by the proponents of the debate. Proponents allege that uniforms may help students concentrate on their studies rather than fight over fashions. However, critics attack this point of reasoning claiming there is no reliable evidence that a student performance is directly related to what a student wears.
Challenges of Uniforms as Put Forward by Critics are:
Uniforms infringe on the rights of students to express themselves in a manner they deem fit.
Uniforms have no direct impact on the performance of students in class work.
They are additional costs to the parents who are required to meet the cost of their purchase, in fact cheaper clothes are available in the streets, so cheaper than uniforms.
The violence that proponents argue will be reduced in school does happen within age bracket of 15-17 years, this does not happen in all ages and therefore using that reason to introduce uniforms for all is malicious.
Uniforms undermine the ability of students to think creatively and don’t let them express their individuality (Listland)
Uniforms are culturally wrong especially in countries like USA which has different people with varied culture (Listland)
However, proponents of the debate have always come up strong to defend their reasoning quoting reasons which are not just reasons but statistically supported information. In fact most of the pro debate arguments are supported either by statistics or research. ‘In Chicago and nationwide, thousands of public schools are considering adopting dress codes or uniforms to improve discipline, enhance classroom performance and reduce gang violence’ (Ann Scot Tyson). These are some of the reasons being proposed for the adoption of school uniforms. Just by many schools wanting to adopt this policy cannot be a mistake. It must be reason enough that this is a deserving policy. These sentiments were shared by Jay Butler of NSBA when he said that ‘gang related issues are pretty prevalent as a reason for using dress codes’ (Ann Scot Tyson). These dress codes also prohibit the wearing of baggy clothes, earrings by boys and other gang related paraphernalia. This should be evidence that the policy is noble and is only targeting to reduce gang related violence in schools.
Evidence shows very well the success of this policy in some schools that adopted the school dress policy. Example is the Long Beach and Calif. Calif became the first to require uniforms at elementary and middle schools in 1994. The result was a decrease in crime by 36 among the 60,000 students. This was a good figure and formed the basis for adoption of the policy by others.
Notable evidence of the effects of a student dress policy can also be seen from the Long Beach district results. They made it mandatory implementation of uniforms. Since they began requiring uniforms, crime in the school district has dropped by 91 percent, suspensions have decreased by 90 percent, sex offenses have been reduced by 96 percent and vandalism is down 69 percent. It is important to note that there were no other additional security issues put in place but only the uniform policy (Daniels; Winter).
In addition, instead of the district experiencing more drop out from disgruntled students following the implementation program, a study released by the Harvard School of Education found that the Long Beach school district was among six districts in the nation’s 34 largest cities that dramatically reduced their dropout rates from 11.2 to 2.7 percent (Winter).
Gang Color/Related Violence
According to Carmichael, a school council who has taught English at Calumet for 27 years, in areas of high gang related activities like where Calumet high school is situated, a simple mistake of wearing a wrong color in a wrong neighborhood can get you killed. This alone is a good reason to implement the policy since not all students will be careful or aware of these signs and may obliviously walk in to their deaths without even knowing. The gang culture according to Listland is the root cause of numerous evils at schools and more than half of the high school students are affiliated to the so called high school gangs (Listland), introducing uniforms at least will help to reduce their color signs. These sentiments were also reflected by the result of the survey by student’s right of 2005, they reported that “With the increased displays of School violence many school officials; parents and students have become more determined to find solutions” (Daniels). According to their viewpoint, school dress codes promote school safety and foster a positive learning environment reduce conflict associated with name brand and gang clothing.
Unity, Pride and Common Spirit
Research shows that uniform is a major contributor to the building up of the feeling of pride among students toward their institution (Listland). This according to Listland is a study that was done by Oxford Brookes University in 2007. The study concluded that uniform wearing students are more likely to develop community spirit which can be used in various noble courses. Basically school uniforms are identity signs and bring in the sense of belonging. Stephen Daniels from his national survey also reported this as one of the findings. He concluded that dress codes also encourage a sense of belonging that contributes to overall order and discipline (Daniels).
Uniforms help to reduce the economic gaps among the students. In Calumet alone for example, there are those who have and those don’t have, who live in housing projects, group homes and shelters. Coach Johnie Butler points out that they have a lot of kids who try to keep up with the Jones’ fashion wise. For this reason, expensive coats and shoes are stolen at the school. This according to him is because students there tend to equate their self-worth with what they wear (Ann Scot Tyson). This decrease in the gap between poor and rich students was also attested by Stephen Daniels in the survey they conducted nationally on the effect of dress codes (Daniels).
“The pink dress with those shoes? Uhmm Nah! I wore that last week. Uhmm, how about this one, aaah Pamela has the same dress and wears it so often…! I need to revamp my wardrobe” (Listland). This expression was used by Listland to show how absence of uniforms can always be a problem in the mind of the female students. Uniforms save money by not having to worry about who has what and what you wore last week that now you should not repeat, a very common case with girls and hence by bringing in a uniform dress that will not leave them worried about what they don’t have but someone has is then a good idea. This will not only save parents money but will also ensure punctuality of the students.
Listland states that “one of the best things about uniforms is that you don’t have to worry about the matching and what goes on with your trouser or tee” (Listland).This noticeably can help students get ready quickly for schools. This will therefore contribute directly to the amount of time being availed for class work/study purposes.
Campus security/School Intrusion
Students can only be safe when their environment assures so. Listland puts safety of students at number one priority reason as to why uniforms policy should be implemented in all public schools within the states. They claim this is not just their number one reason but also top the reasons for the parents also. With school uniforms, students become less violent with time and this according to them is also supported with statistics which shows that the rate of assault with deadly weapons, fighting, injuries decrease by 50 after schools changed their policy from casual to uniforms (Listland). According Stephen Daniels, school dress codes promote school safety and foster a positive learning environment (Daniels). Specifically, he states in his findings that dress codes reduce conflict associated with name brand and gang clothing. With regard to the constitutionality of the issue, he asserts that dress codes are constitutional, citing court cases that found they do not infringe on students’ rights or suppress their speech. He also explains that uniforms will prevent outsiders from entering the school premise and cause harm to anybody.
Constitutionality of the dress codes has been challenged in the courts with proponents arguing that by implementing this in all public schools will amount to abuse of the students’ First Amendment rights of free expression that is guaranteed by the constitution of the United States of America. Critics question whether there is any valid relationship between uniforms and the performance of students in class. This argument has received a lot of reaction than response.” According to Mike Kelly, objections to school uniforms policies are unfounded and frivolous” (Kelly). He supports that uniforms instill discipline, help students focus on their studies and eliminate pressure on parents to outfits their kids. However, many opponents were not just going to sit back and watch without putting a fight. One such person was Mike DePinto, a fifth grader who protested this by wearing a button depicting the Hitler youth. This was to reflect a paramilitary group of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, in hope of people understanding what wearing uniforms could be like (Kelly).
This action attracted discussion with other people accusing him of not being sincere in what he was against. Some insinuated that “DePinto’s dilemma is that he simply wants to pick his own clothes. Or as he put it to a Bayonne newspaper last week: I’m opposed to somebody telling me what to wear and forcing me to wear an emblem against my will.’ (Kelly).
The court case was however dismissed by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco. The ruling was 2-1 on May 12 that the policies of the Clark County, Nev., school district, which includes Las Vegas, do not violate the First Amendment rights of students (Walsh).
Dress code is an issue that has been in the public domain for so long now yet it still continues to be emotive. Whichever divide one is, it is important to put facts like they are. Opponents of uniforms cite constitutionality and the right that will be violated. In response to this, it is true that this issue was taken to court and the court’s judgment was not on their favor. It would not be right to continue the debate along same line when the same constitution provides for appeal. Instead of talking, it would be more appealing to appeal if at all they are not satisfied. Again, on the issue of many cultures, that is even a point for the other side. Many people with varied culture allowed to bring their culture to school will not be very attractive and hence the need to embrace one thing that will be common to everyone and that will make everyone feel attached to.
On the other hand, proponents should also note that uniform is not the sole cause of insecurity and therefore insinuating that embracing uniforms will enhance security in my opinion may not be very accurate, plus if it worked in Long Beach district does not mean it will work everywhere. The government should therefore work hard to ensure everybody is secure at all times. These gangs should not be used as excuse since this only show that government has failed by openly acknowledging their existence.
From the research findings, it is clear that school uniforms reduce the gap between socioeconomic statuses as supported by the research by Daniels and Scot, improve learning achievement as was seen in both Caril and Long Beach districts. Even Chicago is a proof to these earlier thesis statements. On combating the formation of criminal gangs in school, this has not left any doubt in the mind of any American citizen. All statistics indicate that uniforms truly combats formation and thriving of criminal gangs in the schools (Winter; Daniels; Kelly). However more research should be done to establish the direct relationship between uniform wearing and class performance so that there can be no more doubts in the minds of skeptics.
- Ann Scot Tyson. “Schools fight gang colors by pushing uniform grey.” 12th April 1996. The christian Science Monitor. 8th April 2015.<http://www.csmonitor.com/1996/0412/12031.html>.
- Daniels, Stephen. School Dress Codes Are Necessary and Constitutional. North Carolina, 2005.
- Kelly, Mike. “School Uniforms Dont Stiffle Freedom of Expression.” School policies (2008).
- Listland. Top 10 reasons school Uniforms should be Mandatory. 30th November 2014. 8th April 2015. <http://www.listland.com/top-10-reasons-school-uniforms-mandatory/>.
- Walsh, Mark. “U.S. Appeals Court Backs District’s Rules on School Uniforms.” 21 May 2008. Education Week. 8th April 2015.
- Winter. “School Improvement Initiatives In Long Beach, California: The Quest For Higher Student Achievement, Behavior, And Dress Standards.” Education (1998).