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In the recent past, schools, parents, and students have clashed over whether to regulate student attire or not. It is apparent that researchers are divided over the real impact if any that dress code policy has on student learning. Some scholars argue that do not improve school safety or academic discipline. In one prior study conducted in Ohio, it revealed that the uniforms improved graduation and attendance rates but no impact on academic performance. In some schools, students have complained that uniforms are a distraction since some teachers use energy and time policing uniforms where at times they ask girls to kneel on the floor such that they can check the length of the skirt (Baumann et al., 23). In this regard, there are better policies to introduce harmony and unity in schools than by using uniforms.
Just like in the real world, communities are built on shared interests but not adorning same clothes. Performing activities together is more likely to create bonds than wearing same clothes. Dress codes in school are an appropriate consideration rather than uniforms since students can still exercise their creativity without much restriction. Also, dress code in schools accommodates culture as well as students with a particular religious belief rather than the restrictiveness with uniforms.
History of the school uniforms
Introducing school uniforms may be a contentious debate but certainly not a new concept. Students all over the world have adorned uniforms over the centuries. Historical evidence depicts England as the source of modern day school uniforms. The first instance was recorded in 1222 in England where students in a particular class were expected to put on a robe like a garment known as a Cappa Clause (Valdez 13). However, new school uniforms were recorded in history in the 16th century. Uniforms were more common in private and prestigious schools all over England than in America.
In America however, school uniforms were introduced in the early 1990’s for parochial and private schools. Schools in Maryland and Washington were the first to adopt the growing trend. The uniforms, however, began to be accepted in public schools in the mid-1990 especially after a California school released statistical evidence to show the benefits associated with the school uniforms. The report indicated that crime had decreased drastically and fewer muggings were occurring as well as a drop in sexual offenses. Despite the much legislation concerning the school uniform issue in the USA, no state is bound by a statute to either introduce or ban them.
Dress Codes and Uniforms
According to Sequeira (112), the majority of the schools in the US a type of clothing restriction or requirement, classified as a uniform or a dress code. A myriad of differences exists between the two. School uniforms are usually more restrictive than a dress code. Dress codes allow a variety of dresses, unlike uniforms where the clothes are nearly identical. Uniforms are popular in private schools which are deemed to perform better academically than the public schools. In this regard, public schools are now adopting school uniforms to elevate their academic performance. Notably, dress code policies in schools are a hot topic throughout the country. Proponents hold the notion that dress codes will improve the academic performance and standing of students as well as create a better-unified student environment. Also, they believe it will promote safety within the school and reduce gang-related activities. On the other hand, opponents think that the uniforms and dress codes only serve as a limit to the student’s freedom.
Some dress codes stipulate that a student should wear a particular type of bottom or up with a certain range of colors. In instances, only solid colored garments are allowed while clothes with logos, images, and patterns are banned.
It is worth noting that most of the dress codes extend beyond a student’s attire to cover other aspects of appearance. The majority of the schools are against body decorations such as tattoos, piercings or any other item that present crude political or social messages. Other items that are banned include leggings, bandanas, scarves and jewelry. Further restrictions limit body exposure where bare midriffs, peep toes, low necklines, and exposed backs are prohibited. In spite of the various limitations stipulated by dress code policies, they are still not as restrictive as school uniforms.
School uniforms do not allow dissimilarity in student dressing and are typically designed to be formal. The dresses are popular in parochial and private schools. The attire entails a set of clothes that differ according to the gender. The male students wear collared shirts with ties and dress pants. Females clothing is not as different as they wear dress pants or skirts with collared shirts and ties. In some instances, blazers, jackets and specific shoes are required. In some schools, different combinations of tops and bottoms are permitted such as turtlenecks, polo shirts, jumpers and knee length shorts. The permitted colors are strictly dictated by the school. In Toledo Ohio for example, students only have a limited palette of colors to wear. The colors include light blue, white, yellow or dark blue for the top part. For the bottom part, khaki, tan, navy and dark blue are allowed with an addition of maroon once they get to high school.
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Real life examples as to why the uniform rule should be established in all schools
In a past event in a middle school in NAPA California, the school’s dress code did not allow images and logos to school, and only solid colors were allowed. One student was sent to detention for wearing schools that had a logo representing Disney’s tiger cartoon. The parents sued the school’s district on the ground that they violated the student’s right to freedom. Following the incident, the district in 2007 announced that they would lessen the restrictions they had put on the dress code. At the same time, the superintendent acknowledged that banning images on attire does raise concerns about the restrictions of religious and political speech.
It is apparent that uniforms are easier to enforce as compared to dress codes. In two different instances, students challenged dress codes through courts. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a court’s decision that a Vermont student could not wear a t-shirt that showed an image of Bush surrounded by alcohol and drugs. The school had previously suspended the student following what they termed as an anti-Bush political message. The court decided it was a free political expression and that the image referred to Bushes alleged past. In another incident, the Supreme Court upheld a San Diego’s school decision to suspend a student for wearing an anti-gay t-shirt which the school termed as inflammatory. The court decided that he had a right to freedom of expression.
In a different event in 2007 in a school in Alaska, the Supreme Court ruled for a student who had sued the school after he was suspended from displaying a banner that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”. The school was attempting to shield other students from alcohol and drug images and hateful speech. However, the court ruled for the student citing that the student had the right to freedom of expression. All the three incidents would have been avoided had the schools implemented a strict uniform policy that restricted students from attending school with certain regalia. Uniforms seem to align the students, bring oneness and as such enhance discipline levels where students can concentrate more on learning as well as other co-curriculum activities.
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Uniforms and making schools better
Proponents of school uniforms argue that uniforms are meant to bring cohesion, sense of security and pride to an institution. In 1999, two students opened fire in their faculty in Littleton killing students and one teacher before killing themselves. After the event, police came to a conclusion that the dress code contributed to the incident among other factors since the students could wear trench coats with deep pockets where weaponry was hidden (Freeburg et al., 78). Subsequently, several schools adjusted their policies on what students could wear to school to prevent such a calamity. Preventing violence is just one reason for dress codes. Uniforms are allowed since they enhance discipline maintenance and limit distraction. Through implementing such policies as restricting short skirts, low-lying necklines and incredible images or messages on garments, institutions put in place a strict system that can be adhered to, therefore, instills controls through all the classes. Conversely, many opponents claim that the policies are likely to unfairly target certain groups such as the ethnic minorities, religious groups or female students. Dress codes and uniforms can promote a sense of pride and security, instill discipline in students, enhance better student behavior as well as cause minimal distractions for students allowing them to focus on other areas of education. However, dress code and uniforms can hinder the student’s creative expression; can take attention away from significant issues such as education as well as the ability to be expensive depending on the strictness of the code. Also uniforms create a level playing field in that it equalized students from different social, religious and economic backgrounds.
Some of the standard stipulations in schools regarding dress codes are that students must abide by the finger rule involving shorts or skirt rules. Students cannot show their midriff, bare backs or shoulders and shirts with profane images such as sexual content, violence, illegal substances and acts are prohibited. Leggings must not be work without tops or skirts that follow the finger rule. With the confusion that dress code attracts, many schools prefer school uniforms. The numbers of public schools with school uniforms have increased significantly over the years. For instance, from 2003 to 2012, the number rose to 19% from 13% (Freeburg et al., 116).
Middle East schools
There is a stricter policy in schools in the Middle East as compared to schools in the west. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, the dress code is dictated by the Sharia law which prohibits profanity or indecent exposure. Student’s dressing is largely shaped by the religious background. Female students should cover themselves differently, and uniforms are commonplace to show harmony in schools. No jewelry or makeup is allowed in school (Cannon 56). The shoes must be decent and formal as well. It is worth noting that students are allowed a non-uniform day. However, their dressing must be tasteful and not offensive. Symbols, decorations, designs and mottos printed on clothing are prohibited within the school premises. Students are expected to maintain high levels of hygiene at all times.
Similar to the US, designs that advertise tobacco or other substances such as alcohol and ideologies are prohibited. Notably, in Saudi Arabia, policy makers have called for stricter dress codes that girls should be covered more as enforcing strict dress codes lays a foundation concerning how girls enter the society after completing their studies. High regard is given to decency due to their values and religion. It is apparent that the policies in these countries are much stricter as compared to schools in the US. However, some similarities can be seen between the Middle East schools and US schools.
As earlier mentioned, there is an intense debate about whether to enforce uniforms and dress codes in the US public schools. There are several similarities with the Middle East schools as well since certain types of dressings and adornments are prohibited within the school premises. Uniforms are familiar in private and parochial schools, but they seem to be gaining significance in public schools recently. Also, in the 1980’s, public schools were unfavorably compared to Catholic schools. Due to the conferred benefits associated with Catholic schools, some public schools decided to adopt school uniforms to improve their overall image.
Students and Parents perception of school uniforms
Debate rages on among different parents and students as to whether uniforms should be allowed or not. Some parents oppose the idea of introducing them due to certain beliefs in culture and religion. They cite that the uniform curtails students’ freedom and creativity. However, parents who are more grounded perceive clothes as a balance that brings togetherness and harmony in learning institutions, in a way; uniforms align students both from poor and affluent backgrounds and are judged solely on their performance rather than their attire. Students, on the other hand, feel restricted and being teenagers, they are likely to oppose the idea of activity that curtails their right to dress and express themselves in different ways. Research shows that majority of students interviewed preferred to wear their clothes rather than adorning similar attires.
It is imperative to introduce a dress code in schools that ensures decency and discipline is maintained. Rather than putting too much restriction on students by designing school uniforms, students are likely to accept the idea more if they have input into what they wear. Dress code permits them to be decent while maintaining their styles, unlike uniforms where schools are the final decision makers. However, it is worth noting that studies disassociate the manner of dressing with academic performance. Most scholars posit that there is no correlation between dressing and academic performance. As such, one can argue that students should be allowed to wear what they feel appropriate to school since their academic performance is not affected. Also, dress codes are harder to decipher and hence cause a myriad of complications and possible lawsuits for the institutions.
- Baumann, Chris, and Hana Krskova. “School discipline, school uniforms and academic performance.” International Journal of Educational Management 30.6 (2016): 1003- 1029.
- Valdez, Liliana. “The Effect of School Uniforms on Self-Expression.” (2015). Print.
- Sequeira, A. H., et al. “A Study on Dress Code for College Students.” (2014). Print.
- Freeburg, Beth W., and Jane E. Workman. “Dress Codes and Uniforms.” (2016).print
- Cannon, Susan G. “Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future”. Charlotte, N.C: Information Age Pub, 2011. Print.