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School Uniform Requirement

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It's official -- the largest school district in the U.S. has adopted school uniforms. Over a half-million elementary-school students in New York City will have to adhere to a dress code by the Fall of 1999. The president of the school board said the policy is "important to diminish peer pressure and promote school pride," but that it's not "an act of magic to transform schools overnight....It isn't going to replace good teaching, good principals, small classrooms."

It's a fashion trend that's spreading. From Los Angeles to Louisiana, from Maryland to Miami, public schools are discussing, and in many cases adopting, the old private school idea. School uniforms are designed to help kids focus on algebra instead of high-tops; to make students compete for grades rather than jackets.

"It helps to get up in the morning and not have to think about what you're going to wear," said Maria, a ninth-grader who swims, plays soccer, and wears exactly what everybody else does at her high school in Washington, DC. Each school day, Maria dons an all-white oxford shirt, brown shoes, and a gray/maroon plaid skirt that has to be long enough to the touch the ground when she kneels. After school and on weekends, of course, all bets are off. Maria has a simple yet effective strategy: she borrows her friends' clothes, typically baggy jeans.

School uniforms also take the pressure off students to pay top dollar for clothes, according to Reginald Wilson, a senior scholar at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. "I think it does lower the cost of clothes, and kids don't emphasize clothes as much when they're all wearing the same thing," Wilson said. "Certainly the competition to wear the best shoes or the best sweaters and so forth has been prevalent in school ever since I was in school, and the poor kids felt inferior."


The 'training' argument says that when you are employed, you are likely to have to wear a uniform. Is this true? What are the odds that children will wear a uniform later in life? Typically, the occupations where people have to wear uniforms are the lower paid jobs, nothing to look forward to, really. Generally, the more educated people are, the less they wear uniforms later in life. Look at teachers, they don't wear uniforms! Well-paid work tends to reject uniformity, and for good reason, the demands of the future include qualities such as assertiveness, creativity, individuality, originality, a spontaneous personality, being a self-starter, taking initiatives, being able to cope with change, etc. And even the people who do wear a uniform later in life are unlikely to accept such a silly costume as a school uniform. Only for prostitutes is the school uniform an obligatory part of their professional wardrobe (and one may wonder why). What is the logic behind forcing children in uniforms? That children have to get used to wearing a uniform, just in the unfortunate case that they will end up in such a job later in life? If we turn around the same 'logic', students who are used to wearing uniforms would be insufficiently prepared for plain-clothed work, if they did not wear plain clothes at school all the time. Similarly, students would not be able to deal with people who didn't wear uniforms. It just doesn't make sense.

There is one deeper argument. It goes like this: students waering uniforms will be accustomed to taking a servile attitude which will help them find work later in life. Of course, the very opposite could be argued with more reason. Does success in future demand a servile attitude? Or is it more helpful to be creative, have an spontaneous and open personality, an inquisitive mind, be a self-starter who talks things over, who has an independent mind searching for new ideas to make things work?

See? Examine an argument that supposedly favored school uniforms more closely, and it either doesn't make sense or it turns into an argument against school uniforms. That's why schools who seek to introduce uniforms typcially prefer to do so without any debate on the issue! Anyway, let's continue with the next argument.


The 'equity' argument goes like this: If children wear uniforms, they do not notice differences between children from rich and from poor families. This 'equity' argument is often put forward by State Schools. The reason for this may be that it is a purely socialist argument and it may be rejected for this reason alone. In a democratic country, school should not indoctrinate children with a specific political ideology, especially not a government-funded school. Interestingly, private schools typically are even more fanatical about uniforms, but they are less inclined to use the 'equity' argument.

Anyway, even as a socialist argument, it does not make much sense. School uniforms may make all students look alike. But why do the teachers not wear the same uniforms? Clearly, school does not like any confusion as to who is the teacher and who is the student. The master-slave relationship that is so obviously present at school is deliberately magnified by uniforms that emphasize this difference. The teacher is allowed to dress casually, while the student has to wear silly clothes intended to make the student look stupid.

Furthermore, there are often different uniforms for those in higher grades than for those in lower grades, just like in the military a superior officer wears a less silly hat. This creates class differences. Some will argue that this merely reflects existing differences. But the point is that if this were accurate, it constituted an argument against uniformity. Moreover, school itself creates class differences. Class is a trademark, if not an invention of school. Children are grouped together in classes according to age and often according to gender and to perceived academic performance. Because parents want their children to mix with children of their 'own class', they carefully select the neighborhood where they are going to live. Houses close to private schools are often substantially more expensive than similar houses close to state schools. On the street, children are identified by their uniform. 'Oh, you come from that poor school, you dummy!' is an example of what children say to each other when they look at each other's uniform. And even in the classroom, uniforms only accentuate differences in length, hair color and other physical characteristics. Children consequently judge each other by their physical appearances. One can argue whether it were better if children judged each other by their clothes instead.




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