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Position Paper -- School Uniforms
-- Anonymous, March 19, 1999
Do They Reduce Violence--Or Just Make Us Feel Better?
by Kathleen L. Paliokas and Ray C. Rist
Violence is a topic which appears to be very much on peoples minds today. All one has to do is just turn on the television to see evidence of this. Violence is everywhere, but when innocent children are being victimized, as most people would agree, it is time to start finding some solutions. Violence among young people, especially at school, is now seen as a possible threat to our childrens lives and their academic achievement. While there have been various violence prevention programs set up all over the country, research shows, the success of these programs has been limited and is often questioned as to their effectiveness. The requirement of wearing uniforms is one type of violence prevention approach. Wearing school uniforms is a situation that could potentially affect students all over the country, and one in which there are many aspects to consider. Does wearing school uniforms affect behavior? Can uniforms create safer schools? Are uniforms just a temporary solution? Are uniforms in your childs future? These questions, along with the very thought of wearing a school uniform, is a subject which seems to send students, and adults alike, into a wave of controversy. The fact is, at the present time, there just hasnt been enough evidence presented that will support the fact that school uniforms do decrease violence.
The crucial issue of this controversy is whether taking the focus off fashion, and removing the status symbols associated with society, will help take pressure off young people. This, in turn, is assumed will create a safer environment in which students can learn. Advocates for students wearing uniforms contend that this will make them more equal in each others eyes, and eliminate a lot of needless competition and low self esteem. Not to mention preventing some of them from getting beat up, or even murdered, for wearing designer clothes. Other supporters feel uniforms will help students maintain some stability in their lives, encourage them to concentrate on developing their inner self, and concentrate more on accumulating knowledge which would enhance their life? Some individuals, however, see uniforms or dress codes, as unsuitable, because it is felt that resorting to this type of prevention measure will take away freedom of expression, as well as violating constitutional rights.
There is evidence of several implied assumptions on both sides of this issue. Wearing uniforms has some people visioning the traditional Catholic school setting, which is considered to be a sheltered and structured environment in which to learn. People who support uniforms assume that students involved in this type of environment will not only improve their attitudes and behavior, but also turn their focus back on education. People who oppose wearing uniforms see the requirement of them as limiting a childs individuality and creativity. Their view is that if violence was once an issue, it still will be, in spite of making students wear uniforms. All uniforms do is offer a temporary solution.
When looking at all the pros and cons associated with wearing uniforms, there are some pertinent issues on both sides. Advocates who promote uniforms are taking a proactive approach to student conduct and this can be an essential tool is some situations. Unfortunately, there is a lot of skepticism as to whether a students uniform can really improve student attitudes, and restore order and discipline to our classrooms. Anti-uniform supporters believe there have got to be better ways to cut violence than to possibly stifle a young persons inner creativity and expression. Norman Isaacs, the principal of Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks, CA, voiced his opposition by saying that students need to learn to make choices and decisions based on internal values, rather than functioning with arbitrary rules that set limits for them. Only then can they learn to think for themselves and develop self-discipline.(Paliokas and Rist, 1996, par. 13)
In the last few years, President Clinton has been actively endorsing activities that decrease violence in schools. His administration is constantly looking for ways to help schools create safer environments. After talking to many schools who had implemented the school uniform policy, Clinton found several, did indeed, have success with crime reduction. Since then, the President has drafted a manual on school uniforms, which was sent to every school district in the country in March 1996. This was done in order to help communities who wanted to implement school uniforms. Although, Clinton sent the manuals with the best of intentions, there has been much opposition, as well as support, to contend with. Some people are downright shocked by the Presidents approach to this serious problem. Loren Siegel, an American Civil Liberties Union spokesman, said, There is something profoundly cynical about our political leaders promoting uniforms in the face of crumbling school buildings, overcrowded classrooms, and dwindling education funds.(Siegel, 1996, par. 5) She also stresses that attractive, modern and safe buildings; smaller classes, well-stocked libraries; easily accessible computers and more elective courses, such as music, drama, and art -- are the type of prevention measures that will bring about the needed changes in student deportment and achievement.(Siegel, par. 5)
Other valid arguments supporting the opposition of uniforms, are that, as indicated earlier, there have been no studies, at this time, which confirm uniforms consistently bring about positive changes in a students behavior. While some districts have maintained that this is in fact the case, there very likely may have been other details that need to be brought out. Other measures could have been taken, also, such as more teachers stationed in the halls, metal detectors, more parent involvement, etc.
Finally, another potential problem with requiring uniforms is expressed by Peter Tacy, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools. He warns that problems could arise with uniform policies, which may offend some minority groups who might see uniforms as an intrusion on their heritage, their identity, and their civil rights. (Rugarber, 1997, par. 9) In this time of so much racial conflict, why create more.
While some research indicates that taking proactive violence prevention measures can be beneficial, it is doubtful requiring students to wear uniforms is going to accomplish what it was intended to. The fact is that school violence does exist and it isnt likely to go away in the near future. Schools need to do more to make our youths feel safe so learning can not only take place, but flourish. Some solutions that might work are addressing racial and cultural conflict issues; providing safe corridor programs, which ensure a students safety to and from school; securing entrances; providing students with more extracurricular activities; establishing open forums which allow self-expression; help find part-time jobs; and teaching students more conflict resolution skills.(Siegel, 1996, par. 6)
If school uniforms are in the future, hopefully the decision will ultimately rest with each district. There is no valid reason why everyone should be penalized and made to wear uniforms, because of the small percentage of kids causing the problems. Until there is more evidence that wearing uniforms brings about positive changes in behavior, it would probably be a good idea to explore alternate ways of solving behavior problems.
Paliokas, Kathleen and Rist, Ray C. (1996). Do They Reduce Violence--Or Just Make Us
Feel Better? [Online]. 21 paragraphs. Education Week On the Web. Available:
http://www.uncg.edu/edu/ericcass/violence/docs/uniform.htm (1996, April 3).
Rugarber, Jennifer. (1997). School Uniforms Go Public. [Online]. 12 paragraphs.
Connecticuts Country Kids. Available: http://family.go.com/Features/family_1997_
Siegel, Loren. (1996). Point of View: School Uniforms. [Online]. 6 paragraphs. In
Congress. Available: http://www.aclu.org/congress/uniform.html. (1996, March 1).
-- Anonymous, March 19, 1999