Why more American schools are implementing school uniforms
Should uniforms be mandatory for students in all schools? Source: Shutterstock

Kids who grew up in Asia, Australia and the UK probably envied American students who could strut their stuff in whatever clothing they liked at school (or at least, that’s how it appeared on American television).

Besides the UK and Ireland, school-going children in countries across Europe don’t typically wear uniforms either. Like America and Canada, it’s more common in Catholic private schools or international schools.

But in most countries in Asia and Africa, as well as in the UK, uniforms in schools are compulsory. Typically, there is one standard school uniform for boys and girls at national schools, but private and international schools can choose their own uniform get up provided they meet appropriate dress codes.

In the UK, the school uniform rule goes back to the 16th century, where it is believed that the Christ’s Hospital in London was the first to implement them in 1552.

As the British colony grew later on, former British-colonised countries adopted this practice in their schools as well, like New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

As a free country in the ‘New World’, countries in the Americas didn’t follow suit. The idea behind American schools not making school uniforms compulsory is to restrict comformity and grant students more ‘freedom’ to express themselves, which grew stronger in the freewheeling 70s and 80s.

But it appears that American educators are starting to see the benefits of wearing school uniforms, as more and more schools are implementing them – especially within inner cities where kids typically come from lower-income families.

While not compulsory, Americans are starting to see a shift in several areas when kids wear uniforms to school.

School uniforms are on an upward trend in the US. Quartzy reported last year that 21.5 percent of US public schools made it mandatory for students to wear uniforms at the end of the school year in 2016, up 13.8 percent from 2006.

Students marching in the Huntington School Memorial Day parade in Boston last year, wearing their uniforms. Source: Enterprise News

But why?

According to Quartzy, “While there’s no conclusive evidence that they boost student performance, administrators view them as helpful in creating a sense of community and a school culture that fosters seriousness about learning.”

It can also help reduce instances of bullying and instill a sense of pride for their school.

Anne Michaud, a spokesperson for Success Academy – the largest free public charter school network in New York City – said, “The idea is to support equality. If children are dressed in same or similar fashion, they aren’t distracted by each others’ clothing and judgments about what others are wearing. Uniforms are an equalizer.”

Having a standard school uniform also helps parents from lower-income families who feel obliged to keep up with dressing their children in the latest fashions, which can be costly.

Uniforms, which change according to the season, also ensure that children are dressed appropriately for the weather.

Pro.Con.org stated, “Proponents say that school uniforms make schools safer for students, create a “level playing field” that reduces socioeconomic disparities, and encourage children to focus on their studies rather than their clothes.”

Mark Oppenheimer wrote on The New Yorker that approximately one-fifth of all public-school students wear school uniforms, and that they are one of the few interventions on which charter-school advocates and anti-charter activists agree.

He found that his daughter’s school uniform was “perfectly nice”, and instead of a standard school uniform, they are allowed to mix and match a combination of coordinated prep-wear such as “skirts or pants, paired with piqué polo shirts, all in “goldenrod yellow,” navy, or white, topped off by a fleece zip-up (on which the school crest is optional).”

He wrote, “For her first day, she chose the navy skirt with the white polo. As she walked to the corner to catch the bus, I was reminded of a time when our schools were orderly, our teachers respected, and our children all above average.

“That was an imaginary time, of course, but nostalgia for it has helped to create the modern school-uniform movement, which has won the kind of broad — indeed, nearly uniform — support that exists for no other educational policy, or social policy, that one can think of.”

A survey by YouGov Omnibus found that many Americans support the idea of uniforms, and believe that “uniforms have positive effects on combating bullying and discrimination, encouraging discipline, promoting school pride and reducing decision fatigue.”

But when it comes to assessing whether uniforms have a positive or negative impact in terms of promoting a student’s individuality, the results were mixed.

“While 30% of parents say it has a positive effect, 31% say there’s a negative effect. Among the total population, about one-quarter (26%) say it has a positive effect on promoting individuality, while 35% think it has a negative effect in this regard.”

Several schools in America who have not made it compulsory for kids to wear school uniforms are instead making their dress codes more stringent.

This has resulted in push back from both parents and school children who feel dress codes and school uniform rules promote sexism and racism, restrict creative expression, and cause loss of identity.

Recently, there was also a widely-reported case in North Carolina about a federal judge’s ruling to strike down a school’s uniform policy as unconstitutional.

The case stemmed from a school petition where female students felt the skirt requirement in their school was a sexist rule, and sparked a larger discussion about how females are often at a disadvantage when it comes to school uniform rules, as they aren’t allowed to wear trousers.

The judge, Malcolm J. Howard, wrote in the ruling, “The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female.”

As reported by The New York Times, “In the US, more than half of public schools have dress codes. Students are beginning to push back on ones they deem discriminatory, challenging rules against buzz cutsshirt dresses and hair extensions.”

“In 2014, a group of New Jersey high schoolers created #iammorethanadistraction to push back against their dress code and four years later, it continues to be an active hashtag. Change.org lists over 500 dress code petitions in their database.”

Despite the backlash over certain dress codes, there is still plenty of support for it, as more schools  introduce school uniforms in the country. It remains to be seen whether it will continue on an upward trend – but at the moment, it appears likely.

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

Is fashion stationery distracting students from lessons?

Armani uniform for Japan public school weaves anger among parents, govt