Traditionally favored by private institutions, a growing number of high schools in the United States and China have adopted the rule of wearing uniforms. In a broad sense, school uniforms are regarded as a collective symbol, a symbol of the legitimacy of school education institutions, the proponents contend that students should wear school uniforms and it should be mandatory, while others argue that mandatory school uniform policies should be abolished because of its mandatory and rigid requirement and unreasonable design. Both sides want the most positive effect on students.
Brunsma (2016) reports mandatory uniform policies have been the focus of recent discourse on public school reform. He argues that because uniform policies provide a more public commitment, they may indirectly affect the school environment and student performance in order to improve and reform schools. However, the school uniform for students and the school itself is of great significance, It is a historical product inherited from thousands of years of education. In the face of social dispute, it’s necessary to find a generally acceptable solution.
Many proponents claim that school uniforms make students more focused on their studies, create a “level playing field” that reduces socioeconomic disparities and make schools safer for students. First and foremost, school uniforms as school culture and image of the endorsement, it can increase a sense of belonging and school pride and make students aware of their identity as students at all times, thus encouraging discipline and improving attendance. According to school-reported statistics and the School Administrator(Chen, 2008), school uniform rules have reduced tardiness, truancy, suspensions, and discipline checks.
It means that wearing uniforms makes students more focused and efficient in their studies.
Furthermore, when all students have to wear the same uniform, the socio-economic differences between students will be minimized, and students will no longer have the pressure to choose appropriate clothes. A movement toward using uniforms in state schools began when Bill Clinton addressed it, saying: “If it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear uniforms.”(Boutelle, 2010) Obviously, uniforms are a good way to protect the self-esteem of students from poor families and to help students resist peer pressure to buy trendy clothes. In addition, school uniforms can also effectively reduce gang activities and improve students’ safety. “In the first year of the mandatory uniform policy in Long Beach, California, officials reported that fighting in schools decreased by more than 50%, assault, and battery by 34%, sex offenses by 74%, and robbery by 66%.” (Wade, 2015) These data mean that uniforms showed by all students can increase students’ sense of pride and unity. School uniforms can differentiate strangers from students in school buildings and reduce the prevalence of violence.
All in all, school uniforms can improve students’ learning efficiency and promote equality among students, and it is a good safety guarantee for students. Opponents contend that uniforms violate students’ right to express their individuality, do not apply to all students’ physical characteristics, and are sexist. First of all, as outlined by the ACLU’s First Amendment argument, opponents of uniforms in public schools argue that they stifle students’ need for self-expression. (Barnow, 2010) If students are not given the opportunity to fully express their unique personality through the clothes they choose, individualism cannot give full play to its ability. “school uniforms suppress students’ individuality by mandating standardization of appearance and removing student expression.”(Joseph, 2016) When children choose their own clothes, they are able to develop self-confidence and independence, which are essential for personality development and adult success. Moreover, school uniforms may not be suitable for all students, which will limit students’ study, because students are worried about their appearance. In order to maximize the learning effect, students’ comfort level is very important, and school uniforms may distract students from their studies. For instance, uniform standards may require students to wear polo shirts, which are stuffed into khaki pants.
Overweight students may develop extreme discomfort with the uniform. (Goodman, 2009) When students feel uncomfortable in their school uniforms, their attention will be diverted from their studies. Besides, another negative aspect of school uniforms is that they can be sexist, in terms of the dress code, boys and girls aren’t disciplined. According to Zhou(2016), “transgender students have been sent home for wearing clothing different from what’s expected of their legal sex, while others have been excluded from yearbooks.” Thus controversy arises when students do not want to show inconsistency with their gender. In addition, some girls’ school uniforms are not designed properly, which makes girls unable to move freely and makes them catch a cold in winter. All in all, school uniforms hinder the development of students’ personality, their uniform design cannot be applied to all students, and it also limits students’ sexual orientation.
School uniform advocates emphasize that school uniforms should be mandatory in order to create a safer, more united environment for students and help achieve equality because it will benefit students to study more efficiently. Opponents of school uniforms argue that school uniforms are unnecessary because they hinder the development of students’ personalities, limit the cultivation of students’ innovative spirit and may lead to gender discrimination. It seems that both sides are trying to do what is good for students, which is the different aspect of students’ academic development and personality development. Therefore, it is essential to find a dialectical unity between personality and academic development, so that both the advocates and opponents can accept the solution.
Although not all American schools have mandatory uniforms, the use of uniforms in the United States is increasingly important. “Almost one in five US public schools required students to wear uniforms during the 2011-2012 school year, up from one in eight in 2003-2004.” (DaCosta, 2013) School uniforms are becoming a trend, deciding whether a uniform is appropriate for a student depends on the individual situation. If students have a high requirement for characteristic expression and personal comfort while wearing clothes, uniforms may create unhealthy restrictions and lead to negative behavior. On the other hand, if students need to pay more attention to their studies rather than appearance and socialization, then uniforms may help relieve the social pressure associated with independent dress. However, if students are completely allowed to choose whether to wear uniforms or not, it is bound to cause visual chaos in the campus, leading to the prevalence of comparison and grandiose. In the long run, high school students are in adolescence, which is a critical period for the maturity of values and aesthetics.
Therefore, school uniforms should try to meet the requirements of high school students’ psychological requirements and physical needs, and encourage students to participate in the design and production of their school uniforms. Besides, students also can add accessories to their uniforms to express their individuality. High school student Amelia Jimenez wrote in her op-ed for the Pennsylvania Patriot-News website that “contrary to popular belief, uniforms don’t stop students from being themselves. Uniforms don’t silence voices. Students can wear a variety of expressive items, such as buttons or jewelry.” By doing so, a peer-reviewed study found that 54% of eleventh-graders said they could still express their individuality while wearing school uniforms. (Andrea, 2013) Therefore, encouraging students to participate in the school uniform design, let students add accessories to the school uniform, which can not only make the school uniform is widely accepted but also make students’ personality can be developed.
The uniform debate involves more than just what students should wear to school, it involves other, deeper issues at school. “It touches on issues of school improvement, freedom of expression, and the culture wars.” (Wilde, 2010) In conclusion, school uniforms can improve students’ cohesion and promote equality among students, but students’ personality development is also important, and students’ individual rights should be protected. Both supporters and opponents of school uniforms want to promote the development of students. By encouraging students to participate in the design of school uniforms, and allowing students to add accessories to school uniforms, school uniforms can become generally accepted under mandatory circumstances, because the unity of the school can be reflected and students’ academic and personality can be developed.