Why Public Schools Should Not Have Uniforms

As a result of a failing educational system, many schools are considering implementing a school uniform policy. School uniforms are not a good solution to this problem for several reasons.

The case Tinker v. Des Moines decided that students in a public school have a constitutional right to use their clothing, in this case black armbands, to express their opinions on controversial topics, in this case the war in Vietnam, as long as that expression does not interfere with the school’s learning environment. As Justice Fortas put it in delivering the majority opinion:

[The wearing of an armband] was closely akin to ‘pure speech’ which, we have repeatedly held, is entitled to comprehensive protection under the First Amendment…

First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.

Numerous students wear tee shirts that show their agreement with certain causes or political beliefs; other students don buttons to show their support of a particular candidate in a race for office, or wear a certain color to show their membership in a political party, such as wearing red to show that one is a Republican.

Many proponents of uniforms argue that students already wear a sort of uniform, i.e. baggy pants and tee shirts for males, and tight tops and skirts, short pants, or long pants for females. The difference between this “uniform” and the ones that a policy would implement is that the latter is not optional, while the former is; a good deal of students wear clothing that do not meet the standards of this so-called “uniform”.

Advocates of school uniforms oftentimes point to studies that supposedly show that uniforms reduce tardiness and disciplinary problems, and raise students’ test scores. The school in these studies almost always introduced other reforms, such as having after-school tutoring or raising teacher salaries, at the same time as school uniforms were implemented.

There are many other solutions to problems in today’s public schools other than uniforms, including afore mentioned after-school tutoring and the raising of teachers’ salaries.

The ACLU conducted a series of focus groups and discussion with high school students to identify what students believed to be solutions to the problem of school violence. School uniform were not among the solutions students mentioned. Their suggestions did include schools seriously confronting and discussing issues of racial and cultural conflict; providing “safe corridor” programs, which protect student safety to and from school; securing their entrances; providing them more extracurricular activities and clubs; establishing part-time jobs; and teaching them conflict resolution skills.

Uniforms also tend to be much more costly than regular attire. While a uniform usually costs less than a designer outfit, students have the option of buying less expensive clothing. Much of this clothing is less expensive than a uniform would be, especially as uniforms are not available at second-hand clothing shops or other cheap clothing stores, or are only available during certain times of the year.

A uniform policy can also cause disruptions. It is much more of a disturbance to have a teacher make sure that each student’s shorts are long enough, that they are wearing a belt, etc., and have offenders be sent home to change, than it is to have students wear tee shirts and baseball caps.

In conclusion, school uniforms are a great deal more detrimental to the environment of a public school than anything that they prevent.

Copyright 2008 Nef

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