For example, one Dearborn, Michigan student used his appearance as a way to politically protest the Iraq war when he wore an anti-Bush t-shirt. The school prohibited him from doing so, but he finally won the right to do so, after an appeal to the state's supreme court: "I wore the shirt to spark discussion among the students on an issue I cared deeply about....I haven't decided when I'll wear the shirt again, but now I have the confidence of knowing that I have the right to wear it" he said ("Judge Rules in Favor of Michigan Student's Right to Wear Anti-War T-Shirt to School," ACLU, 2003).
When public institutions require students to wear uniforms as a mandate of participation in a public educational community, what sort of image of a free society are we creating for a nation's young people? Uniforms are a Band-aid solution; rather the real concern should be addressing the problems of school violence and underachievement
When I embarked upon my research, I admit that as a student I was personally adverse to the idea of wearing a uniform, but I expected the research to support the 'pro' argument. However, I wear a uniform for work, and I know that when I enter the workforce I must wear a uniform, so I was not entirely unsympathetic to the 'con' side. What surprised me, however, was how little real statistical evidence existed to back up the idea that uniforms contributed to superior student performance. There was a great deal of emotional rhetoric supporting uniforms, but nothing to indicate if the use of uniforms actually generated a more academically-minded student body and facilitated progress. The arguments about school violence made sense, but there was no correlation between the use of uniforms and reduced rates of school violence, except in very small studies that did not control for economic variables.
Requiring students to wear uniforms is a 'feel good' solution for parents. Yes, parents may feel comforted knowing that their child or other students are not dressed like Britney Spears or feel that they have to buy the latest pair of Nikes. But it is ridiculous to think that students will be unaware of economic and social distinctions expressed in personal possessions like cars, personal grooming, and what they know of their fellow students outside of school -- or that they will be unaware of the presence of the opposite sex, merely because everyone is wearing uniforms.
Wearing uniforms seems to indicate a fundamental lack of respect for student expression and creativity. Yes, teachers and administrators must adhere to a dress code. But that is different than insisting on McDonald's-style sameness in student attire, and students cannot, when uniforms are mandated, use their clothing as a legitimate vehicle of self-expression -- or political self-expression, which is their right as future citizens of a democracy.
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