So, school started up this past week for my kids. My oldest went into 4th grade and my youngest into Kindergarten. They go to public school (because I can’t afford to send them to a charter school). Here’s the obligatory “first day of school” photo:
Now, let me be the first to throw out the obligatory comment that they are stinking adorable. It’s obligatory, because I’m Mom and, if you disagree, have the sense to keep it to yourself.
Now, let me point out that they are, indeed, dressed the same. Ah, school uniforms. Gotta love ’em, right? Well, in my case, not so much. I’ve always been pretty against the idea of school uniforms, because I’m very pro self expression. Which made me curious what the most common arguments FOR school uniforms are. And (courtesy http://www.kidsfashion.about.com/) are the arguments (in italics) and my counterpoints/comments.
1. School Uniform Pro 1: The Uniform in Uniformity
Educators and experts who are pro school uniforms believe that uniforms contribute positively to students’ behavior. They believe that when students wear uniforms, they feel more professional and behave accordingly. Many educators believe that students can become distracted by fashion trends and status symbol clothing. Therefore, when all students are dressed in regulation uniforms, there is less focus on fashion in the classroom and more focus on learning.
I actually 100% do not get this logic. Uniforms do not magically make your child smarter/better behaved/more focused. Teachers do that by holding kids accountable for their work and behavior. Also, at the age where they start noticing “fashion trends and status symbol clothing” their still going to notice the difference between a poor kid’s shoes, jewelry and cut of school uniform compared to theirs. Not to mention the haircut done by Mom or a professional or getting their nails done. (Obviously not things that my kids have to deal with, but I’m applying this argument to all grade levels.)
2. School Uniform Pro 2: Easier Mornings for Parents
When there’s no debate on what a student is allowed wear to school, then that makes mornings easier for parents and for kids. Everyone knows exactly what the kids need to wear, their regulated school uniform. This can lead to a decrease in morning arguments.
You know what I did in high school? I laid out my outfit the night before. Not only because I believed in hitting my alarm until I had ten minutes to get ready, but also because that way I didn’t have to worry about picking out clothes in the morning. You know what I did with my son (in the preuniform days)? We picked out his outfit the night before. He’s picky so there were occasionally arguments, yes. Contrary to his six year old highly educated opinion, stripes and plaids really shouldn’t ever mix. Ever. For the most part though, I just let him go with what he wanted. Back to that whole self expression thing. As long as he was in school dress code, how does it affect you to let your kids pick their own outfits out? Speaking of dress code:
3. School Uniform Pro 3: Dress Code Control
Schools without a school uniform policy still have rules on what clothing is and is not allowed in school. There are usually rules regarding modesty issues, visible logos, offensive text on clothing, gang colors and symbols and more. Teachers and administrative staff must monitor the students’ attire. This is of course avoided when all students are in uniform.
This argument seems self defeating to me. Because you’re not avoiding anything. Now your’e just monitoring their uniform instead of their regular clothes. Girls are still going to try to wear their skirts too short and show a little midriff and boys are still going to try and wear their clothes ridiculously baggy. Or whatever the current trend happens to be.
4. School Uniform Pro 4: An Even Playing Field
One of the most obvious argument for school uniforms is that by having all children dressed the same, there is a decrease in bullying and teasing. In this era of status brands and high-fashion trends, clothing has become the definitive status symbol for children and teens. By evening the playing field with uniforms, there is less opportunity for children to be picked on or shunned for their clothes.
Refer back to my statement on shoes/jewelry/hair/cut quality of uniforms. Oh, and I forgot to mention backpacks up there. Seriously, this doesn’t even begin to address this problem. It sugarcoats it so administrators can say they’re doing something about bullying when they really aren’t doing anything at all.
5. School Uniform Pro 5: School Spirit
Many experts believe that when the entire student body is dressed in uniforms, they develop a stronger team mentality. When they are all dressed alike, their all-for-one-and-one-for-all comradery is boosted.
Translation: We are teaching them mob mentality and to not think for themselves as much. Yeah, I really can’t get behind that.
6. School Uniform Pro 6: Simple Economics
Buying a few school uniforms instead of a new school wardrobe every fall is much more economical. School uniforms are designed to stand up to everyday wear and repeated washing so most parents find that they can get away with buying a few sets.
This argument works if you’re middle or upper class maybe, but if you’re low income and struggling just to get by as is, it really doesn’t. Case in point: Me. I am a thrift store and clearance Mom. I will be the first to admit it. I’m also realistic about the fact that kids are inherently judgmental and pick up on that, so I am not a tattered thrift store mom. I can make a dollar stretch, because I don’t care about labels and I’m pretty sure my kids won’t care either. I was raised to not put any stock in them by my mom and I never did. I could put together a decent back to school wardrobe for both my kids for $75 or less. Probably a lot less. I’m not sure what the final price tag for uniforms ended up being, because I literally didn’t have the money to pay for them. My exceedingly awesome mother-in-law paid for most of it (for which I’m eternally grateful). After everything was said and done, I’d say it was close to $150. (I might also add, that this was for two skirts, five pairs of pants and five shirts. So not even a whole uniform wardrobe for both kids.) And that’s not even counting the fact that I still need to get them “uniform appropriate” sweaters and long sleeved clothes when it starts getting colder.
7. School Uniform Pro 7: Weekend Style
With all the money a parent saves by not having to buy day to day clothes, they can (if they so choose) let their children buy a few nicer and more fashionable pieces for weekends and evenings. Wearing a uniform five days a week might make students appreciate their weekend fashions more–maybe enough to even take good care of them!
Or, again, in a lower income family, it means their going to be wearing the same ratty jeans with holes after school and on the weekend, because I can’t afford now to buy them new ones. Remember? I spent all my money on uniform clothes. Also, whoever added the “maybe enough to even take good care of them” clearly has no idea how children play. Which is hard. Like they should.
I’d also like to add a couple last things (that explains the title of the blog) on why I don’t actually think uniforms are as good for our kids as they would like us to believe. School is for learning, yes. It’s not just for learning the ABC’s and 123’s though. It’s for learning how to survive in the world. When they go out in to that great big world, there is going to be economic disparity. There is going to be judgment of how they dress or what they say or any number of things. Schools are slowly taking away our children’s ability to deal with any of this when it happens.
They are also slowly taking away our children’s ability to be anything more than another cog in the wheel of society. From uniforms to not being able to have “cute” pencils schools are leeching the color and beauty from the world. As a parent, I do everything to fight this effect and remind my kids that they are indeed unique, beautiful people and that’s okay. It would be amazing if the schools help support this philosophy in all children.