Those disgusting School Uniforms (B)

Abstract: This article was originally written in October 1998, after a conclusion by the Queensland Ombudsman revived the debate about school uniforms in Australia. What are the argument for and against school uniforms? Are school uniforms merely advocated as an instrument that assists conformity to rules and obedience to authority - in violation with our rights?


The legality of School Uniforms

Back in October 1998, Queensland Ombudsman Fred Albietz concluded that it was illegal for schools to force students to wear uniforms. The case in question only dealt with 'socks', but it sets an important precedent regarding all school dress codes. Fred Albietz found that there is nothing in regulations that makes school uniforms compulsory, so parents and students who dislike uniforms are justified in ignoring 'undue' pressure from schools, not only regarding the common 'pull up your socks!' ritual, but also regarding hairstyles, skirt length, etc. Not suprisingly, the Queensland Teacher's Union promptly responded that the Education Act should be changed to give school principals the legal backing to enforce dress codes. Interestingly, Education Minister, Mr Dean Wells, has refused to act. A spokesman said he would wait until he had heard from all relevant parties. As before, the opinion of the magazine Optionality is not likely to be regarded as relevant by such people. But what is more important than the legal argument is that it has revived the discussion about what is in essence a moral issue.

As expected, schools felt obliged to respond. One school listed five arguments why students should wear uniforms: Safety ('infiltration by outsiders'), Pride ('school image'), Equity ('all students are equal'), Ease ('students do not have to think about what to wear') and Training ('when you are employed, you are likely to have to wear a uniform').

The semi-scientific approach

In a typical school fashion, this school takes a semi-scientific, lecturing approach. A list of arguments is presented, to make it look as if the situation has been exhaustively analysed and all arguments have been weighed against each other, leaving nothing to debate and resulting in an end-conclusion in which five arguments remain.

It's about our rights!

But of course, the school uniforms issue is first of all a "rights" issue. And secondly, there has hardly been any research on the impact of school uniforms. By going straight into the technicalities of arguments about the practicalities of school uniforms, the advocates of school uniforms seek to wave away the most important arguments. Indeed, the very first concern should be what uniforms mean in regard to our rights!

Aren't schools supposed to teach students the importance of our rights? Are schools putting themselves above the law? Are schools teaching students that decisions should be made without debate and without prior research into the matter?

Doesn't the approach of many schools constitute a blatant disrespect for the rights of students of freedom of expression through their choice of clothing, and consequently an attack on all of our rights? Even if we do look into each argument on its own logic, does any of the arguments put forward in favor of school uniforms make sense? Does any of the arguments in favor of school uniforms hold? Let's look into each one of them point by point.

Training?

The 'training' argument says that when you are employed, you are likely to have to wear a uniform. Is this true? What are the odds that children will wear a uniform later in life? Typically, the occupations where people have to wear uniforms are the lower paid jobs, nothing to look forward to, really. Generally, the more educated people are, the less they wear uniforms later in life. Look at teachers, they don't wear uniforms! Well-paid work tends to reject uniformity, and for good reason, the demands of the future include qualities such as assertiveness, creativity, individuality, originality, a spontaneous personality, being a self-starter, taking initiatives, being able to cope with change, etc. And even the people who do wear a uniform later in life are unlikely to accept such a silly costume as a school uniform. Only for prostitutes is the school uniform an obligatory part of their professional wardrobe (and one may wonder why). What is the logic behind forcing children in uniforms? That children have to get used to wearing a uniform, just in the unfortunate case that they will end up in such a job later in life? If we turn around the same 'logic', students who are used to wearing uniforms would be insufficiently prepared for plain-clothed work, if they did not wear plain clothes at school all the time. Similarly, students would not be able to deal with people who didn't wear uniforms. It just doesn't make sense.

There is one deeper argument. It goes like this: students waering uniforms will be accustomed to taking a servile attitude which will help them find work later in life. Of course, the very opposite could be argued with more reason. Does success in future demand a servile attitude? Or is it more helpful to be creative, have an spontaneous and open personality, an inquisitive mind, be a self-starter who talks things over, who has an independent mind searching for new ideas to make things work?

See? Examine an argument that supposedly favored school uniforms more closely, and it either doesn't make sense or it turns into an argument against school uniforms. That's why schools who seek to introduce uniforms typcially prefer to do so without any debate on the issue! Anyway, let's continue with the next argument.

Equity?

The 'equity' argument goes like this: If children wear uniforms, they do not notice differences between children from rich and from poor families. This 'equity' argument is often put forward by State Schools. The reason for this may be that it is a purely socialist argument and it may be rejected for this reason alone. In a democratic country, school should not indoctrinate children with a specific political ideology, especially not a government-funded school. Interestingly, private schools typically are even more fanatical about uniforms, but they are less inclined to use the 'equity' argument.

Anyway, even as a socialist argument, it does not make much sense. School uniforms may make all students look alike. But why do the teachers not wear the same uniforms? Clearly, school does not like any confusion as to who is the teacher and who is the student. The master-slave relationship that is so obviously present at school is deliberately magnified by uniforms that emphasize this difference. The teacher is allowed to dress casually, while the student has to wear silly clothes intended to make the student look stupid.

Furthermore, there are often different uniforms for those in higher grades than for those in lower grades, just like in the military a superior officer wears a less silly hat. This creates class differences. Some will argue that this merely reflects existing differences. But the point is that if this were accurate, it constituted an argument against uniformity. Moreover, school itself creates class differences. Class is a trademark, if not an invention of school. Children are grouped together in classes according to age and often according to gender and to perceived academic performance. Because parents want their children to mix with children of their 'own class', they carefully select the neighborhood where they are going to live. Houses close to private schools are often substantially more expensive than similar houses close to state schools. On the street, children are identified by their uniform. 'Oh, you come from that poor school, you dummy!' is an example of what children say to each other when they look at each other's uniform. And even in the classroom, uniforms only accentuate differences in length, hair color and other physical characteristics. Children consequently judge each other by their physical appearances. One can argue whether it were better if children judged each other by their clothes instead.

Ease and Cost?

From a financial point of view, the socialist argument does not make sense either. School uniforms are expensive, by their nature they are produced in limited numbers, they have to be special. Furthermore, school uniforms are typically made of polycotton, because if they were made of pure cotton, they would fade after a few washings and there would be color differences between the uniforms of various pupils, which goes against the very idea of uniformity. Therefore, school uniforms are far more expensive than the cheap cotton clothing people normally like to wear. The situation is also prone to exploitation by unfair trade practices, unhealthy schemes, favoratism and cronyism, e.g. deals in which secret bribes are paid for the privilege of exclusively and 'locally' producing and selling such school uniforms. One pays the price for not being able to choose the often cheap imports from countries such as China and India.

Some parents argue that because of school uniforms, they do not have to buy many clothes for their children, which saves them time and money. But most children will have plain clothes next to their school uniform. The idea of a school uniform is that students wear the uniform at school, but do not wear the uniform, say, at a disco or other events outside school. This effectively means that children will need a double set of clothing.

The 'ease' argument says that school uniforms make it easier for students to choose what they are to wear at school. But is it really a virtue of the school uniform that the 'choice' is made so easy? It would be just as 'easy' for children to decide what to wear, if they only had, say, jeans and T-shirts in their cupboards. This kind of 'choice' has nothing to do with wearing uniforms. If there are only jeans and T-shirts in the cupboard, the child will have to wear jeans and T-shirts. The choice is easy, because there is no alternative. If there were only a ski-outfit in the cupboard, the child had to wear the ski-outfit and 'choices' were equally 'easy'. The point is that the 'choice' is not so much made 'easy' by virtue of uniformity, no, the choice is easy because there is no choice. If the kid-next-door happens to wear the same clothes, say jeans, that didn't make the choice any easier for either of the children. One only has choice if there is something to choose from. The real question is if choice is good for children. Taking away children's right to choose what to wear does not make live any easier, it just makes children accustomed to conformity, to following orders and walking in line without thinking, without making a choice. This creates a huge amount of psychological problems later in life, it reduces the opportunity to get good work, it reduces the overall quality of life, in some respects it is a form of child abuse to systematically deny children choice.

As mentioned before, school uniforms are typically made of polycotton, as this keeps its color better. Apart from being more expensive, polycotton is also very hot, which is a problem in hot climates. Special sun-protective clothing is often too expensive, or cannot stand the frequent washing necessary as the kids have to wear the same clothing every day. Uniforms tend to be uncomfortable - by nature a uniform is a straightjacket that has been compromised in many ways in order to fit everybody. Uniforms are far from easy in many respects.

The 'cost' argument is obviously a false argument. School uniforms do not keep the cost of clothing down, because quite obviously all students also need plain clothes next to their uniform. When compared to T-shirts and jeans, the school uniform is unlikely to be the cheap, comfortable, easy to use. Private schools are even less likely to push the 'cost' argument, they deliberately choose for a rather expensive outfit as a way to distinguish the students from 'poorer' schools. Obviously, the 'cost' argument is inconsistent with the 'pride' argument that wants students to 'look well presented' even if this comes at an extra cost. The very point of uniforms is that it is something that not everyone wears, and this exclusivity obviously comes at a cost.

Pride?

The 'pride' argument goes like this: if students dress lousy, the school as a whole gets a bad name, which diminishes the opportunity for all students to get a good job. Of course, this is just an argument against dirty or otherwise less attractive clothes. Teachers may argue that school uniforms set a clear standard of what the students are to wear, but school uniforms may just as well get dirty as any other clothes and school uniforms may just as well tear apart after a fight or a fall. Having school uniforms does no necessarily make it easier to see whether the clothes are dirty or ragged. Uniformity in itself is nothing to be proud about. Note that students are not supposed to wear the uniforms at discos or other out-of-school events. If the students were really supposed to be proud about their school, why are they only supposed to wear the uniform at school? Note also that universities rarely demand students to wear uniforms, yet few seem to be worried that this will make the students unemployable.

Safety?

The 'safety' argument is that school uniforms make it more difficult for unwelcome outsiders to infiltrate the school grounds. But is 'safety' the real reason behind compulsory school uniforms? State schools are typically huge with large numbers of teachers and other staff. Teachers are frequently ill or otherwise absent, requiring relief-teachers to step in. The larger the school, the more difficult it is to know all individual teachers and maintenance staff who might wonder down through the buildings. Students will not be surprised to see an unfamiliar plain-clothed grown-up person on the school-grounds. They will not even be surprised if such a person seems lost. If safety really was an important issue, then why are teachers, maintenance staff and visiting parents not required to similarly wear the school uniform? Many people come and leave the school grounds by car every day. Cars can often be driven right into the middle of the school grounds, while it is virtually impossible to spot whether the occupants are wearing uniforms or not. School uniforms in fact make it very easy for someone with bad intentions to sneak in, disguised as a legitimate school student. Typically, anyone can buy second-hand uniforms at the school or at nearby shops.

At a school with a thousand students, there may be some 100 adults working on an average day on the school grounds, with the same amount of cars parked on the school grounds. This figure may rise at times when people involved in frequent construction and maintenance of buildings, equiopment and grounds and the surrounding roads are included.

The number of adults working at the school pales in comparison with the many parents, guardians and other people who visit the school. Parents are typically told to collect their children outside the gates, yet on an average day, there may still be some one hundred 'visitors' walking on the school grounds. Such 'strangers' may be obliged to wear a 'visitor's badge', but they still have to walk to an administration building first to get one.

Another safety argument is that school children could be more easily identified while on excursions. But does this really increase safety? Uniforms make it easier for teachers to check if all children are still there, i.e. by counting the number of kids. But uniforms also make it easier for people with bad intentions to spot and target children who are at risk of losing contact with the group. Whatever way one looks at it, it seems that the danger is created not so much by the absence of uniforms, but by the way school operates. School puts thirty-odd children together in the care of one teacher. Look at the hundreds of cars circling around the school twice a day, trying to find parking places. Apart from the risk of traffic accidents, this havoc makes it easy for someone with bad intentions to follow a child and drag this child inside a car. Even if bystanders notice screaming, they may think it is a case of a parent disciplining an obstinate child. The uniform identifies the child walking down the road as a target who is alone, on the way home, unaccompanied. Children without a uniform seem less at risk, as they are likely to be brothers or sisters who are picking up a uniformed student.

What kind of people are school uniforms supposed to protect the students from? Rapists, pedophiles, street gangs and other bullies? Why would they go to a place where so many people can spot their face and identify them to police? They are more likely to attack a student who is walking home alone. Or drag a student over the fence from outside the school grounds. The uniform makes the student an easily identifiable and predictable target walking down the same road every day at the same time.

Do uniforms really make it more safe for students at school? What kind of people are likely to 'infiltrate' school grounds? Students who have been expelled for beating up other students could be regarded as unwelcome visitors. But as such students are rarely required to hand over their uniform, the uniform does not seem to stop them from coming back, it in fact makes it easier for them to return. Is there any research that concludes that schools without uniforms have a significantly higher incidence of unwelcome visitors? In some countries such as the Netherlands, schools rarely prescribe school uniforms. Are schools in the Netherlands therefore less safe? If this really was such an important issue, one would expect a lot of research to be readily available within the education system on this issue.

Where's the Research?

So where is this research into this supposed correlation between safety and school uniforms? Why do these educational institutes, who are otherwise so keen to teach students the value of scientific research, typically base their decision to introduce school uniforms on a lack of scientific research into the impact of uniforms? Some research data can be found at School_Uniforms at Geocities. Newspaper articles typically mention school-related violence and it seems that in most cases the attackers were students, perhaps fully in uniforms. Anyway, the attackers are typically not plain-clothed outsiders that planned to infiltrate schools! One organization that has done some research on this issue is WHEN, the World Home Education Network. WHEN's conclusion was that school as an institution was the cause for a lot of associated violence. The danger comes from within the system, not from outside!

In the US, where schools generally have a free-dress policy, many schools are considering introducing uniforms. However, the US situation differs substantially from the Australian one. One argument used in the discussion in the US is the prevention of theft, especially of expensive footwear. But this is a slightly different argument than the safety argument. One might just as well forbid students to wear expensive shoes. Note that the 'boaters', so common at Australian schools, are quite expensive. In fact, the whole school uniform is quite expensive, as discussed before. The main argument in the US is, however, that schools want to prevent violence. Schools want to prevent students from dressing up in gang colors, and subsequently fight out gang wars at school. Fortunately, Australian cities are not as infested with the gang mentality one can see in many US cities. But putting students in uniforms actually nurtures that very gang mentality that parents like to protect their children from. If one wants to prevent gangs from operating at schools, one will have to concentrate on that issue. Dressing students up in uniforms may actually achieve the very opposite result, it gives students the idea that they have to be part of a gang.

Imprisonment and Subservience!

The arguments in favor of school uniforms, including the argument that 'school uniforms contributed to safety', seem dreamed up in order to retrospectively justify the introduction of school uniforms. Indeed, school uniforms are typically introduced without a thorough analysis or even debate of the arguments.

It was a lie that the Berlin Wall was built to keep bad people out, yet this was the official argument. Of course, everyone knew that it was built to keep people in!

So, does safety come with more law, order, discipline and school uniforms? Or does safety come with more responsible attitude? And what attitude does come with school uniforms? Soldiers dress in uniforms. Dictators are typically surrounded by uniformed people. During World War II, the first thing that happened to the unfortunate people who were put into concentration camps, was that they were dressed in striped clothes and their hair was shaven off. The SS tattoed its members, just like violent gangs tend to require their members to wear specific tatoes, colors and patches. The so-called 'pride' with which gang members 'show their colors' is supposed to scare off other gangs that could intrude into 'their territory'. The uniform is asw much a symbol of violence, as it is of discipline, and the sheer sight of uniforms can provoke and attract violence. Uniforms are not the answer to concerns about safety, as uniforms can personify violence. Parents who are concerned about safety should tell their children to stay away from uniforms! Police, security guards and the military may all be very disciplined, but there's no denial that they have a strong focus on violence. Perhaps the orange robes of the Hara Krishnas should be the choice of clothing for those concerned about violence.

Let's face it, school uniforms do not make sense whatever way one looks at it. Most school uniforms seem deliberately designed to make children look silly. School uniforms are both symbols and tools of humiliation. Candy-striped clown suits, silly hats, wide shorts that expose the genitals and short ties spring to mind. School uniforms - together with shaven heads and other dress codes - are symbols and instruments of humiliation and imprisonment. The idea is that students cannot easily walk away from school without being immediately identified by the collaborating general public, apprehended and handed over to their school for punishment. Yes, isn't it amazing how many adults believe that kids belong at school, just like prisoners belong in prison? And just like prisoners wear striped clothes, school kids wear striped blazers. But even if the scheme was designed this way, it does not work in practice, as students who want to wag school will take an extra set of plain clothes with them in their schoolbag.

The main intention of school uniforms seems to be make students look stupid, silly and subservient, in order to humiliate students into believing they are captive, owned by the school and should behave accordingly in a servile way. The real purpose of the school uniform is to mould children into subservience, into mindless robots that will sing praise to the very system that physically and mentally incarcerates them. Flag waving, singing national anthems, marching, parades and wearing school uniforms, hiding the real reasons for all this, while instead fabricating obviously false arguments, it is all part and parcel of the harmful mentality that school imposes upon children. Uniforms are part of a mindset that does not protect children, but that makes children prone to be abused.

Arguments against school uniforms

There are many strong arguments against school uniforms. As an example, what about the arguments that school uniforms suppress individuality, development of personality, creativity, etc, etc? What about the rights of children to express themselves through their clothing? For young people it's often hard to articulate what they believe in. Just like a picture is worth a thousand words, fashion gives young people opportunities to express themselves where they may lack the literacy and verbosity to do so otherwise. Perhaps the strongest argument against school uniforms is that there do not seem to be arguments in favor of school uniforms that make sense. In the absense of arguments in favor, uniforms become a straitjacket that is forced upon those who resent it for the sake of killing their spirit.

Discipline?

Given the lack of arguments in favor of uniforms, schools typically like to avoid discussing the matter principly. If any debate is allowed, schools like it to be a conversation between appointed "representatives" that doesn't go beyond the color and model of the proposed uniform. Schools will simply reject any views that it's disgusting to 'discipline' children into wearing uniforms.

That brings us back to the first argument. Are uniforms part of some kind of training in discipline? Students bullying each other at school and acting silly, are these symptoms of oppression, or of a lack of discipline? And if there was a need for more discipline, how do school uniforms benefit in the picture?

Where school uniforms deliberately make children look silly, they symbolize oppression. School uniforms seem designed to make children look silly, making the teacher look superior by comparison, so that the teacher will have less disciplinary problems in class. It's a well-known teacher's trick to silence obstinate pupils by humiliating them. So, is the teacher a dictator out to humiliate children, to crush their developing personality? And are school uniforms part of this scheme? Are children - at impressionable age - delivered into the hands of an oppressor who seeks to stop them from expressing and developing themselves, both verbally and through fashion?

It may be hard to keep thirty-odd children quiet into a classroom under the supervision of a single teacher. But what possible benefits do school uniforms have in this? Do students perhaps turn into willing and well-behaved robots when dressed in uniform? Is there any research into this matter?

If safety is such an important issue, then surely there must be concerns that school uniforms constitute a danger to the personal development of our children! How safe is the evolving mind of a child in the hands of a system that puts discipline above development?

Again, if there was a need for more discipline, how do school uniforms benefit? Discipline doesn't result from fear, not from oppression. Discipline - if needed in the first place - comes with choice, not with an absense of choice! And how does wearing plain clothes disturb classroom discipline in the first place? Are some colors perhaps too loud? Should all kids perhaps dye their hair the same color as well? Let's stop trying to make sense out of these 'arguments', because the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. The conclusion must be that the advocates of school uniforms simply don't have any arguments! They seek to introduce uniforms without any discussion at all, in a - as they would call it - "disciplinary fashion". If you like to discuss things further, or if you'd like to give feedback on this article, go to:

School Uniforms Debate




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