There are at least nine benefits of school uniforms as far as this Libertarian can see. Let's take a closer look at these and see how they might work in our favor as we give our children an education. Keep in mind that when I say "our children" I really mean your children, and not the collective "our children" that many in politics like to refer to.
Here is a video that makes claims about the benefits of school uniforms. The claims include better student performance, reduced gang influence, disguising poverty, eliminating peer pressure regarding fashions, and saving money. Some of the claims in this video are discussed in detail below.
Whether it's uniforms, curriculum, after school activities, homework, or what have you, I believe that the business of educating your children is really your business, not mine, and certainly not the business of your fellow citizens or self-appointed leaders in local and national politics.
Unfortunately, many in government have a "we know better" attitude, and this is reflected in the idea that the benefits of school uniforms are applicable to everyone, and must be applied across the board in order for success. I don't think that's true, even though there can be benefits of school uniforms for certain individuals.
Regardless of the benefits of school uniforms for some students, it doesn't mean that we have to force this on others that don't believe they will realize any benefit from looking like all the rest of the children in school.
Let's gather up the facts and ideas, and allow each family to decide what it thinks is best for their children. In general, if you like the benefits of school uniforms for your child, then get your child a uniform and send them to school in it. There shouldn't be anything stopping you.
The idea that an activity is only good if we all practice it suggests that individual choice is detrimental, yet we all know that great achievements have been made by those that strike out on their own, only to have others follow once it's clearly safe to do so.
With that in mind, let's look at the benefits of school uniforms. I believe there are real benefits of school uniforms, and these need to be carefully considered by parents and students alike so a choice can be made that best fits the interest of each student.
Many believe that uniforms affect behavior in a positive manner, and I think that's true in many cases. Consider that a business suit is a type of uniform (or costume), and a white lab coat is often the garb of the medical, science and research professions. These uniforms (or costumes) can influence how you interact with the person and how they behave as well.
Of course, we're talking about adults here, and young children won't necessarily respond in the same way, however, if your children are raised in a relatively disciplined environment, then putting on a uniform for school can be as effective with respect to education as "putting on our thinking caps" when we go about problem solving.
Both can create a positive and deliberate framework focused on accomplishment.
I think the benefits of school uniforms can be seen in better and more consistent behavior, but much of this depends on the individual and their upbringing. If "clothes make the man" then uniforms can in some cases help make the student.
Some argue that self-image is affected positively when wearing a uniform. This is closely related to the point above. Self-image helps drive our behavior. In many respects, we act out what our self-image is, so this can work well for those who have a "down to business" attitude when it comes to school.
Again, there certainly are benefits of school uniforms with respect to self-image, but much of this depends on the individual. I recall only one student who ever wore a sport coat with an emblem on it, and that was in middle school. He stood out in the crowd, but that was part of who he was.
He was accustomed to a structured environment that included uniforms, and it worked well for him, even if no other student in the school had a similar uniform. Some people need that structure.
I remember at a business meeting we were all wearing long sleeve shirts and ties. It was our uniform for business. As the meeting began, I unbuttoned and rolled up my shirt sleeves to be more comfortable. My attention was drawn to the guy at the other side of the table whose eyes were popping out of his head as if I were taking off my pants at the meeting. Apparently in his structured view of things, I was out of uniform.
Another of the benefits of school uniforms is that it's easier to dress your children for school. I don't see this as a great benefit, but for those who have a structured life, it probably works well and can be easier from the standpoint that it fits in well with a routine.
I know a family that does their laundry on Wednesdays and another family that serves grilled cheese sandwiches every Sunday. For these families, it's all part of their routine. I believe it gives structure to portions of their life and they find that comforting.
My thoughts are simple - if it works for you, then do it. Don't try to convince me that it's easier. I might prefer the more arduous approach. Some of us enjoy a challenge - even a daily one. But, if you find it easier, then get your child several sets of uniforms and go for it.
Another benefit claimed by supporters of school uniforms is that it's easier to identify those who belong at school and those who don't. This is true to the extent that no "outsider" ever wears the same style or color combination as the established school uniform.
I think this would be a true benefit if student invasions from nearby schools were really a problem to begin with. The Columbine high school assassins were students at that school. Such is the case with many other school shootings. The perpetrators would therefore likely be dressed in the same uniform.
If drug dealers, armed intruders and pedophiles are the problem, then I would suggest that these activities are usually easy to spot, if you're paying attention, regardless of how the perpetrators are dressed. In my mind, the benefits of school uniforms doesn't include helping to identify outsiders. Usually that can be accomplished by recognizing a difference in age, height, build and behavior.
During our office lunch break, we used to cut through a school yard on our way to a nearby restaurant. Teachers and administrators immediately recognized us as non-students, even though there wasn't a uniform requirement at the school. We were escorted across the yard and questioned nearly every step of the way.
Student uniforms can't replace the watchful eyes of teachers and administrators, so don't let this argument be persuasive.
Another of the benefits of school uniforms is that it makes dress code enforcement easier. I suppose it does, much like military uniforms make inspection of the troops much easier.
I recognize that there are dress code issues of a practical nature that must be considered. Skirts that are too high, droopy pants, unbuttoned tops and spandex clothing can promote wandering eyes and accusations against teachers. Other forms of dress can be distracting in class or hazardous in shop areas where equipment is operating.
I don't think school uniforms are a good solution to this. This is really a way to avoid well written dress codes and issues of enforcement. It's a lot like imposing restrictions for everyone because of the actions of a few. I find this to be particularly cowardly. We penalize the masses instead of dealing with the few offenders. Again, it's the "one size fits all" that government is fond of.
Besides, isn't the whole idea of a dress code something that parents are supposed to be monitoring at home? Let's not replace parents with school administrators. Parents should have much more "skin" in the game.
Another one of the benefits of school uniforms is that gangs at school can't show their "colors" or characteristic symbols. My first question is "What are gangs doing at school in the first place?"
Is it gang behavior or gang fashions that we're focused on? I think it should be gang behavior first and foremost, and school uniforms aren't going to extinguish that. So, you're left with trying to stop gang fashions, and you won't be able to stop that anymore than you'll be able to stop the "prison look" from entering your school.
Whether it's shaved heads, tattoos, poor fitting pants, or no belts around the pants, the "prison look" isn't something that started in school, and it isn't something that school uniforms are going to get rid of. There are many aspects of the "goth" look and the "piercing" crowd that will be present in school as well.
It might be necessary to understand that the more we prohibit something, the more some people must have it. This is especially true of our youth. It might also be good to understand that people who dress like gang members might very well seek to be treated like gang members.
Another one of the benefits of school uniforms is that it keeps school from becoming a fashion show. That's absolutely true, but is that really a problem? Without uniforms, will the school halls and classrooms turn into runways with students strutting their stuff? I can hardly remember what students wore during my school days. It must not have been very memorable.
The most memorable fashion statement I recall was the "alligator" shirt worn by the "jocks" in my high school. These Izod Lacoste polo shirts were popular, but I never had one, nor did I ever want one. What's so great about a little embroidered alligator on your shirt? Apparently, many in my high school thought it was important.
I also recall a radio talk show making reference to the Grosse Pointe area in Michigan where I grew up. It was remarkable that the commentator could describe the quintessential dress of the Grosse Pointe female high school student - brightly colored goose down vest, casual top, white painter's pants (without any paint splatter of course), and "dock sider" shoes. It was the fashion of the day.
Nevertheless, I don't recall fashions being anything other than a personal statement about who the individual wanted others to perceive them to be. So be it.
The idea that one of the benefits of school uniforms is to prevent an all out fashion show or a fashion war at school is really "tilting at windmills." We really should focus on more important issues when it comes to education. We don't need a school-wide solution to an illusory problem.
Another of the benefits of school uniforms is a reduction in the potential for harassment based on differences between economic standing among students as evidenced by their manner of dress. The idea is that household income doesn't become a visible issue with school uniforms; the focus is on the person, not what they are wearing.
It's a noble idea to be sure.
Of all the benefits of school uniforms, this one seems to make the most sense, especially if you view it in a vacuum. The idea that kids judge other kids only by their appearance suggests that no one ever asks "What does your dad do?" or "Where do you live?" It also suggests that no one ever recognizes or appreciates the achievement and ability of others.
This simply isn't so.
Regardless of the perceived social standing of fellow students, my classmates always recognized who was the "brain" and who was good at "kick ball" or who was seemingly never home sick during the school year.
One of my classmates owned a WWII jeep and drove it to school. He was recognized at school just because of the unique vehicle he drove.
I was friends with several individuals whose families were very well off, but I never knew about their financial situation until I went to their homes. One lived in what appeared to be a Greek palace. Another was a son of one of the wealthiest individuals in the area. I never knew or suspected this based on how they dressed. I only knew them as friends that I enjoyed.
To believe that self-worth is related to how much money your family has is to believe that your health is related to how many medications you take. Kids in school are smarter than that, and if they aren't, that's mainly a reflection on how they were raised.
And, how children have been raised won't be remedied with a school uniform.
The most emotional argument in favor of school uniforms is that they reduce weapons violations and gang related violence in schools. Here is a video that makes the point very clear - if you have a uniform dress code, you'll reduce or eliminate weapons and violence in school.
I think this video speaks very well for itself. All we have to do is change the outfits of students and the problems of weapons are diminished. It seems to me that weapons and violence originates with intentions of the individual offender, not because of the outfit they are wearing.
This video shows that Bill Clinton agrees with the idea that the benefits of school uniforms for everyone includes less violence in school.
It seems clear to me that if you have students bringing guns to school with malevolent intent, and they are killing one another over designer jackets, then perhaps there are other problems that need to be addressed - problems much larger than a dress code.
The solution can't simply be to change what every kid wears at school. How about improving parenting at home? Could that have something to do with it?
I wore a lot of different kinds of clothes at school, and I never found myself prone to violence because of what I wore. Perhaps that's because I'm not prone to violence in the first place.
My suggestion is to stop trying to imagine the many benefits of school uniforms, and start keeping criminals out of school in the first place. How about a special school for criminals? Put them there and force them to wear a uniform, just like they do in prison.
Why penalize the entire student body as if everyone is a member of a gang and everyone is equally likely to bring a weapon to school? Instead, make a uniform policy apply to only those that have shown that they can't behave well without one. If the benefits of school uniforms includes reduction in violence, then let's apply this policy to the known offenders, and let the other students have free choice.
This seems to be wholly consistent with how our society operates - you have certain rights, and you retain them until you show us that you just can't handle the responsibility. Let's stop punishing the responsible in our communities because of the few that are irresponsible.
So, there you have it, the benefits of school uniforms. Clearly there are a number of good reasons why one might choose to have their child wear a school uniform, but none of them "scream out to me" that it's necessary or wise to impose a uniform requirement on the entire student body.
Many of the benefits of school uniforms can be realized if parents take it upon themselves to implement their own school uniform policy.
I am both suspicious of and disappointed in parents that preach about the benefits of school uniforms, yet won't take the lead and dress their children in a uniform unless everyone else is required to do the same. The same goes for people that don't have children but insist that the benefits of school uniforms must be forced on others that do have children.
In both cases, these type of people are clearly more focused on control, conformity and compliance of others, instead of minding their own business and letting others choose for themselves.
From a libertarian standpoint, we must value and preserve free choice and limited government, and this means that school uniforms are just fine for those that believe they can realize some value from the practice, but we have no business telling others what is acceptable as a dress code when it doesn't directly affect us.
Help others defend their natural human rights, even when none of yours are at risk. It's just a matter of time before government turns its focus on you. It's then you'll need others to return the favor and support the rights that you hold dear.
Nothing in human history has shown itself to promote success like freedom. Yet, liberty is under fire on a daily basis from those who desire to be your lord and master.
It takes courage to be free, and far greater courage to allow others to be free. May you have that far greater courage.