Nothing like years of recession, and irritating commercials for back-to-school clothing to reinforce the excellent idea of requiring students to wear uniforms in our public schools. Add years of disappointing test scores, and increasing violence and bullying in schools to that list.
Many school districts across the country have instituted uniforms since the mid-1990s, to resounding success and support from parents, teachers and students. It’s time for Washington schools to add this sound educational practice, rather than leaving it up to parents and PTAs at individual schools to push for a wardrobe change. Which is exactly what parents did at Whittier Elementary in the Everett School District, which introduced uniforms 16 years ago, the same year President Clinton endorsed the idea in a speech. Whittier is a model of how and why uniforms work.
First and foremost, school uniforms bridge the socioeconomic gap between students. They set a professional tone for learning, and help students’ self-esteem. (Schools provide financial assistance and/or free uniforms for families who qualify. Whittier regularly holds gently-used-uniform sales.) Suffice it to say, uniforms make getting dressed in the morning easier for parents and students.
Schools in California and elsewhere that have adopted uniforms report less truancy, gang and drug activity. They report more order and better behavior in the classrooms, creating environments more conducive to learning.
For those who still don’t believe in the benefits, consider the power of the athletic uniform, in which we happily outfit our students in full regalia for competition. The loyalty created simply by wearing “purple and gold,” for example, is powerful. Academic achievers these days wear letter jackets like the jocks do. The cheerleaders, the drill team, and band members all sport uniforms, proud members of their group, representing the bigger organization of the school.
So what’s wrong then with an academic uniform? Why not help foster this sense of belonging, and sense of being dressed for success, in every student, for the extremely important role of being a student?
Critics who argue school uniforms crimp our youngsters’ self-expression or individuality are mistaken that wearing attention-getting T-shirt slogans or droopy pants are examples of “non-conformity.” Please. Part of school is learning that self-expression and individuality come from within.
Athletes all wear the same uniform, but we celebrate the individuals who make up the team. Their personalities and skills shine through their performance, hindered not at all by wearing the same jerseys. The same pertains to academic uniforms.
What school couldn’t use more cohesion, more teamwork, and a greater sense of readiness to tackle the educational tasks at hand, together?