Sitting around the dinner table with family recently, our conversation turned to the youngest members of our clan who are in or about to enter high school. They’ll be attending a private school (I have my views on that, but I am in the minority at this particular table), which has a fairly strict uniform protocol.
We started discussing the punitive measures some among us experienced in our high school years – getting detention if they wore their hat incorrectly or didn’t tuck their shirt in, girls forced to kneel on the ground to check their skirt lengths etc. It sounded absurd to me.
I went to a public school with no uniform, and I have always felt that school uniforms are unnecessary and reinforce a sort of bland homogeneity that quashes individuality.
Once again, at this dinner table, my views were in the minority. So I’m putting the question to you – are school uniforms really necessary in this day and age? Or should we eliminate them from high school onwards, encouraging independence and allowing young people to be themselves at school?
I can already hear the protests ringing through the comments section. What about decency? Won’t kids rock up in ripped jeans and mini skirts (neither items I personally have a problem with)? Well, you can have a dress code without a uniform. We had a colour code at my high school, which helped to ensure you could identify students for security purposes when we were on the oval, but allowed us to purchase clothes within our budgets and that suited our personal requirements and preferences.
And at my college, there was no colour code but a basic dress code that enforced the wearing of proper shoes, required everyone to wear a shirt and had some language around appropriate attire for classes. No one went crazy, everyone got to express themselves and chaos did not occur.
Another common argument is that uniforms mean that kids won’t be bullied for their fashion choices and that people who can’t afford cool clothes won’t suffer socially for that, either. To which I would respond that, firstly, kids are still bullied for their fashion choices with uniforms – haircuts, glasses, school bag choices – so uniforms aren’t the issue here; school culture is and that has to be addressed via other mechanisms regardless.
When you only get to dress in your own clothes on weekends and uniform-free days, it actually places more weight and pressure on your fashion choices and increases the likelihood of your peers judging you on what you wear. There was absolutely no novelty attached to our clothing choices at my college, where everyone wore whatever they wanted. I can attest that after the first few weeks, enthusiasm waned and dressing for the day took zero time and made zero impression on my peers.
And uniforms are often pricey, especially when they are very specific (ie, you can’t buy a budget version from Lowes, you have to purchase the school’s shop version).
The final argument I’ve heard is that it’s stressful for kids to have to think of what to wear every day. I fundamentally don’t get this. Being able to dress yourself feels like a fairly basic life skill, and the sooner young people learn to manage it, the better. Presumably, they manage fine on the weekend.
On the scale of things to be concerned about when it comes to young people, considering issues like today’s youth mental health crises, uniforms are fairly low on the agenda, but I was genuinely surprised to be in the minority on this one. Uniforms feel like an outdated concept from a time when education was more regimented and schools were more hierarchical and disciplinary in their approach.
But clearly, some endured strict uniform policies that advocate for them. What about you? Would you ditch uniforms for young people and let individuality flourish? Or is it more important to have consistency at school for the sake of social equality?