Study about School Uniforms in Public Schools in California
Throughout the state of California, the disputes continue over whether school uniforms have a place in the public school system and whether there are positive results to wearing school uniforms. The public school uniform conflict has not only been discussed within each school, but also on television, radio and even within the judicial system.
One of the most promising arguments against wearing uniforms in the public school system is the violation of the First Amendment: nothing is more basic and precious for Americans than the freedom of speech and expression. Students have very little say in the daily routine of their lives, though deciding what to wear that day is one of the few methods students have to control their lives. Claims have been made that school uniforms suffocate students inner creativity and enforce conformity rather than promote individuality.
Legally, however, schools can require uniforms. The court case of American civil Liberties Union vs. Long Beach Unified School District concluded that under California's school uniform law, school districts may require school uniforms providing that there is adequate notice, uniform assistance for disadvantaged students, and an exemption procedure.
In defense of uniforms, they do not have to be strict, but rather can help meet the students' psychological needs in clothing that would give consideration to the sensitivity of body image. For example, some students may prefer baggy clothing to shield or conceal the imperfect body, while others prefer a slimmer fit. The styles could be different, but the color, fabric, and basic pattern would remain the same for all students.
Uniform wear can remove the distraction of societal status symbols, provide relief from competition for fashion and peer pressure, and create more equality between the more wealthy and less wealthy students. Uniforms can provide guidelines to express individuality and to focus on school subjects, inner self, family values, and self-esteem instead of fashion.
Reportedly, school uniforms significantly reduce violence and discipline problems while psychologically motivating students to learn. Reports from Long Beach, California, where uniforms are mandatory for all elementary and middle school children (60,000 students) in 1994, indicate that disciplinary problems have declined in a range of categories:
School Crime 36%
Sex Offenses 74%
Weapon Offenses 50%
Assault & Battery 34%
Recently, I took a survey in two different elementary public schools: Lakewood School which does not wear uniforms and Leroy Nichols School which wore uniforms. The survey contained two written questions. In the first question I asked the students of Leroy Nichols School if they liked or disliked uniforms, and why or why not. Then I read to the students the results of the Long Beach report regarding the decrease in crime after the uniforms were mandated. Next, the students were requested to respond to the second question that asked if the Long Beach information changed their minds about wearing uniforms.
Sixth grade and second grade students were given the written questionnaire. All but one of the sixteen second graders I questioned answered that they liked wearing school uniforms. Some of the reasons they liked wearing uniforms were: "like the color"," comfortable", "just like wearing them", and "my mother likes them". After hearing the Long Beach statistics, the results remained the same.
Out of 25 sixth grade students who wore uniforms, only 7 indicated they liked wearing the uniform. Reasons students did not like wearing the uniforms: "does not allow freedom of expression", "no choice," "can't wear logos," "I look like everyone else", "not my style," and "limited color and fabric." Seven students liked wearing uniforms because "I don't get teased," "keeps you out of fights with gangs," and "don't have to compete in fashion." After hearing the Long Beach statistics, three students changed their minds to support wearing uniforms.
I interviewed two teachers, a principal, a vice principal, and school secretary in Leroy Nichols School that has begun to wear uniforms during the last year. All agreed that there were fewer behavior problems from the students and that the students were more focused on school subjects than they were without uniforms.
At the only elementary school left in the district that does not wear uniforms, Lakewood School, there was a lack of interest in the project by the school's principal and vice principal. The vice principal stated that the two-question survey would be "a waste of class time." Deceitful excuses for lack of cooperation were made by the principal, but my responses and persistence finally allowed me to survey an after-school study group of mixed grades. Nine students indicated they would like to wear uniforms, while ten were against wearing uniforms. Reasons for wearing a uniform were "not being teased,""less pressure about clothes from other kids", and "makes everyone equal." After I read the Long Beach information, one student changed his/her mind not to be in favor of wearing uniform while another student changed his/her mind to be in favor of wearing a uniform.
After researching this subject and conducting the survey, I feel uniforms are good because they help the students to keep focused on academics and improve their behavior. However, we cannot let the term "free country" become meaningless by taking away more and more student choices. If students are unable to express themselves through their clothing, a side effect of wearing school uniforms, we must be sure to provide alternative forums for students to develop a sense of self.
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