By Sherry Bowen
Do school uniforms help curb violence, foster a better learning environment or promote discipline in students? Many people think so and are pushing schools to require them.
Opinions about uniforms and dress codes vary about as much as the reasons for having them -- parents seem to love them and students seem to tolerate them at best. Nevertheless, many schools have jumped on the bandwagon despite students' expressed concerns about their freedom of speech.
In a 1996 Long Beach, Calif. speech, former President Bill Clinton announced his support of that district's uniform initiative.
"School uniforms are one step that may help break the cycle of violence, truancy and disorder by helping young students understand what really counts is what kind of people they are," Clinton said. It didn't take much more than this presidential nod of approval to get the uniform ball rolling in many school districts across the country.
Requiring all students to wear the same cardigans, slacks or skirts is a practice employed throughout history and all over the world. England, for example, even required uniforms in all public schools for a time. Recently, it seems American schools desperate for peace and order are willing to follow this trend in order to get their students on the right track.
Present statistics in the Long Beach district seem to support the claim that the clothes students wear can affect the crime rate. Now, three years later, many districts have followed suit with public schools in Chicago, Dallas, Sacramento, Phoenix, Seattle, Kansas City, Memphis, Baltimore and Atlanta all making the jump to mandatory uniforms.
The issue of school uniforms, whether in a private or public school, is not clear-cut. They seem to work best when whole school communities discuss and agree upon a policy and then enforce it. And most proponents agree that requiring uniforms will only bring success if other programs accompany it.
Uniforms may be a part of the solution, but they are not the only way to improve schools.
Some parents and teachers believe uniforms:
But some students and parents say uniforms:
Sherry H. Bowen is a mother of two young daughters and a school media specialist in Buford, Georgia.