The False Fad of Uniformity
One of the many things that epitomizes life in High School is the continuous series of fads and trends that we teenagers follow. Whether it’s watching a gang of sexy vampires on the silver screen, jumping around in a sweatband at a Zumba dance, or buying a pair of hot pink Ugg boots, we do often find ourselves involved in some outrageous fad, perhaps without adequate reason or sound logic.
One recent school fad, however, has gained traction among local public school administrators: that of school uniforms.
Over the last few years, multiple public schools in East Hawaii have adopted a school t-shirt as a mandatory uniform. Just this year, Keaau High instituted their schoolwide uniform policy. The previous year saw the introduction of school uniforms at Waiakea Intermediate, and Hilo Intermediate has had a similar policy for several years. On the surface, this may appear to be a common sense booster for school pride and identity; deeper down, however, are the makings of a truly pointless obsession.
Proponents of school uniforms do make some sound arguments, namely that uniforms reduce clothing costs and simplify laundering for parents. These ideas, however, are often eclipsed by some broader, loftier claims that are convoluted at best. At the helm of the pro-uniform argument is the idea that having everyone wear the same clothing will lead to fewer disciplinary problems, less social stigma or peer pressure, higher student achievement, and an increased ability to identify intruders on campus who may pose a security threat. Such a method of persuasion was used with success when Waiakea Intermediate adopted their current uniform policy. At the center of these points, though, is a basic lapse in rational thought. Although it’s true that we humans form an initial judgement of people based on their outward appearance, it’s illogical to assume that having everyone wear the same clothes will remedy all of a school’s social problems. Yes, uniforms may give students some sense of unity, but do they really hold the power to melt social tensions and turn feuding enemies into best friends? It’s a crazy claim, but that’s exactly what many favor uniforms assert.
Another base of support that the pro-school uniform movement draws from is the coalition of schools in the U.S. that have made the switch to mandatory uniforms over the past few decades. One often-cited example is that of the Long Beach, California school district. The district, one of the largest in the nation, adopted mandatory school uniforms in early 1994, supposedly acting on behalf of parent demands. The subsequent uniform policy was hailed as a wild success. School officials pointed to huge percentage decreases in disciplinary incidents and significant increases in student achievement, according to test scores. What these officials failed to note, however, was that during the 1994-5 school year–the first uniforms were implemented– the Long Beach school district also received millions of dollars in new federal grants from several new school programs. These initiatives included the Gun Free Schools Act and others aimed at improving the social environment in schools. While it is hard to determine exactly how much these programs contributed to the reduction in crime that the Long Beach district observed, it is hardly accurate to attribute all of these improvements to the introduction of school uniforms. Yet, that is exactly what the Long Beach school administrators did.
Although uniforms have caught on at some local schools, the reasoning behind doing so is hardly sound. The fantastic claims of harmony among all students and higher test scores are, as the Long Beach case has shown, flawed and deceptive. If WHS ever considers adopting mandatory school uniforms, supporters of the proposal will need to ensure that their best arguments are sound and based on solid fact; otherwise, they may wind up falling for the latest ridiculous fad.