A growing trend throughout the nation in the past decade has been for an increasing number of to adopt either a very strict dress code policy or a uniform policy. Uniform policies are generally preferred by most school districts because there is less room for question and numerous benefits to the school and students on a variety of levels. While most of the uniform policies used in public schools include relatively general restrictions, there has still been a great opposition to these policies by people who insist that school uniform policies somehow restrict a childs ability to express him or herself. In recent discussions of whether or not school uniforms should be mandatory, a controversial issue has been whether this practice would unnecessarily hamper students personal character development.
On the one hand, some argue that students benefit by reducing the number of concerns they must deal with during school hours, freeing their minds to focus more on the academic issues they should be concerned with while attending classes. When President Clinton said I believe we should give strong support to school districts that decide to require young students to wear school uniforms, he had based his opinion on a history of school uniforms having a calming effect on students (cited in Weitzel, 2004: 10). The use of school uniforms can actually enhance a childs personal character development as such requirements of standardized dress also include a symbolic rhetoric of legitimate authority, a reservoir of institutional and organizational values of the school, and a method of social and cultural control over cohorts of students moving through the system. Those without a uniform would feel left out (Brunsma, 2004: 6). By including students in a recognized group as a member of a particular student body, uniforms are successful in building a sense of community and cooperation among children who might not otherwise work together.
On the other hand, however, some argue that studies into fashion and self-expression have proven that there is a direct link between the way we feel about ourselves and the type of clothing we wear. With fashion and dress adapting to represent the ever-changing self, fashion therefore serves as a vehicle for establishing identity and self-concept (Weitzel, 2004: 12). Thus, regardless of the type of clothing we wear, we are always making a statement about who we are and what we wish to be associated with. Parents often argue against the concept of school uniforms because they say these types of requirements prevent students from expressing themselves. By choosing the types of clothing they wear, students are able to identify themselves with different elements of society and try out which element most closely meshes with their own concepts of identity and individuality. When all students are dressed the same, these experimental forays are prevented and students are given little or no choice regarding how to express their own uniqueness. Reduced to only a part of the crowd, students are discouraged from forming an individual identity and see little options but to consider themselves only an insignificant part of the collective whole.
In sum, then, the main issue is whether mandatory school uniforms are positive or negative influences on a childs personal character development. While it must be acknowledged that identification with a particular school or tradition can be beneficial to a students self-esteem, it must be recognized that students define themselves a great deal by what they choose to wear. The enforcement of school uniforms encourages learning through a lack of distractions and students becoming a part of a team, forcing them to interact with other students they might otherwise avoid knowing they are not part of a particular group that would normally be associated with i.e. Goths mixing with band enthusiasts. At the same time, though, preventing students from identifying themselves as Goths or band enthusiasts through the use of standardized uniforms removes an individuals ability to express themselves, thus negating their own individuality.
My own view is that school uniforms should not be required for students. Though I concede that there are several auxiliary benefits to school uniforms, such as security and school-wide teamwork, I still maintain that a persons individuality should be encouraged and fostered while they are young and can begin to explore those aspects of society that truly interest them. For example, an artist may feel constrained by the uniform from expressing unorthodox thoughts or feelings, but these thoughts or feelings, once expressed, could be just what is required to solve a major issue within the school or community. A budding scientist may feel constrained to operate solely within the bounds of the given experiment, similarly constrained by the uniform, rather than branching out to explore her own ideas and solving an . Although some may object that the benefits of school uniforms far outweigh the potential benefits of freedom of expression, I contend that there was a reason this right was protected in our Constitution and restricting it can only lead to a conformist nation as the individuality of our citizens is erased.