Top Pro & Con Arguments
School uniforms restrict students’ freedom of expression.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that all individuals have the right to express themselves freely. The U.S. Supreme Court stated in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
In Sweden, a government agency, the School Inspectorate, determined that uniforms were a human rights violation because “dress and appearance should be considered an individual expression, decided by the students themselves.” Clothing choices are “a crucial form of self-expression,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which also states that “allowing students to choose their clothing is an empowering message from the schools that a student is a maturing person who is entitled to the most basic self-determination.”
Uniforms take away the ability to use clothing as means of expressing support for social causes. Students at Friendly High School in Prince George’s County, MD, were not allowed to wear pink shirts to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month and 75 students received suspensions for breaking the school’s uniform restrictions. Removing these choices can delay the transition into adulthood. Adults make their own clothing choices and have the freedom to express themselves through their appearance. Denying children and teenagers the opportunity to make those choices may make them ill-prepared for the adult world. Adolescents see clothing choices as a means of identification, and seeking an identity is one of the critical stages of adolescence, according to the late developmental psychologist Erik Erikson.
When students have to wear the same outfits, rather than being allowed to select clothes that suit their body types, they can suffer embarrassment at school. Child and teen development specialist Robyn Silverman says that students, especially girls, tend to compare how each other looks in their uniforms: “As a body image expert, I hear from students all the time that they feel it allows for a lot of comparison… So if you have a body that’s a plus-size body, a curvier body, a very tall body, a very short body, those girls often feel that they don’t look their best.” A study by researchers at Arizona State University found that “students from schools without uniforms reported higher self-perception scores than students from schools with uniform policies.” Some students also find uniforms less comfortable than their regular clothes, which may not be conducive to learning.
Further, school uniforms promote conformity over individuality. Chicago, Illinois, junior high school student Kyler Sumter says: “They decide to teach us about people like Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and Booker T. Washington… We learn about how these people expressed themselves and conquered and we can’t even express ourselves in the hallways.” Troy Shuman, a senior in Harford County, Maryland, said the introduction of a mandatory uniform policy to his school would be “teaching conformity and squelching individual thought. Just think of prisons and gangs. The ultimate socializer to crush rebellion is conformity in appearance. If a school system starts at clothes, where does it end?”
In schools where uniforms are specifically gendered (girls must wear skirts and boys must wear pants), transgender, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming students can feel ostracized. Seamus, a 16-year-old transgender boy, stated, “sitting in a blouse and skirt all day made me feel insanely anxious. I wasn’t taken seriously. This is atrocious and damaging to a young person’s mental health; that uniform nearly destroyed me.” Late satirist George Carlin asked, “Don’t these schools do enough damage, making all these children think alike? Now they’re gonna get them to look alike, too?”
Beyond student preference, parents should be free to choose their children’s clothes without government interference. One of the founders of the Wilson County (Louisiana) Parents Coalition, Richard Dashkovitz, states: “It’s time we let the government know that we are fed up with this. Quit dictating to us what my child should wear… [T]he government is intruding into our private lives, roles as parents and the lives of our children.” According to another parents’ rights group, Asserting Parental Rights — It’s Our Duty, mandatory uniform “policies trample parents’ right to raise children without government interference.”Read More