For the past three years, I have worked in a high school in the Bronx (New York) that requires students to wear uniforms—white collared shirts, black dress pants, and black shoes. The stated rationale for this policy is threefold:
- Our students will act more professionally if they dress the part, and will see themselves as a team.
- It cuts down on gang violence and related issues because kids can’t wear the popular gang colors (red, for instance), and also removes the competition between students to see who has the nicest (meaning most expensive) clothes and shoes.
- It helps us identify our students quickly when in a crowd or when we see them wandering the halls…the other schools in the building have different dress codes (though some have no uniforms at all).
Uniforms in the United States are definitely in the minority (though many charter schools and new schools are bringing back the trend), but internationally, uniforms seem to be the norm, especially in Africa and other former-colonial countries. My question is: when so many parents and families already struggle to pay for books and school fees, should they be required to pay for something that, truly, isn’t a necessary part of an education? School fees pay for the teacher’s salary and building expenses, and obviously books and materials are required for most courses, but uniforms contribute nothing to the actual education itself. Though much of the evidence is anecdotal, several studies and reports have shown that from Kenya to Haiti, students are missing the opportunity to go to school due (in part) to their parents’ inability to purchase uniforms (and pay school fees, of course).
My genuine query is this: should uniforms be phased out in impoverished areas, where enough hurdles to education exist as it is? Or, should there be uniform subsidies (as some schools in South Africa have) or alternatives for poorer families? …or, should we persist with the status quo?