Sunday, August 01, 2010

I hate school uniforms

When we moved and decided not to put the kids in a charter school again (given the utter clusterfuck that New Frontiers Charter School turned out to be), I had a brief moment of happiness thinking that my daughters wouldn’t need to be in uniforms this coming school year. 

Then I remembered we live in SAISD, which has had a district-wide uniform requirement since the year after I graduated.  (I remember being grateful I missed it!)

I hate school uniforms.

Too many schools consider uniforms to be a substitute for effective discipline.   New Frontiers was one of those schools.  Kids routinely ran in the halls, bullied other children, and generally acted like a bunch of little butt-monkeys.   The school still claimed to have good discipline, and because of the uniforms, few parents noticed.  Hell, once uniforms were introduced at Brackenridge, my alma mater, discipline issues skyrocketed.  Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but no one was beating up the principle back when we could dress however we wanted—and believe me, she annoyed us just as much.

Uniforms seem to be considered substitute for other things, too.  SAISD is the only school district in the city to require uniforms (here I refer to public, non-charter districts).  It is also the only district in the city to be rated Academically Unacceptable by the state.  Coincidence?  Worry about how kids look should not replace worry about how/whether they’re learning.

Uniforms promote conformity.  I don’t see conforming as a virtue.  I never have.  Of course, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that government schools, in their current incarnation, truly exist to educate our children properly, rather than in a way that will make them good little (liberal) citizens.  But the uniforms make it that much more obvious what’s going on.  Uniforms promote an “only one way is the right way” viewpoint, which is truly anathema to our country.  Not to put too fine a point on it, back when I was in high school we all managed to learn in spite of some students having blue hair, spiked hair (or spiked blue hair), fishnet stockings, etc.

Uniforms place a disproportionate burden on poor parents.  Back when I was in school and the uniform idea was first being floated, it was claimed that it would benefit poor families because it would stop teasing based on what you wore (which I never experienced, anyway) and save parents money because they wouldn’t have to buy two separate wardrobes—one for school and one for play. 

There’s a lot wrong with that statement.  Pretty much every part of it was obviously, demonstrably false.  The last part of it is my favorite.  As someone who grew up the child of a poor single mother, I can guarantee you I didn’t have “school clothes” and “play clothes.”  I had clothes.  There might have been some kids who changed clothes once they got home from school, but none of my friends did (well, not until high school, anyway, when packing clothes your parents didn’t allow you to wear & changing into them at school started).

Uniforms, however, do constitute a second wardrobe.  That’s extra expense for poor families in two ways: the uniforms themselves, & the cost of laundering them.  The prevalence of washaterias over on the south side should be a clue that not everyone has a washer and dryer at home.  (We don’t, anymore.)  The school district provides two uniforms to poor families, but when last I checked the school week was five days long, not two. 

I don’t buy for a second, either, that kids can’t tell who has the more expensive clothing.  There are kids in Dickies or Dockers and kids in George or White Stag.  Big difference, and an obvious one, for the most part.

In all honesty, though, I think it is the conformity issue that bugs me the most.  I make a point of not raising my kids the same way other people raise their kids.  I am careful of their exposure to commercialism; I try to raise them to be skeptical of the status quo and to realize that if everybody else is doing it, it’s probably a bad idea.  It may be that uniforms will make it less obvious that they are different from other students, but when I am trying to teach them that different is not something to be ashamed of,  the insistence on sameness is counterproductive and frustrating.  (Of course, I refuse to cede the raising of my children to the school administrators and staff, which is what caused me to continually butt heads with the folks at New Frontiers.  They just did not get it.  Uniforms or no, I will continue to be subversive in my child-rearing.)


Mattexian said...

About the only thing school uniforms do is make it easier on the administrators, to not have to do paperwork for kids wearing prohibited items. When I was in school the big no-no's were clothes with cigarette or alcohol advertising on them, or gang-related, which that list seemed to change year-to-year anyway, usually after the gangs had changed their latest fashions! (Altho the Oakland Raiders seemed to be on that list.)

Dave said...

I agree with many of the points but I would submit a few items in favor of uniforms.

My kids attended Anson Jones Middle School (NISD on Pinn Road near Marbach and Military in the John Jay Area) before we moved into our current home. The uniforms removed gangwear from the equation. Simply - if a kid wanted to throw a red or blue bandanna or shirt in as part of his fashion statement, the black pants and white shirt removed that option.

If you can afford jeans and a shirt, you can afford black pants or khakis and a shirt. How does cost have any possible relation to school clothes? In our neighborhood, the kids wore the same school clothes to play in that they wore to school - both before uniforms were required and after.

Finally, as to the better uniform designers (Dickies vs. Dockers), I can assure you that when kids do not have to wear uniforms, the disadvantage is far greater.

I'm not trying to be combative on this. I totally agree that at least for High School, uniforms are a no-go. But for elementary and middle school, what made my kids stand out was that their uniforms were clean, pressed, and worn with pride. That was the same once they went into high school and had the freedom to choose their own clothing options.

And yes, I'm wearing Dickies as I type this, and a t-shirt with stains on it!

Sabra said...

Your point about gang colors is a pretty good one, Dave. Of course, I *have* seen kids--mostly junior high/middle school age with the bandannas in their pockets on the way home from school. (And I'll admit that my first though upon learning that my kids' uniform shirts will now be blue is "Geez, I hope we're not in Bloods territory"--not that any of 'em back when I was in school ever mistook me for a gang member.)

Your assertion that there's no economic difference between buying uniforms and buying regular clothes, though, I do not agree with, & here's why: I buy the bulk of my daughters' clothes at the thrift store. I typically can't do that for school uniforms (though to some extent I can), especially for the younger one who's in school, as she's harder than hell to fit. There *IS* a difference between $2 for a pair of jeans at Goodwill and $10 for a pair of khakis at Wal-Mart.

Dave said...

There *IS* a difference between $2 for a pair of jeans at Goodwill and $10 for a pair of khakis at Wal-Mart.

I don't disagree but I would point out that many if not most of the thrift stores we have been to have school uniform sections when it comes around to the beginning of the school year. But I can certainly see how they would probably be scooped up fairly quickly.

peter said...

Our kids are going to a new school this year and now have to wear unis. We're very fortunate that a girl a year ahead of Chloe was able to pass down a lot of clothes. But, some of the clothes can only be bought from one store. It's not just your average khaki pants and blue shirt or whatever. They wear plaid pants or skirts. The shirts have to be monogrammed. And on Wednesdays they have to dress up. We had to buy Chloe a shirt the other day in Jackson that she's only going to wear on Wednesdays and it was $30. So that's school unis that have to be acquired along with normal clothes to play in. It's crazy.