Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on July 7, 2003. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Opinions split on school uniforms
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Several years after their introduction, school uniforms are performing as expected. And as expected, many students don't like wearing them.
Their use has been credited with reduced behavioral problems and better learning environments. The U.S. Department of Education outlines their usefulness and regulations in an online manual on the subject.
"In response to growing levels of violence in our schools, many parents, teachers and school officials have come to see school uniforms as one positive and creative way to reduce discipline problems and increase school safety," the department states.
Louise Davis, Extension associate professor of child and family development at Mississippi State University, said wearing uniforms reduces peer pressure students face in school.
"Uniforms create less distinction between the haves and the have-nots," Davis said. "They help the students focus on learning rather than the clothes they wear."
Official education department rules state that students can express themselves within the uniform policies by wearing such things as buttons as long as the items don't interfere with discipline or the rights of others.
Many schools that enacted uniform policies have seen dramatic decreases in violence and improvements in attendance and class participation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, much of this appears to be attributed to the use of uniforms and their ability to reduce distractions.
Kathy Wilson, principal at Kemper County High School, said uniforms were already in place when she came to the school three years ago. The school had problems with gangs and gang behavior, and requiring uniforms prevented the students from wearing gang colors.
With behavior problems in check, the uniforms also help keep costs down for school clothing in this economically depressed area. All students wear either khaki shorts, long pants or skirts with white, navy blue or royal blue polo shirts.
"I hear parents say they like uniforms because it's more economical. I hear children say they hate it because they want to wear the latest fashions," Wilson said. "As an administrator, I don't have problems with the dress codes that a lot of my peers have. I'm satisfied with uniforms, considering the alternatives."
But while parents and school administrators typically like them, many students don't. Uniforms promote conformity and youth often want to express themselves as unique individuals.
Davis, however, said young people should learn to express themselves in ways other than through the clothes they wear.
"Your own self should come through," Davis said. "Wearing a uniform sends the message that clothes don't say who you are. You have to work harder at your own personality, your own self-esteem and your own self-confidence to say who you are."
Davis, whose two sons attended schools requiring uniforms, said uniforms can help students feel more a part of the school environment. She acknowledged that mandatory uniforms do raise some questions of personal rights and freedom of speech.
"We do live in a society where we have to conform to rules. This is just one of those rules you just have to obey for the sake of the greater good," Davis said. "There's plenty of time to be your individual self."