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School uniforms - yes or no?

by Izzy Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 01:27:42 PM EST

I admit that sometimes I'm beguiled by the featured box on Yahoo -- the self-help advice, the job interview tips, celebrity gossip, even the user questions.  It was that last that brought this subject to mind.  Someone had asked people's opinions on school uniforms.  This is a subject that occasionally rages through a school district here or there in various parts of the U.S.

It got me to thinking -- I know Britain has school uniforms, but what's the status in other European countries?  In countries with uniforms, are there efforts to get rid of them?  I've heard Germany doesn't have them.  Is anyone calling for them?  If you do have these arguments, are the pros and cons different from country to country, or are the reasons all similar?


Reading the comments from the, I'm assuming, American commenters on Yahoo took me right back to hearing these very same points put forth when I was young.  I started school in the late-60s and from the very start I longed for school uniforms, putting me firmly outside of the mass of public opinion.

I heard all the arguments throughout that somewhat dubious decade that was the 70s in California.  Uniforms would stifle our creativity.  Our clothes were supposed to be expressions of our individuality.  Even then, this sounded suspiciously consumerist and phoney to me, being one of the kids who couldn't afford to follow the fashion dictates of the day.  

Somehow, being able to do so was akin to free speech and not raising a generation of mindless followers.  Like all us 8-year old critical-thinking mavericks would show up in billowing, bohemian garb if given the chance.  In reality, everyone was trying to look just like Marcia and Greg Brady.

And I had an even more desperate underlying reason for my desire for uniforms, deeper even than poverty.  My immigrant grandmother had very specific views on what good girls wore and this had nothing in common with the mores of Southern California, nor the era for that matter.  Clothes were representations of character.  They showed good moral fiber  and virtue.  These beliefs were formed in post-war Scotland.

Needless to say I spent my childhood being relentlessly ridiculed.  Not so easy to grasp or understand was why I spent my childhood hot -- according to my gran, good mothers bundled their children in the winter and so bundled I got, or "happed up" as my gran would call it.  Temperature be damned, I was a sickly child and I would not be leaving the house risking a chill or succumbing to The Damp.  Scarves, mittens, and itchy wool sweaters it would be.  My grandmother was not a woman to be trifled with.  The woolens stayed on.

So I admit I like the idea of uniforms:  No rampant consumerism as your children succumb to the vagaries of fashion.  No huge class chasms if all the kids are wearing Levis but you can only afford Toughskins.  It costs less and saves a lot of emotional drama in Autumn.

Ironically, none of these arguments had anything to do with changing things when several of California's largest school districts switched to uniforms.  Perhaps predictably, the decision was based on people freaking out about kids wearing gang colors.

Still, the change was a shock to my son when he transferred into a school requiring uniforms and he complained about it quite frequently.  But there was no emotional weight to his complaints.  In fact, both mornings and back-to-school shopping became much more pleasant, less fraught with emotion, self-doubt and power struggles.  But still he objected.  Of course, he owned Levies and had never been happed up.  

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So what's the school dress-code in your country?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 01:28:23 PM EST
Uniforms here, pretty much.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 01:42:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there any sort of rumblings to get rid of them, or is it a settled issue?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 01:53:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Pretty much settled - occasional grumblings are about it.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 28th, 2007 at 04:32:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No uniforms in Norway.  Discussions at the moment on whether to introduce them.  The 'fashion pressure' is growing...ridiculously so, in my opinion.

School uniforms would solve the problem, but it would be difficult to introduce...Norwegians are fiercely individualistic....

by Solveig (link2ageataol.com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 05:16:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mostly uniformed. I think the original idea about uniforms was that they were supposed to be cheap so that the poverty issue was taken out of the equation. Also, there are real issues with hte personal expression thing, teenagers like to test boundaries all the time, best ot give them a restricted one to push against lest all sorts of things creep in.

However, over time schools ended up requiring such particular requirments that uniforms became an unstated barrier of entry for pupils of the "wrong" class. Now parents groups police the uniform requirements to ensure they remain affordable.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 02:35:34 PM EST
over time schools ended up requiring such particular requirments that uniforms became an unstated barrier of entry

Unbelievable!  I never even thought of that, but it figures.  In LA, all the uniforms are the same -- navy blue cotton pants, shorts, or skirts, and polo shirts of various colors.  No ties or hats or anything.  They're very inexpensive.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 02:44:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A colleague of Sam's moved her son to a private school this year - a feeder for one of the "right" second-level schools - and was complaining yesterday about the ludicrous list of uniform requirements, down to crest-emblazoned sweaters, sportswear and raincoats.

For a five-year old.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 28th, 2007 at 04:34:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I spent my first 3 years in a Catholic school, so uniforms it was! The cute little pleated skirt was hell to iron, though, (my mom wasn't very hands-on, to put it more kindly than she deserves), but I loved the jaunty yellow tam!

Looking back at my 6th grade fashion choices (red and orange striped bell bottoms you might see in an Austin Powers flick), I wish I'd been forced into uniforms after being moved to public school!

But, yes, it was hell for the poor kid - in a world where only Levis were cool, being forced into Wranglers was akin to child abuse. The horror of it all!

by iamcoyote (iamcoyote at gmail dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 02:35:36 PM EST
Were Wranglers better or worse than Toughskins?  I forget.

Unfortunately, there's photographic evidence of me wearing pink Dittos -- I was so proud.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 02:47:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's put it this way, if you didn't have Levis, it didn't matter whether you wore Wranglers or Toughskins, you weren't even on the coolness radar. Though if you required the Husky Toughskins, you probably inhabited an even lower level of hell than the Wrangler-denizens lived. Ah, good times...

BTW, there were ways to distinguish yourself if you had to wear a uniform. (wish I could find a better picture, but you get the idea)

by iamcoyote (iamcoyote at gmail dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 03:07:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some people get to wear bigger crosses? ;-)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 05:17:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No uniforms in Finnish schools. From what I recall clothing wasn't really a big deal. Then again, that might be due to a number of reasons (smaller school classes, culturally and economically more homogeneous, faulty recollection on my part)...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 04:08:51 PM EST
I am really very pro-uniforms.  Catholic indoctrination to be sure.  But there are a lot of upsides.  You are forced to learn to accessorize well.  Everyone generally looks presentable.  There's the myth about it eliminating class lines, but kids quickly figure out how to identify designer shoes, earrings, even solid white blouses.  

But mainly I am pro-uniforms because it is the only way I was able to get in trouble in school.  I was constantly pulled in for undermining the dress code (without explicitly breaking the rules, which drove them mad).  Otherwise I was one of those teacher's pets everyone hated.  So it was nice to have some way to illustrate my ability to subvert authority. ;)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 04:28:08 PM EST
True about accessories.  That's what let the cat out of the bag on socio-economic status.  In high school we had a pleated plaid skirt with a white blouse.  We could accessorize with any style of sweater in any color that was in the skirt:  Navy Blue, Logan Green, Gray, Yellow, White.  That's a lot of options and allowed a lot of ... expression (at least with respect to the price of your sweaters).  

I was just telling someone today that my sole memories of first grade were of being hot.  We started school in August when it was still in the upper 90's.  We had to wear plaid jumpers with white blouses buttoned at the top with a little matching plaid criss-cross tie.  And knee-high navy blue socks.  I still remember the itchy feel of that collar and how much I wanted to unbotton the button.  Ugh.  

Oh - and we had little matching plaid berets we wore to mass.  We really WERE cute even if we were totally uncomfortable.

But on the whole I favor uniform just because they are easier.

by Maryb2004 on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 05:46:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I went to one of the finest public (i.e. private) schools in England. One of the boys I knew always wore Ralph Lauren shirts, which looked just like the generic white uniforms shirts except that they had the Ralph Lauren logo (on the pocket, I think).
by Gag Halfrunt on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 06:55:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think there should be uniforms through high school, at least for all developed countries, to slow down all the unnecessary consumption.

Well designed, classic, affordable uniforms, with creases!, in a good mix of natural fabrics that are easy to care for.  No tacky sweats, no labels, no jeans, no snickers, no tshirts!  I would even do away with skirts for girls, altogether.

I may be in a dictatorial mood tonight, but I´m sick of seeing parents enslaved by even a 3-year old demanding purchases.  A kid´s job is to learn and have fun, not miss childhood to be a veteran consumer.

In school, we felt we had the most horrid uniform in all of Madrid.  It was a navy jumper with three double, big pleats in front and back, a cream blouse, navy tie, navy beret and navy double-button coat.  Add the plainest, brown tie-shoes and knee-highs and it was u-u-ugly.

Now it seems that uniforms are limited to private (read mostly catholic) schools and you have the public school kids looking like a contest for who can wear more brands/signs/advertising in English in one body.  Many times misspelled because they are made in China.


Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 05:17:52 PM EST
Ok so I wore school uniform throughout junior and senior school, and in my local area there are still school uniforms up to the age of 16 years old. Ok so it does reduce some level of consumerism, but the poor kids still are noticeably the poor kids, and some level of consumerism can still occur and is transfered into bags/shoes/what little bit that is allowed in individualisation of the uniform.

WStatus symbols will still exist.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 05:36:18 PM EST
No uniforms anywhere in Sweden as far as I know. Might be some private school somewhere though. Pops up as a debate subject now and again but generally does not get much traction. In swedish schools you are allowed to wear pretty much what you want to as long as it covers the essentials and does not cover your face. No hats except for religious reasons. No jackets in the classrooms except if heating was out.

I am not found of the idea of ordering people what to wear (swedish indecency laws exist (I think) but are pretty lax). Somehow I do not see the same adult communities that lay down dress codes for almost adults (like high school kids) accepting if those rules were applied to themselves and motivated with the same reasons.

I think the problem with school yard ridicule and bullying stems from the hierarchial system the kids are locked into and imitates. Which excuse that motivates the taunting, beating and ridicule varies. It can be clothes, toys, glasses, being to fat/thin/tall/short, having the wrong parents, talking the wrong way, having to big ears, having the wrong skin color. But focusing on the superficial reasons does nothing about the structure.

So, guess the answer from me is no.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 05:58:15 PM EST
There is an underprivileged school district on Long Island in New York, Roosevelt Union Free School District, that had been taken over by New York State because graduation rates were extremely low and there was a financial scandal. They were supposed to impose a standard school uniform for reasons of discipline. I have not read anything about what affect it has.
by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 06:19:14 PM EST
My friends on prewar Yugoslavia said their school tried to introduce uniforms, but it ended up being too expensive.

I spent two years at a school in California that required uniforms. The "no worries about fashion" argument doesn't hold, because the students will find some aspect of the uniforms that's "better"-- wearing the sweater instead of the blazer, having your skirt up to a certain height, whether or not your shirts have that little tag on the back-- and kids will still get ridiculed for not dressing in those "better" uniforms.

by lychee on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 06:29:25 PM EST
Should be my friends in prewar Yugo....
by lychee on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 06:29:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it's not the uniforms but the culture around them.

If kids are going to be competitive, they'll be competitive no matter what they wear.

In my (all boys) school fashion was a big influence. Certain shoes were 'ard, and you got points for wearing them. Especially if they had steel toe caps.

Teachers would burst a blood vessel over an earring or a loose tie, but never paid much attention to footwear. So you had a school full of supposedly conformist boys walking around with lethal weapons on their feet.

The uniform really wasn't the issue.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 06:46:18 PM EST
I agree about the competition and that it's important to try to change the culture.  I also know there's no escaping fashion and status.  I can say, though, as a parent who wasn't alway making ends meet, that the school with the uniforms was a vast improvement over the ones without.  Sure, you still have parents who'll buy ridiculously expensive shoes and jackets, but the effect is somewhat blunted.  

We weren't suffering the most economic hardship -- there were lots of families who had it harder -- but we were still in the category of buying Levis as Christmas presents.  Having about a $150 per year budget for clothes, having $12 pants and $9 shirts made a big difference.  It left a little extra room for getting better shoes and coats, too, which is important.

It was also an advantage when I was on a budgeting committee at the school -- it let us afford to keep a stock of uniforms on hand to give to  kids who needed them and made it easy for other families to buy an extra or two to donate.  I imagine these advantages might have evaporated if the uniforms included things like ties, caps, and blazers.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 07:43:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree about the competition and that it's important to try to change the culture.  I also know there's no escaping fashion and status.

There is no way you're going to prevent a pack of young naked apes from developing a status hierarchy, and clothing or the accessories to wear alongside a uniform are an easy way to establish status. The only way around it would be for the school to provide a full uniform including underwear and shoes to all students, not unlike a prison or the army. But not only is this not the kind of policy most of us would consider most appropriate for education, it also would not prevent the development of a status hierarchy based on other criteria.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 07:48:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is no way you're going to prevent a pack of young naked apes from developing a status hierarchy

Exactly! Even if you get them wearing the same thing down to the shoes and socks, there will be a preferred way of tying the sweater, or knotting the tie.

by iamcoyote (iamcoyote at gmail dot com) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 09:16:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here in Mexico it seems that all the schools have uniforms, both public and private as far as I know.  My wife tells me it is for class/poverty reasons.  She says one could get by with just two uniforms each, thus the poor didn't have to worry a lot about buying expensive clothing for school.  Accessories  = a cell phone and it seems everyone has one, rich or poor.  No wonder Carlos Slim, Mexico's phone magnate, is the richest man in the world.  Hear that China?  I once thought having the China bicycle tire concession would be the ultimate business.

A bigger issue in Mexico is probably truancy.  Many in this region are illerate and school drop outs.  Illiteracy slams the door on employment, so it's surprising that parents allow their children to drop out.  Apparently there are no effective truancy laws or they are not enforced.  Hard to understand really in a country that seems to have quite a few social programs going for the poor, even if modest in scope.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 07:24:52 PM EST
I was about to post  my First year at senior school class photo, but Friends reuniteds picture server seems to only have the thumbnail.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Aug 28th, 2007 at 04:08:30 AM EST
Regarding Germany, school policy is decided by the states (Länder), so theoretically, every state could introduce uniforms. As I was on a catholic school, there were some hypothetical discussions about it.

The conservative position: uniforms help integrating kids who can't keep up in the race for the coolest designer clothes. The majority position: no one should wear uniforms if it doesn't help identifying them as a functional group (nurses, policemen, etc.). Most people (me included) still think of uniforms as an authoritarian/ fascist thing used to surpress people, there simply are too much bad memories about the Hitlerjugend and the like.

On my school at least, no one cared about what someone wore as long as your grandmother didn't choose it (a little different story for the girls, maybe).

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Tue Aug 28th, 2007 at 05:03:17 AM EST
My first primary school was non uniform.  Another one was uniform but you could opt out and the kids who didn't wear the uniform got teased for it. The rest, including my high school all had uniforms.  Changing primary school 5 times wasn't helpful with different uniforms for each one.

I desperately wanted to go to one of those high schools where you can do whatever you want, wear whatever you want, but no, I was stuck at my horrid comprehensive.  

I was always totally uncool and scruffy on non uniform days which gave kids another reason to make fun of me, and even in uniform I stood out as being hideously untrendy. I never rolled my skirt up, I did my tie properly, didn't try to wear jewellry, my clothes were always too big or too small, accessorised with clunky shoes from the market, my tights were laddered...
I was hopeless and it would have been far worse if it was non uniform.

Our 6th form (A-levels) had a dress code of wear what you would wear if you were working in an office. But I didn't have any of those kind of clothes and I didn't have any money of my own to buy them with.  I started to gravitate towards jeans ("they're cotton trousers"), t-shirt ("it's a top") and trainers ("shoes!")

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 28th, 2007 at 05:19:47 AM EST
Listening to the arguments put forth where I'm living at the moment (UK) I have to say no thanks.
The idea that it's a good idea to have "sense of belonging" based on the uniform you wear or the flag you wave or the national anthem you sing (but don't reflect on the deeper meaning of the lyrics of) seems so last century.
My school vs your school. My country vs your country.

(I'd quote Seinfeld on sports teams again but you have heard it.)

Group think and mob mentality is bad enough without everyone in a school looking the same. At least with jocks vs nerds vs preppies you have smaller mobs.

(Of course it may have something to do with school uniforms in my area apparently being made from dishcloth.)

by Number 6 on Tue Aug 28th, 2007 at 05:21:59 AM EST
Found this gem on Youtube:

Jedi Knight confronts school board over uniforms

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 04:47:26 PM EST


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