Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Five Years of School Uniforms

After writing my post on our five-year experience with a charter school, I realized that there was yet another difference between our charter and our local standard public schools: uniforms. Students that attend our charter must wear an approved school uniform.

This topic has been heavily debated, often with a great deal of heat. After five years of dealing with the uniform policy, I generally consider it to be beneficial. But I'm not passionate about it. There are pros and cons either way. It seems more a matter of preference than a solid social good.

It might help if I described our school's policy. K-8 students can wear khaki or dark blue pants (girls may wear skirts), and red, white, or blue shirts. All of these must be solid colors with no overt patterns. High school students have a few more options, but only a few. Precise styles are not dictated, but there are some general rules that ensure a certain degree of modesty.

This policy is actually quite flexible. It isn't like some schools I have visited that have extremely rigid uniforming rules. Our charter's parents can obtain the clothing wherever they like, as long as it meets guidelines. The school offers clothing with the school logo, but its use is completely optional. Parent volunteers run a uniform clothing exchange during back-to-school nights and progress conferences.

It is neither difficult nor expensive to outfit a child in proper attire for our school. The prescribed styles of clothing are broadly available. Moreover, the clothes can easily be used outside of school without appearing out of the ordinary. Parents seem to generally favor the policy and few students have major issues with it; although, there will always be a handful of students that push the limits of any clothing policy.

The clear benefits I see from our school's uniform policy include an improved learning environment, an added sense of belonging, and the ease with which students can be located during field work. I don't miss seeing the slut, grunge, diva, and playboy styles that are regularly visible in our local standard public schools.

The main drawback to the policy, as far as I understand it, is the complaint that uniforming robs the student of individuality. That argument probably holds more water with respect to stricter uniforming policies. I don't really notice this problem at our school. The policy is flexible enough to allow for a fairly wide range of non-distracting displays of individuality.

Another complaint is boredom with the available styles. I guess I'm rather unsympathetic to this lament. It seems pretty low on the list of priorities when considering what's really important regarding the education of my child.

Should every school move to uniforming? No, I would not agree with that. I would prefer a model with many more charter schools, each offering its own clothing policy and learning style. Parents that want a charter education for their child could then select a school that has policies to their liking.

In other words, I think it would be great if we had a more diverse education market that allowed parents to find a situation that they felt best met the needs of their child and their family. Let the market sort it out instead of trying to force a one-size-fits-all policy on everyone.

So, I am moderately in favor of school uniforms, while lacking the desire to force a blanket policy on everyone. I am more in favor of different schools offering differing clothing and grooming policies that they feel best meet the needs of their students and the students' families. More options, not fewer.

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