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School uniforms squash individuality

Published: Thursday, June 12, 2008

Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 16:02

School uniforms are like a repellent. If there is one surefire way to discourage students from going to school, it's forcing them to surrender their individuality for uniformity.

Lake County is considering school uniforms, despite the expressed disapproval of 84 percent of surveyed students.

In response, the school board offered the pros and cons of adopting school uniforms. The advantages are textbook, asserting that there will be no fights or thefts over designer clothing or name-brand shoes, no gang colors will be displayed, school officials will be able to identify intruders and uniforms would promote school pride.

However, according to a report completed by Orange County school officials, "There is no Florida Department of Education evidence that would indicate that a district-wide uniform policy would increase student achievement or decrease crime and violence in schools."

On the other hand, the disadvantages are trivialized, claiming that the school uniforms would not decrease school violence or improve academic achievement, yet they would force financial obligation on low-income families and restrict students' freedom of expression.

Upon comparison, the disconnects become transparent. So suppose a few fights are averted because the green giant of envy is hibernating; meanwhile little Susie is wearing a tattered T-shirt and some jean shorts because her family could not incur the expense of yet another additional cost imposed by the free public school system.

Let's look at another scenario that has managed to remain undetected by school officials. Arguably, one of the benefits of having school uniforms is the cultivation of "school pride." Yet students who attend public schools are most likely zoned for that particular school, and therefore have no real attachment to the institution.

As a result, school pride may not be the top priority that school officials presume it to be. In fact, some, if not most, students make it their goal to deviate from the school colors that encourage school spirit, which is why one of the biggest concerns among students is the violation of their freedom of expression.

At present, according to the Orlando Sentinel, "Polk County is the only school district in Florida with a mandatory K-8 uniform policy." However, as of April 2008, the Osceola School Board voted 3-2 in favor of a school uniform policy for K-12.

As Lake County progresses to follow suit, it faces widespread opposition from students.

Reportedly, according to the Sentinel, out of 8,600 responses the trend is as follows: "School officials love it. Parents like it. Students hate it."

To exemplify, 69 percent of teachers and other school employees admit that the present dress code has become too lenient and needs stricter enforcement, while 74 percent of students disagree with this sentiment.

School uniforms do not teach students unity nor do they eliminate stereotypes. Rather, they serve to generalize a student body that could not be more heterogeneous in terms of beliefs, style, ethics and perspectives.

On June 8, the Lake County School Board held a meeting and one of the more controversial topics on the agenda was the issue of school uniforms.

According to a live blog that recorded the meeting minutes, "the chairman encouraged parents to participate in the online survey about school uniforms," while board members reflected on alternative ways to receive feedback regarding school uniforms.

Due to insufficient feedback, the board has consented that it is too late to enforce any kind of school uniform policy for the fall.

Chairman Larry Metz reinforced that "we're not debating whether to have uniforms tonight … just how to get information back to the board."

So far school uniforms are most prevalent among elementary school children. With this in mind, it almost seems as though it is the younger students that are forced to don the linens of monotony.

These isolated cases beg the question: Why is it so difficult to regulate the dress code among older, more knowledgeable high school students? Is it because they realize the ramifications of standardization or is opposition just second nature at an age where rejection is implicit?

Placing students within the constraints of school uniforms is like placing a handicap on the maturation of our youth. By teaching them that stereotypes can be eluded and equality can be accomplished with compliance, we are masking reality with illusion. Students must learn to accept others for what they wear as well as what they think.

Allow students the adolescent autonomy to adorn themselves in clothes unlike their classmates. Independence yields unconventionality, which is a finite resource in a world of infinite conventionality.

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