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Requiring students to wear school uniforms would be a violation of the First Amendment, but the motives are noble. The country’s federal courts have asserted that minors have free speech protection for their individual modes of dressing. In the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District decided in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that students’ attires should be burned when they affect the operation and the discipline of a school in substantial ways. However, proponents of school uniforms argue that although the requirement for school uniforms may be an infringement on the first amendment violations of students, the benefits are worth it, since school uniforms would eliminate bullying, reduce the disparity between social classes, and give schools a professional look.
School uniforms will prevent bullying. Often, bullying arises from judgment about whether a student is “cool” or not. A significant part of demonstrating coolness is the sense of style a student adopts. Unfortunately, those students who cannot be stylish or who do not care to be stylish, particularly the group known as “nerds,” become targets of ridicule. The school environment does not encourage the free expression of students, it encourages students to fit in, by wearing whatever style finds the approval of peers.
School uniforms would reduce the clear appearance of wealth and income disparity among students. Students who can afford nice clothes wear them to school and flaunt them to other students. They use the “cool factor” that comes from the prestige of their style and social status to gain influence in school. After all, nothing boosts a person’s confidence better than nice clothing clothes. In contrast, students from low-income backgrounds tend to have ragged clothes. Often, their clothes do not fit them well, since they are handed down from elder relatives or they are bought from thrift stores where finding well-fitting is rare. Their lack of nice clothes impacts their confidence, their willingness to contribute in class, and to participate in extra-curricular activities. In other words, allowing students to wear their home clothes give middle class students an advantage over the working class students, which perpetuates the inequalities that exist in the society. If education must fulfill its role of promoting social mobility, it must place students in schools on an equal footing, and that means instituting uniform. Uniforms would ensure that students do not see social status in other students, which would promote the willingness of working class students to become more involved in school life without a sense of being encumbered by the perception of others. Most working class parents can sacrifice their little income to ensure that their children have nice school uniforms, so that their social class does not shine through the clothes they wear. Furthermore, buying two or three pairs of school uniforms that would last a student an entire semester is cheaper than buying civilian clothes.
Uniforms allow schools to look more professional. Whereas diverse style is important for expression, it can often be a source of undesired distraction to other students. When schools eliminate the wearing of home clothes, the labor spent in curating individual style and seeking validation from other students will be diverted to school activities. When all students in a classroom wear the same clothes, there is a sense of camaraderie and unity of purpose that allows teachers to focus on teaching and students on learning.