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The Case for School Uniforms

It's summertime, and people are dressing sensibly because of the heat.  But when school begins in late August in many places, the question is whether comfort alone should determine what students should wear ("The Battle Over Dress Codes," The New York Times, Jun. 13).  It's here that I argue for uniforms.

I understand the case against them. They impose an additional cost on parents, repress student individuality, and violate religious freedom.  There is truth to all such claims.  But there are also benefits to requiring uniforms. For one thing, uniforms prepare students for the workplace. Although companies do not demand that employees wear a uniform in the strict sense of the word, ties and jackets for men, for example, are de facto uniforms. Women are also expected to dress appropriately for work ("For Women's Office Wear, Who's Making the Rules?" The Nation, Jun. 20).  Uniforms also lessen the potential for envy over socioeconomic differences and reduce the risk of gang rivalries that invariably detract attention from learning.

In the mid-1960s when I began teaching high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the free speech movement was in full swing.  Students came to class in attire that in many cases was outrageous.  Girls wore skirts so short that when teachers were required to order them to perform a "drop drill" to prepare them in the event of an actual earthquake, the scene was unforgettable.  Boys wore T-shirts with slogans that are unprintable here.

The result was a constant stream of referrals to the dean's office, where offenders were sent home to change or suspended in the case of repeated offenders. The time and effort required by both teachers and administrators convinced me that uniforms were needed.  I still believe that even though we are in a new era.

Young people don't always possess the judgment to know what is proper attire. They'll soon learn when they get their first job.  Why not make the transition easier by a dress code?  Private and religious schools in this country have long required uniforms without harming the psyches of students. Students in other countries routinely wear uniforms.  But most important, uniforms are a reminder that school is a unique venue for serious learning.  Casualness has its place, but it's not in school.


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