With gang violence, socio-economic clashes, bullying and discipline issues plaguing many public schools, administrators have in some cases turned to school uniforms. The argument typically goes that students cannot bully one another over brand names, show their gang colors or bare too much skin if the school forces them to wear a standard uniform. While these all sound like worthy goals, students also learn important social and life lessons by choosing their own fashions.
Learn to Adapt
Students who choose their clothing each school day learn to adapt to shifting social standards and contexts---skills that will serve them well as adults. When they prepare for their first college visits, job interviews, internships or promotions, they will need to know how to make appropriate choices and uniforms do not facilitate this, according to a 2007 article published on the Fresno Pacific University website. After all, uniforms provide a cookie-cutter, conformist solution, while workplaces and social situations demand diverse standards, according to the Fresno Pacific University website. In addition, teens forge independence by living with the consequences of trial and error, according to the MassGeneral Hospital for Children website.
Encourage Independent Thinking
Children and teens that confront a range of clothing styles at school also confront a range of visible social groups, economic classes and ethnic or religious traditions. While these differences can spark conflict and even fuel social segregation, they can also inspire kids to appreciate diverse points of view and engage in critical thinking. "Immersion in peer group activities that may include different dress" helps encourage independence, according to the MassGeneral Hospital for Children website.
Promote Conversations with Parents
Arguments over clothes give kids an opportunity to express their identity and values to parents, and equally important, they give parents a platform for transmitting their values. Respectful disagreements can facilitate maturity, according to the MassGeneral Hospital for Children website. In addition, allowing a little fashion rebellion may help prevent worse rebellion later on---such as drug experimentation, according to the MassGeneral Hospital for Children website.
Monitor Gang Affiliations
When students wear their own choice of clothing, teachers, administrators and law enforcement possess a potential cue for monitoring gang membership, because gang members often wear particular affiliation symbols or colors. Parents and school officials often argue that uniforms put the brakes on gangs by removing this subtle communication method. However, uniforms do not eliminate gangs, and in fact, standard-issue clothing can potentially make symbolic gang clothing more difficult to identify or interpret---reinforcing a false sense of safety. For example, gang members might use something as subtle as a belt to signify membership, according to a 2000 article published by the University of Delaware.
Ease Budget Burdens
Allowing students to wear their own fashions avoids a cookie-cutter clothing budget for all families, while easing budget burdens on struggling districts. While many families might find uniforms cheaper than brand-name clothing, the price of a standard-issue uniform might stretch the budget for some families. Department of Education guidelines include financial assistance for families who cannot afford the uniforms, according to the Manual on School Uniforms. This means school districts have to pony up money from an already-strapped budget---perhaps draining money from academic or technology needs. Keeping choices open prevents that.
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