The sense behind school uniforms

 

I happen to be in the somewhat unusual situation of having one child in public school and the other in a private establishment. The September sticker shock of the private school fees is expected, of course, but this year I had the painful experience of shelling out big bucks for the my daughter’s uniforms, a complicated array of inner and outerwear that will take a computer algorithm to figure out.

 

While standing at the checkout line at the uniform shop, the absurdity of the whole thing struck me. Not that I object to uniforms. As a former student from India, I am very comfortable with the idea. What strikes me as illogical is that, really, it is the child who is going to the public school who should be wearing a uniform.

 

After all, one of the primary objectives of having all the children dress alike is to eliminate the differences and imbue the kids with a school spirit. Even in an Indian ghetto like Ardenwood, where I live, there is a fair amount of racial, ethnic and economic diversity. And perhaps the most troubling to the mother of a daughter, there is also cultural diversity, with a pretty wide variety in necklines and hemlines.

 

On the other hand, in the private school, there is a staggering level of homogeneity in both the economic and cultural situation of the students. Left to themselves, peer pressure and strong parental involvement would probably drive them all to a fairly similar, well dressed look and the uniform seems like overkill. As I see it, in a private school, the purpose of the uniform is to make an elite system further a sense of distinction in an already privileged class.

 

Why public schools don’t mandate uniforms is beyond me. One of the most common reasons given is that of the potential cost, but as any parent can tell you, by the time you pick up the latest low-waist jeans and the high-top sneakers, you are as much out of pocket as the snob in the multi-million dollar home across the street. Keeping the uniforms simple would also keep the costs down.

 

Another criticism is that the uniforms impinge on the child’s individuality and infringe on his/her rights. This is a laugh, considering the whole purpose of school is to create a herd mentality. Just insisting that the children dress alike is hardly going to make a significant difference. In fact, it might be easier to impart the values of cooperation and team spirit, two values to which a lot of lip service is paid in the classrooms.

 

At a time when the public school system in the US is going through such upheaval and introspection, I would really recommend a good hard look at introducing uniforms universally. I know it would take the guesswork out of the whole back-to-school shopping experience. If it has the added benefit of making all the boys look neat and the girls look like nuns I, for one, will be thrilled!

2 thoughts on “The sense behind school uniforms

  1. Shefaly

    Shreyasi: Interesting to hear that. I attended a prep school till I was 10. We had a rather unusual school uniform – a blue pinafore, with puffed sleeve shirt. In winter, boys AND girls wore grey woollen trousers with white-and-blue striped half sleeve sweater and a full sleeve blue cardigan. It was an electric blue… And boy I loved that uniform.

    But on Saturdays, we could wear what we wanted. We had classes in dramatics, craft and music; we had PE; we had ‘house meetings’, we had competitions. The school provided lunch and we learnt table manners and the appropriate cutlery handling skills with our class teacher.

    But on Saturday, it was evident that even amongst the well-off, some are better-off than others. Some wore very expensive clothes; some wore casual clothes.

    I do not know if the policy was changed later, but I distinctly remember how that one day of the week could isolate some children rather badly…

    That said Paul Kedrosky’s blog had some discussion about dress code and uniforms. I made an argument not dissimilar from Vidya’s and the next comment from an American reader, about individual expression etc, was quite telling as far as cultural nuances of ‘uniforms’ go.

    Very tricky topic this, in the US.

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