Until recent years, the only schools in the United States that required uniforms were exclusive private schools. But the debate over the pros and cons of requiring school uniforms in public schools continues to rage.
In the 16th century, England was the first nation to require school uniforms. But these uniforms were not to be worn by elite students; they were to distinguish the poor children attending charity schools from other children. It wasn't until 300 years later that students who attended the better English public schools began wearing uniforms. Once this became the norm, it blossomed into an obsession, as well as a way to effect social and cultural control over the students.
The arguments over requiring school uniforms in American public schools began in the 1980s, with such comments as preventing individuality or freedom of expression at the top of the list of reasons against doing so. However, arguments for school uniforms have included reducing peer pressure to have the latest designer clothing and saving parents money on their children's clothing by requiring the same uniform every year.
Those who support school uniforms argue that if all of the students are wearing the same clothing, they will take school more seriously instead of worrying about what they're wearing. Since many places of employment also require uniforms, this will prepare the students for future jobs, and gang violence will decrease because members will be unable to identify their rivals by their clothing.
On the other side of the coin, however, are those who are against the idea. They claim that the rebellious students will alter their uniforms, forcing teachers to spend more time policing the uniforms every day. Bullies will continue to persecute their victims over non-clothing-related subjects such as height, weight, hair and so forth. And if an older student physically attacks a younger one, a description of the attacker will be of little use, given that everyone else in the school is wearing the same thing.
The subject of school uniforms is unlikely to ever reach a conclusion that will be acceptable to everyone. But the problem really isn't as simple as a change of clothing. A study performed by academics from the University of Alabama and Notre Dame concluded that student attendance, academic achievement, behavioral problems and substance abuse showed no improvement after school uniforms were introduced. Perhaps a better way to improve student behavior would be for parents and school boards to hold children accountable for their actions, just as adults are held accountable by society for their actions. As noted by San Diego's Fleet & Family Support Centers, children learn responsibility by being held accountable.