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Are school uniforms a good or bad idea?

By By Lloyd Albritton
Columnist
Even with world issues like war and a bad economy looming large in the news these days, I still hear a lot of angry rumbling in the local chat rooms over the issue of school uniforms. To be? Or not to be? That is the question!
Aside from ROTC students, who presumably like uniforms, it is no surprise that most students are against the idea of mandatory school uniforms. Why wouldn't they be? Those students who dress like clowns obviously do not want this individual liberty taken away from them, and those who understand and comply with the spirit of "appropriate" dressing for school attendance resent being punished for crimes they have not committed. I don't blame either group for feeling the way they do. Since the students themselves actually have no voice in the matter, and to pretend that they do is another modern childhood indulgence which has led to this problem in the first place, this entire debate is actually between the adults: (1) the school management officials, (2) the teachers, and (3) the parents.
School Officials. According to those officials quoted in newspaper reports, the school districts have already tried leaving it to each school to determine and enforce its own dress code and this "has not worked." Most school officials, therefore, favor a district-wide policy of mandatory school uniforms. Now, precisely what does that mean: "It has not worked?" Does it mean that many school principals have failed to establish a dress code for their schools even though they were ordered to do so? Or, does it mean these principals have instituted a dress code, but admit failure in their efforts to enforce their own dress codes? Either way, I have to confess my own failure to understand why a high school principal is unable to establish and enforce a dress code in his or her own school. Do we have so many incompetent and ineffectual principals in our schools today that this issue has become a district-wide problem, rather than an individual school problem? News reports say that a majority of the principals in the Escambia County, Florida, school system favor a district-wide uniform policy. This sounds very much to me like a shirking of the duties and responsibilities these principals are getting paid to perform. If a military Squad Commander, who in most cases is a young man barely out of his teens who has not been anywhere near a college, were to whine to his Commanding Officer that he has ordered his men to charge the enemy, but they all refused to go, that Squad Commander would be immediately replaced on grounds of incompetency. Even with a district-wide school uniform policy, can incompetent school principals who have already demonstrated a deficiency in leadership skills ensure that students will come to school wearing properly fitted uniforms, or that shirt tails will be tucked in and skirt hems will cover girls' thighs? If they cannot enforce the proper wearing of regular clothes, how are they going to enforce the proper wearing of uniforms?
Teachers. I have read many teacher complaints that they are spending too much of their "valuable" time enforcing student dress standards which might be better used in classroom teaching efforts. Poppycock! Teachers are "officers of the court." They have the same mandate and responsibility to enforce school dress standards in their classrooms as the principals. "Oh, but you don't understand!" teachers protest. "Students today are undisciplined and belligerent and they pay no attention to teachers. If I dare to discipline a student, it is I who will get into trouble." Again, I fail to understand. If a student comes to class dressed inappropriately and refuses to comply with school dress standards, a teacher should dismiss or eject that student from his or her classroom. Doesn't a teacher have that right and authority? If not, why not? When that dismissed student reports to the principal's office, what actions do principals take? Are they sending the student right back to the classroom, thereby failing to support their teachers? Or, are they sending the student home and reporting the violation to the parents? Have the principals tried this and encountered resistance and protest from the parents? Have the principals' decisions been appealed to district-level school officials and overruled? Well, if so, then finally we pinpoint the source of the problem, don't we?. Do school district officials believe a district-wide uniform policy will correct this glaring failure on their part to support their teaching staff?
Parents. Many parents complain that school uniforms will take away their children's individuality and creative expression. These are no-doubt the same intellectually challenged parents who watch their children go off to school each day dressed like Lil Snoop Doggy Dog, and are no-doubt the same parents who protest when their children are sent home for coming to school in inappropriate school attire. These are also no-doubt the same parents who support, and even encourage, their children to disobey and disrespect their teachers and all other adults in positions of authority. This "attitude problem" on the part of parents will not be corrected in any way by a mandatory student uniform policy, but might very well be corrected by a policy requiring such immature and irresponsible parents to wear uniforms themselves more appropriate to their mental age-like, for example, a diaper.
Uniforms are a normal and accepted part of life for millions of adult working Americans, ranging from military personnel to Midas Muffler employees. Young people and adults alike who believe a uniform will defeat their individualism don't have much individualism to express to start with. In fact, the funky fashions which are causing most of this stir are anything but expressions of individualism, but rather, are more a case of following the latest fad. Pardon my perception, but they all look the same to me! If anything, school uniforms might have the effect of eliminating this faulty notion of individualism by forcing young people to look withing their own personalities and character for real individualism.
School uniforms might indeed enhance student learning, but to think that a mandatory school uniform policy will correct any of the student behavioral problems the schools are experiencing today is nothing but an innocuous statement that says, "If we can't enforce the rules we already have, let's correct that situation by making another rule which can't be enforced any better than the rules we already have."
Lloyd Albritton's column is published in The Atmore Advance and in The Fairhope Courier. He invites your comments at LloydAlbritton@aol.com or by calling him at (850)384-6676.