School uniforms are one of the topics that has been widely debated for as long as I can remember. Growing up and going to a public school on Long Island in New York, I was not forced into conforming and wearing these uniforms on a daily basis. On the flip side, I had a great number of friends who attended private school for high school and were required to abide by a strict uniform policy on a daily basis. Upon talking to many of these friends, the results were interesting to me as there was a split between the amount of people who didn’t mind wearing the uniforms and the people who totally disliked wearing them. I began to wonder what life would be like going to school and having to abide by guidelines set by an institution, enforced no differently than the policy on cheating in class.
In order to take a closer look at the issue of school uniforms, I began to research the legality of
uniforms and noticed that more than twenty different states have legalized and authorize schools to implement uniform policies. In addition, accoring to a study completed by USAToday, the percentage
of public schools that are using dress codes has spiked almost 10% in the last 10 years from 47% to over 57%. After further consideration and thought, I wondered, “What effect are these uniforms having on the children of America?”
A possible result of uniforms stems from the philosophy of John Stuart Mill as he discusses the idea of individuality in his piece titled On Liberty and more specifically in chapter three titled “Of Individuality, as one of the Elements of Well-being“. In this text, Mill touches on the idea that humans require trial and error to succeed and individuality provides “experiments of living”. In addition, Mill explains that in order for a person to live and have a sense of self, individuality is of the upmost importance. While people should be educated and everybody have to opportunity to accumulate similar knowledge of human experience, it is extremely important that humans have the ability to take the experience and knowledge they have acculated and do what they choose with it. People should never be forced into making certain choices and have to follow a pre-determined path because it would destroy their individuality and contribute to the destruction of human progress. This is extremely important and can be directly related to the concept of school uniforms.
In an effort to help rid schools of distractions and provide a better learning environment, schools have instituted dress-codes and uniforms that every student must abide by. It is very easy to argue
that by telling students what to wear, schools are effectively removing a students sense of individuality and hurting human progress. No longer are students able to express how they feel though their clothes and are almost placed into a jail-like state of conformity with the other students. Clothing is used by people to express how they feel, their sense of style and in many cases their social status. By ridding these people of self-expression, they are no longer receiving the experience that comes with dressing the way they feel expresses themselves and removes an avenue of individuality.
The problem with school uniforms lays in the concept of controlling a person’s individuality as a whole. While the control of clothing does not totally remove a student’s ability to express how they feel and differentiate themselves in a school setting, it does open the avenue of further limiting the way in which a student can stand out in the crowd of hundreds of other students. If it is forcing people to wear a certain code of dress today, could limiting speech in the classroom be next? It is hard to predict the extent of which schools will attempt to rid students of their individuality in the future, but according to Mill, nothing good will come out of sucking individuality out of the American youth.