First published on Saturday the 12th of May, 2018, this piece comes in at number 21 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2018.
I have mixed feelings about school uniforms. Sure, my high school was neat and identifiable because we all wore the same thing. But is appearance something our schools should focus on? Teaching students and ensuring that they are comfortable in their learning environment is more important than making them remove mascara in the sick bay or re-tuck their shirts.
School uniforms do have benefits. But less time spent worrying about what students were wearing wouldn’t be a bad thing. Policing what people wear is an unusual thing to do in day-to-day life, so why do we teach our teenagers that it’s normal?
The best thing about school uniforms, in my memory, is not having to think about what to wear. And that is an advantage. But when you have to wash your clothes every two days because you don’t have the option of choosing another blouse to wear, it’s apparent that the convenience of wearing a uniform is sometimes overstated.
Students should feel comfortable, rather than restricted, when deciding what they want to wear for the day. School uniforms prevent students from expressing their identities, both in terms of gender and personal style. Gender-specific uniforms can cause trans and gender diverse students a lot of discomfort.
Uniforms are meant to be a great equaliser, but the fact is, they can make financial difficulties even more apparent. School uniforms cost a significant amount of money, and parents should not be placed under that pressure in order to make sure that their child doesn’t break the rules.
In my experience at an all-girls school, those wearing older or ‘uncool’ variations of the uniform were mocked. Bullying is a problem that needs to be addressed in New Zealand, but school uniforms are clearly not an effective preventative measure.
The apparent absence of cliques in New Zealand schools (ha!) like those in the USA, where mufti is the norm, is often held up as an example of how school uniforms help our schools. But cliques exist in New Zealand schools too. Uniforms do not stop groups of like-minded students from forming friendships – and really, should they? That’s how life works, whether you’re in school or work. People stick with their groups of friends and that’s not something schools should be discouraging.
Schools hold up uniforms as a method of creating school identity and belonging. Not to sound cynical, but belonging is not something that can be cultivated through appearance. Belonging comes from an environment where everyone comfortable in their unique identity. Fixing students with the same ‘school identity’ is not an end that schools should aim for, especially when it stifles creativity and fosters a view of students as a mass group rather than individual people.
As you may have gathered, I don’t see a whole lot of benefit in hundreds of young people having to wear the same clothes every day at high school. Teachers having to focus on enforcing outdated rules about the acceptable number of earrings is not a productive use of time, especially when that time is being taken away from education.
There is a system and schools want to maintain that, they should not cling blindly to it without considering whether it helps students. The main reason uniforms are ubiquitous in 2018 is simply that they’re a historical tradition that hasn’t been altered. That has never been a good reason to continue something.
Just because something is the way it always has been, doesn’t mean it’s good.Support Villainesse