Few issues are as polarising as whether school uniforms should be scrapped in schools, with some arguing that they’re an important ‘equaliser’ and sign of discipline, and others saying they’re an unnecessary expense that stifle students’ creativity.
For those who lived through the 1950s and ’60s, a school uniform represented more than just which school you attended. Everyone knew which schools were state schools, which were private, which were Catholic and which were Anglican – they meant pride in where you were from and what you valued.
This pride was carried through to sporting events, where rival schools playfully hurled insults at each other and yelled out war cries to support their teams.
But more recently, an increasing number of schools have allowed ‘free dress’, as is the US style. And others have changed the style of uniform considerably, with a range of unisex and more fashionable clothing options, such as trousers for girls and hoodies rather than school jackets or sweaters.
But for the most part, both public and private schools in Australia stick to a uniform, whether it’s strictly enforced or more relaxed.
Alfie Kohn, an American education activist and author, told the Boston Globe that he believes school uniforms are all about nostalgia, though, rather than because they have any beneficial effect on a child’s schoolwork or social interactions.
“If we want students to grow into critical thinkers and ethical people, then we have to aim higher than mere conformity,” he said. “Children, after all, learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions. If we want them to take responsibility for their behaviour, then we have to give them responsibilities …”
Regardless of creativity and individuality, many parents may favour uniforms if for no other reason than that they’re easier when hustling a family of kids out of the house every morning. But other families do argue that school uniforms are often far too expensive, costing hundreds of dollars each year for a family with a few children.
Bill O’Chee, the former politician, told The Age that, however, that “ditching school uniforms would not only cost parents more money, [but] would be a bad idea all around”.
He said kids who didn’t wear uniforms were missing out on a powerful rite of passage.
“We need to spend more time emphasising the value of community, and how communities can only function if everyone gives up some of their own entitlement for the good of others,” he said, referring to the lesson in community that uniforms taught children.