The Effect of Uniforms on School Diversity and Inclusion 

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Now, more than ever, public schools are looking to school uniforms as one of many ways to address complex social and academic issues both in and outside of the classroom. As a “safe haven” of sorts, schools are expected to protect children from conditions of poverty, crime, and family strife. It is through the implementation of select programs and strategies that schools have attempted to change behavior and target young children to shape prosocial attitudes and behaviors. Specifically, through stricter, more authoritarian action, schools have attempted to ensure academic achievement while also imparting appropriate values, attitudes, and behavior on their students (Murphy, 1997). One of these approaches have been the implementation of school uniforms. But, does a uniform really correlate to improved academic and social achievements? Unfortunately, there is a relatively limited amount of research available on this topic; additionally, the research that does exist is poor in quality, thereby making evaluating the impact of uniform policies in schools increasingly difficult.

Although the implementation of school uniforms can be considered problematic in light of democratic ideas of individualism which are typically taught and valued, I will use this paper to disprove said claims (Posner, 1996). Specifically, I aim to answer the research question: ‘Does the implementation of school uniforms work to enhance or stifle diversity initiatives meant to promote inclusion?’ My two hypotheses were: the enforcement of a school uniform enhances diversity initiatives meant to promote inclusion, and the enforcement of a school uniform stifles diversity initiatives meant to promote inclusion. I will start by explaining the origins of school uniforms. Next, I will explain how uniforms positively impact self-image, enhance student’s sense of belonging, and act as a diminution of the perception of “differences” between those with varying socioeconomic statuses. Ultimately, however, I will claim that school uniforms enhance opportunity for equality among all students.

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Since the 1980s, the prevalence of school uniforms in urban districts has steadily increased. This rise can be attributed to growing problems such as poor academic achievement (reflected in lower standardized test scores) and an increase in discipline problems (Murphy, 1997). Today, as many as 25% of US elementary and middle schools currently have formal or optional uniform policies (Joseph, 1986). As a small but meaningful improvement that costs the government relatively little money, uniforms have been thought to improve the school environment. Specifically, uniforms are thought to be an expression of discipline, moral authority, the value of hard work, community spirit, and self control (Murphy, 1997). Furthermore, uniforms have also been thought to be an efficient equalizer in a school where some students have a great deal of family resources and others do not.

Historically, teacher’s judgements of students’ academic achievement has been affected not only by the achievement, itself, but also by ethnicity and minority status (Moller, 2016). It is from these explicit and implicit judgements of achievement that teachers make instructional decisions such as choosing classroom activities, selecting learning materials, determining pace of class instruction, (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Hoge, 1983; Hoge & Coladarci, 1989; Voss et al., 2011). It is with this in mind that the judgement of student ability becomes increasingly important in productive instruction (Elliott, Lee, & Tollefson, 2001; Ready & Wright, 2011). Nationally, it is true that ethnic minority students, compared with Caucasian students, tend to score lower on large scale assessments and are more likely to drop out of school; the characteristically low achievement of minority students seem to lead to lower teacher expectations (Moller, 2016; Tenenbaum & Ruck, 2007).

Thus, it is quite likely that teachers may discriminate against ethnic minority students based on their varying expectations of students by race and ethnicity (McKown & Weinstein, 2008; Tenenbaum & Ruck, 2007). In their study, Dusek and Joseph (1983) found that teachers had lower expectations of students’ achievement for African American students and Mexican students compared with Caucasian students. A more recent meta analysis conducted by Tenenbaum & Ruck (2007) corroborates these findings, concluding that the expectations for Caucasian students were significantly higher than that of Latino/a and African American students. Specifically, Tenenbaum & Ruck (2007) found that participants, when viewing photographs, watching videotape, or listening to audiotapes, had more positive feedback for Caucasian children than for that of ethnic minorities. CONCLUDING SENTENCE

According to Joseph (1986), self-image is shaped by occupational norms. Specifically, in emphasizing the dominance of ones occupational status as a student, the respectful behaviors typically appropriate in school settings are enforced. It is in wearing a uniform that a certain psychological identification with a group or community affiliation is solidified (SOURCE). In other words, the perception of a group affiliation tends to be instituted by uniforms and is, ideally, incorporated into the behavior of the “wearer” him/herself. Uniforms tend to affect not only the wearer but also the organization, as the presence of a uniform usually implies a coherent group structured with both norms and goals (Solomon, 1987). Thus, in instituting uniforms, democracy is promoting by eliminating the appearance of social class differences. It is in equalizing all types of students that promoting pride and unity as a community is made easier. Specifically, uniforms are thought to underscore common membership, allegiance to some set of rules, and the probability of similar experiences (Posner, 1996). As put by Baumann and Krskova (2016), a uniform, “indicates membership of a group in a social environment”.

By eliminating the prevalence of appearance-based judgement, uniforms have also been thought to enhance a student’s sense of belonging. More generally, however, it was found that individuals tend to believe that the well-dressed are more diligent, intelligent, and hardworking than those who are poorly dressed (Murphy, 1997). It is thus thought that uniforms may contribute to a greater sense of belonging for all children, despite economic and cultural disparities (Solomon, 1987). This is imperative, as school children find a great need to belong with and look like their peers (Pate, 1999).

It isn’t surprising that students tend to judge their peers based on appearance. In a study conducted by Behling (1994), students were asked to give their perceptions of photographs of children in uniform and non-uniform dress (controlling for variables such as ethnicity, and facial expressions). From this experiment, it was concluded that students and teachers, alike, tend to perceive that uniformed students were both better behaved and more academically successful, while students in old and “raggy” jeans tended to be consistently considered less so (Behling, 1994). With the implementation of school uniforms, it is thought that students would be forced to judge kids based on who they are, rather than what they wear.

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