Kids in uniform

I’ve never been a fan of uniforms in general and school uniforms in particular. Recently, I was unimpressed by the insistence of numerous state schools in Queensland that girls should be forced to wear dresses even if they would rather wear shorts or pants. The Minister eventually overrode them, but the episode was a pretty clear indication that uniform rules are about the arbitrary exercise of authority, not making kids more comfortable at school.

I was reminded of this by a report in the New Daily quoting “experts” who support school uniforms, though the text of the report suggests that there’s not much research to back this view, and what evidence there is goes both ways.

I was more surprised to read that “the jury is still out on what is more affordable, free dress or school-designed uniforms.” The report links to a school supplier who charges between $240 and $340 for a single (state school) uniform outfit. That’s far more than similar generic items would cost at Target or other stores.

Of course, lots of parents will find ways to save a bit, buying generics for the less obviously school-specific items, or finding hand-me-downs. But that undermines the supposedly equalizing effects of uniforms. At least when I was at school, it was always obvious who’d paid full price and who had patched their uniform together.

More importantly the kids aren’t going to wear their uniforms at weekends or during the holidays. So, having paid for a uniform (or more, assuming you need to wash) , parents still need to buy ordinary clothes anyway. That can’t possibly be more affordable.

46 thoughts on “Kids in uniform

  1. Good afternoon John,
    I agree that uniforms in school are old empire stuff.
    My battle for many years is compulsory uniforms for support workers in the community services sector, particularly disability.
    If inclusion in community is a primary objective, then uniforms are counter productive, as they reinforce inequality. People with disabilities need friends.
    Don’ walk ahead of me, I may not follow,
    Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
    Walk beside me and just be my friend.

  2. I preferred uniforms when I was a kid. It was nice not having to pretend to give a rats about fashion and not having to put up with peer pressure to dress cool. It ain’t broke so don’t fix it.

  3. School uniforms (at least a unique colored top) certainly help teachers manage a crowd of students away from the school.

  4. @David Allen

    I’ve thought that every time I see a group of school kids on an excursion. It must be every teacher’s gravest fear that they will lose one of them. The uniforms must help.

  5. Uniform in a state school? Pretty rare here in the province of Ontario—my nearest Catholic (publicly funded) high school has uniforms but the students (well the female ones, not sure about the males.) can wear trousers or skirts and have been for years.

    I don’t believe I have ever heard of a non-denominational school in the province having uniforms. I can see the appeal if one could assemble the uniform cheaply. The School Uniform Price List for my closest school that requires uniforms seems roughly what one would expect in most local clothing stores–says he who hates buying clothes

  6. Thanks for weighing in on this John. Girls forced to wear dresses! What is going on in Queensland? At our school in Melbourne we are supporting a gender neutral dress code, meaning ALL students can wear a dress or pants or combo.
    And yes the price of a uniform is expensive for what they are, they don’t fit anyone, and are uncomfortable. They also don’t hide poverty, so not a great ‘equaliser’.
    My three kids have never worn uniforms, they go on lots of excursions and no young person is ever lost, they don’t feel pressured to wear label clothes, nor do their class mates. These are adult fears projected onto the young people. Use that energy to encourage self confidence, and critical thinking rather than trying to make them conform and look the same.
    My daughter loves mixing it up and sometimes looks like she stepped out of Legally Blond, and other days she wears old sweat pants picked up off the floor. Her friends have their own thing going on, and it is not a big deal, except that because they are really comfortable they can focus on things that matter.
    A 12 yo friend transferred to a private school and had to wear the wool blazer in 32 degree Autumn heat in Sydney for fear of getting detention. How unhealthy is that?

  7. @Hugo – do you ever think of a female? Empathically?

    My daughter is a super tree climber. Trained from a young age on a hills hoist. Wearing a skirt, or the ridiculous ‘skort’, allows for upskirting and eventually embarrassment and therefore cultural control. Did you ever have your underpants exposed at school? Were you afraid to hang upside down on monkey bars? 

    I went along with it… for one term in kindy. “Mr kt2 your daughter must wear a skirt!”. A call to Dept Ed confirmed that the UN Charter we signed up to means that there is NO complution to wear a uniform AT ALL, except via societal and peer shaming. Not helpful. Pants forever more. Eventually the school had a vote and now girls can wear pants. Still uniforms though. 

    Simply a tool used to keep a section of the community – females – in cultural place. 

    I was not impressed with school uniforms. At my private school boaters were the hat. Fun and bullys broke many. Expensive. Smarty pants fiberglassed them and then used as weapons. Blazers and cadet uniforms saw kids drop like flies in summer assemblies. 

    Highly evolved tribalism lacking in any semblance of comfort. Doffing to empire as John Homan says “If inclusion in community is a primary objective, then uniforms are counter productive, as they reinforce inequality.”

    And I am waiting for the opposite of girls in skirts. Boys in skirts.

    “David Walliams Q&A
    Tell us a little about the show and what inspired you to write The Boy In The Dress?
    I just had an idea for a story – what would happen if a boy went to school dressed as a girl? I thought it would make a good children’s book as it was a story about children. I wanted it to be about the hypocrisy of grown-ups too, which is so frustrating when you are a child.”

    A great movie imo, highlighting the hypocrisy of ‘grown ups’.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2014/the-boy-in-the-dress
    The Boy in the Dress: Trailer – BBC One https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xrBQXxu5Qy8

    A hat does seem like a good idea for both quick location in a group and sun smart. Until year 7. But I do err on the ‘fashion may be a problem’ but not if we are secure in ourselves.

  8. Tour groups comprise adults who are less likely to inattentively wander off, and if they do that’s on them.

    When school kids are in a group with their uniform – their whole uniform – they stand out.

    I’ve seen school kids in other countries on excursion not in uniform and there is nothing distinctive about them. Even worse, there’s often other groups of indistinct kids around at the same time – different kids from different schools at the same museum. The teachers, who have one job on the day, to bring back as many kids as they started out with, always look stressed and sound stressed, even in languages I don’t understand.

    Of course, if girls want to wear shorts or pants, the school should let them. It should be part of the uniform. And uniforms, at least in public schools, should be plain and should be cheap. It can’t be that hard.

  9. Yes, on balance it is time, past time, to ditch school uniforms. However, there will still need to be a dress code. Hats which provide proper sun protection should be worn outdoors on school grounds. Wearing hats walking to and from school should be encouraged but realistically cannot be made mandatory. Proper footwear is also a necessity and ought to be defined. Closed shoes or sneakers and no high heels or platforms ought to do it (except where there are orthopedic or orthotics requirements). Sports uniforms are likely to be still necessary for team sports and maybe physical education (or at least an appropriate change of clothes for the latter case).

    Be prepared to accept sarongs, burkas, sulus, kilts etc. if people wish to wear them. Be prepared to accept these items without question as to the cultural origins of the wearer.

  10. We wore school uniforms to prepare us for slaughter. Technically, I suppose the idea was we were supposed to slaughter other people, but things were pretty nihilistic by that point and I can’t say the people in charge were very impressed with us, so there never seemed much doubt over who was actually going to get slaughtered.

    My father seemed very confident I’d die in some war and that didn’t seemed to bother him very much. Actually, he seemed to think it was a good idea. But if you want your children to live I don’t see why you’d send them to schools that make them parade around in uniforms, engage in “us against them” school sports and teach obedience without question.

    Oh wait a minute. If you don’t that probably increases the chance of your children being killed by “your own side” so you have to try to work out what gives the best outcome.

  11. KT2: @Hugo – do you ever think of a female? Empathically?

    You have unusually poor comprehension skills, KT2. I never even commented on the skirt issue.

    Just for the record, I would ditch the skirt altogether and have an identical uniform for both genders.

    I would also ban private schools and ban religious garb of any kind in schools – no turbans, no hijabs, no crucifixes etc…

  12. Hugo. Thanks for the clarification. Maybe I dont get it. Our difference is it is broken. Yet…
    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it applies to the axle in my car, not historical dress codes. This might assist your comprehension of “my preference”;

    Man fined £2,000 for upskirting at London tube station
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/01/man-who-upskirted-woman-at-tube-station-fined

    All day everyday in primary school until ‘the girls’ subconsciously submit to your “preference”.

  13. KT2: All day everyday in primary school until ‘the girls’ subconsciously submit to your “preference

    You still don’t get it. I said I would remove skirts as an option. How can I make it any clearer?

  14. This issue could be used to open a new front in the culture wars, for those who are so inclined. School uniforms, it can be argued, reek of anachronistic (English, imperial) tradition; are authoritarian, even militaristic; can be used as instruments of gender and cultural oppression; enforce students’ identification with an oppressive institution (their school): and force working class parents to spend money they can’t afford.

    And they are neo-liberal. (That one’s for you, Iko.)

    What drives cultural conservatives blind with rage? Attacks on their cherished institutions, that’s what.

    A campaign against school uniforms ticks all the boxes.

  15. Smith9: And they [school uniforms] are neo-liberal.

    School uniforms predate neoliberalism are absent from the heart of neoliberalism, the USA.

    I support school uniforms from a left perspective as they do, or should, remove gender, class and religious distinctions; encourage group identity and solidarity; and are consistent with egalitarianism.

    I imagine Nike etc… would love to see school uniforms abolished.

  16. Hugo.

    I know school uniforms are not neo-liiberal. That was me being facetious.

    I agree they encourage group identity. That might or might not be a good thing – the old school tie, and all that.

  17. Smith9: “I agree they encourage group identity. That might or might not be a good thing – the old school tie, and all that.”

    Well, yes, but I would ban private schools and end class segregated schooling. Of course the rich and their offspring would still form networks that would give them an advantage over everyone else. Tackling that inequality is a long term project.

  18. My daughter is starting full time education at the local state school on Monday. Her uniform is in the wash: Two red polo shirts, two black skorts (her choice over shorts or skirts), one red plaid Dress ($50! again her option, although I was told older girls(year 2 and up) won’t wear them), one sports shirt, one bag. $235 all. A friend at the in school clothing shop said girls won’t wear the dress once they get to year two.

    I am ambivalent about the whole thing. Apart from the relatively isolated cases in Queensland, state schools allow flexibility for self expression/fashion tribalism. School colour uniforms have thankfully replaced the grey military derived uniform of my day but now jeans seem to be out.

    Instilling conformity from an early age for compliant citizen consumers or supporting group bonding and socialisation for healthy well adjusted adults? It depends if you when conformity to fashion or institution; bonding through personal choice or common situation.

    Are loners, shy or dangerously anti social children easier to spot under either system?
    Being invisible would have more to do with class and school size than dress.

    Is it good for children to be able to form friendship and groups by clothing choices or is fashion tribalism exclusionary and lead to bullying? This seems to happen either way.

    Being able find your own place might not be a bad thing. In the uniform free US they sort them selves into freaks, geeks, jocks, ‘the in crowd’ etc.

    Is there any data comparing academic performance and bullying btween uniformed and non uniformed schools?

  19. School uniforms are ridiculous and fascistic. I didn’t have a school uniform when I was in primary school and it was fine. People just wore rubbish. I went to a school with a strict uniform and it was all the usual fascist types who enforced it. I finished at a state school where there was no uniform and it caused non of the issues proponents of uniforms warn about. Most people turned up to school in tracksuits and people who dressed in good clothes were considered wankers. In France, Germany, even the United States, school uniform are unusual and considered weird. Fine with pretentious private schools want to parade their students around in garish, overpriced blazers, but state schools have no business trying to ape the pretentiousness of private schools. Anyway, teenagers love to express and explore their identity through clothes.

  20. Thanks John, for putting this up, and putting up with this.

    Hugo. We are talking past each other. I doubt I did poorly comprehend your first comment:

    Hugo says:
    FEBRUARY 1, 2019 AT 6:08 PM
    “I preferred uniforms when I was a kid. It was nice not having to pretend to give a rats about fashion and not having to put up with peer pressure to dress cool. It ain’t broke so don’t fix it.”

    Your stated preference reads as “for” uniforms – “it ain’t broke so don’t fix it”. I of course take that to mean Hugo, you would leave uniforms policy as is. Happy to be corrected.

    My comment towards yours above introduced skirts into the dialogue and was about gender and human rights and equality, not specifically uniforms, so my apologies if my lack of specificity makes it seem, to you,  I have poor comprehension skills.

    You then, in reply to my reply, detailed your “uniform uniform” policy which to me, was contrary to your first comment.

    “”Hugo says:
    FEBRUARY 2, 2019 AT 12:22 PM
    KT2: @Hugo – do you ever think of a female? Empathically?

    You have unusually poor comprehension skills, KT2. I never even commented on the skirt issue.

    Just for the record, I would ditch the skirt altogether and have an identical uniform for both genders.

    I would also ban private schools and ban religious garb of any kind in schools – no turbans, no hijabs, no crucifixes etc…””

    A complete turn around to “it ain’t broke so don’t fix it” in your 1st comment. Maybe ala smith9 you were being sarcastic?

    I am glad you’d ban private schools (altogether?) but identical uniforms?! That is a “uniform uniform” policy, to which I would never agree with. (JL-W above: “Use that energy to encourage self confidence, and critical thinking rather than trying to make them conform and look the same.”)

    The OP states ‘forced to wear’. As John states, the minister sensibly over rode ‘forced’ but you state “uniform uniforms” – not very free and seemingly forced Hugo. I also comprehend the following extreme examples to you may seem like a trolling comment but applicable against your “uniform uniform” policy – All brown shirts maybe? Or green pants and gold top?

    And ban religious ‘garb’. Not for me unless the wearer devotes to an ‘ism’ instead of plurality. One of my relatives with a masters in religous education and on the board of Vinnies would be exceptionally eloquant at saying ‘no way’ to you. Time will render “garb” a non issue too.

    Jacinta Legge-Wilkinson gets it:
    “we are supporting a gender neutral dress code, meaning ALL students can wear a dress or pants or combo.” (Could you tell us where and how. I’ll try this at our school. I wasn’t going that far – yet. 6 – 14% one nation locally!)

    I think smith9 has it: “”can be used as instruments of gender and cultural oppression; enforce students’ identification with an oppressive institution (their school):” I’d go further smith9 and replace (their school) with ‘dominant culture’.

    When I first encountered women in power (+24yrs old), I was still saying ‘he’ this and “he” that. Did I get put in my place! To rewire my brain I would gently, ala grasshoppers master, tap myself on the cheek and correct myself before I was corrected. Took about half a year. And the final humiliation – my daughter is still correcting me. Like reverting to first language on death bed, my ‘he’ is somewhere near my amigdala, and my neocortex has a routine for correction. Old habits and dominant culture, private religious boys school. I left as soon as I had agency.

    You Hugo, haven’t quite yet ‘got it’ imho, which is fine. And I am glad you are not the minister as the pendulum would be swung, imho, too far in the other direction.

    And nothing is perfect. I believe the charter (1959) stills allows for corporal punishment. 
    “Article 12
    1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
    Convention on the Rights of the Child. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx

    Uniforms symbolise so much more. Thanks. I will leave it here.

  21. Just decked out my son for prep. $30 for a polo, $20 for shorts, That’s 250 for a weeks clothes. The same amount would have got 2 weeks at Zara, 3 weeks at target and probably, 4 to 6 weeks worth at bigw/Kmart. Yes, the uniform is hard wearing, but 100% polyester usually is. Shame about the smell.

  22. I thought this was supposed to be the one advantage central planning had. If you have the ability to force everyone to wear one thing instead of letting what people actually want to come into it you can clothe people at low cost by producing “Mao suits” or their equivalent.

    It looks like Australia is in the stupid position of forcing large numbers of people to wear particular clothes but they are particular clothes that vary from school to school so no benefit is reaped. Clearly state governments must force all schools to have the same identical uniform. Or just give up on it all together.

  23. Ah, school uniforms. I remember them all as part of our preparation to be cannon fodder for the Empire and to make the point that we were loyal British proddies, not treacherous Irish papishes like the school down the street. Lined up every morning, salute the flag – “I will do my duty, fear God and honour the Queen” was what we had to chant – and marched off to classrooms. Mind you, we had a Belfast-born headmaster and even in the late 50s a lot of the town’s adults thought it over-the-top for a state school.

    Now that we don’t do that sort of thing any more (at least I hope not) I really can’t see the point of uniforms – except, as John says, to remind the kids who’s boss.

  24. The amygdala was mentioned above.The following is interesting in this context.

    “Amygdala size has been correlated with cognitive styles with regard to political thinking. A study found that “greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala.” These findings suggest that the volume of the amygdala and anterior cingulate gyrus may be associated with an individual’s ability to tolerate uncertainty and conflict.” – Wikipedia

    https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(11)00289-2

    “Highlights:

    Political liberalism and conservatism were correlated with brain structure.
    Liberalism was associated with the gray matter volume of anterior cingulate cortex.
    Conservatism was associated with increased right amygdala size.
    Results offer possible accounts for cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives.”

    To my mind, this raises some interesting questions about free will and moral responsibility. Is a dictatorial and cruel conservative responsible for his (usually it’s a him) attitudes and actions? Or is he hard-wired, to some extent, to be like this? Can he “help it” in other words? I would suggest, pragmatically, that if he cannot help it, then we who oppose him also “cannot help” opposing him (as we too would be hard-wired albeit differently to him). The outcome is the same. He oppresses, we oppose. The moral arguments almost seem beside the point if this is the nature of humans (if free will is largely a myth).

    My position? I cannot state categorically that free will does not exist. However, I can state that I think if human free will does exist it has a much narrower ambit and is much more conditioned by other determining factors that most people believe. In other words, we have much less free will than we think we have. The idea of untrammeled “free will” is perhaps one of the greatest of shibboleths, shared by religionists and humanists alike, and a prop for much moral vanity on all sides.

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