One of the ethical issues that are particularly relevant to young people all around the world today is the presence of uniforms in schools. At first, my school did not set any rules with regards to school uniforms or school clothes for students. However, when I moved to 8th grade, a new principal came to the school, and one of his first decisions was to make all students wear a uniform to school. The proposed uniform consisted of a checked skirt for girls or gray trousers for boys, a white shirt, and a jacket with the school’s emblem on it. The new rules created turmoil among the parents and the students. Some of the parents decided to start a petition to cancel the school uniform, whereas others said that the new rules were reasonable and appropriate for the classroom.
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There were many arguments for the introduction of school uniforms. For instance, the teachers claimed that some girls’ clothes were too revealing, thus provoking inappropriate behavior in boys. In this case, having girls wear a uniform would help to ensure that they do not receive any unwanted sexual attention. The principal, on the other hand, noted that there are cases when students are bullied because of what they wear. For instance, students from poorer families were not able to afford the same clothes as their classmates coming from more well-off families had and were often mocked for their cheap clothes. Finally, a lot of parents felt that their kids were spending too much time deciding what to wear to school and the introduction of school uniforms would make them more focused on their studies.
So, with three solid reasons to make students wear a uniform, why was this a major ethical issue that created so much turmoil in the school? First, many students felt that wearing the same clothes to school would deprive them of their individuality and freedom of expression: “Clothing may be a means by which students indicate the social group to which they belong, the activities they participate in, or their attitudes toward society and the school environment” (Vopat, 2010, p. 206). Indeed, Vopat (2010) describes several cases when the introduction of school uniforms led to lawsuits against the school because parents and students claimed their rights for the freedom of expression and freedom of speech were violated. For many children and teenagers, secondary school is the time to make friends and engage in social activities, but it is also the time to experiment with their looks to find out what they like and what suits them best. Given the number of times children spend on their studies, school becomes the ultimate platform for self-expression, both by means of spoken communication and by dressing up in a particular way.
Classmates become their second family, and the desire to look good in front of the people whose opinion matters to you is natural at this stage of life. Moreover, setting a school uniform would not eliminate the issue of certain kids mocking others for cheap clothes. There is a great variety of school uniforms available in shops in a broad price range, so there is still a chance that children whose parents can afford a good-quality expensive jacket instead of a cheaper one bought in a supermarket will mock those whose families are not as affluent. Moreover, an article from The Mirror reveals that cheaper uniforms sold in supermarkets are actually made by workers from developing countries who are not paid fairly for the job (Chamberlain, 2015). This fact makes uniforms more affordable; however, it is unethical to support the exploitation of cheap labor. Finally, in some cases, the rules regarding the students’ school clothes may go against the students’ religious beliefs: “the recent incidents discussed earlier suggest that the right of students to wear religious attire and symbols is not necessarily guaranteed in the public school context, and these rights will continue to be challenged in the future” (Ali, 2013, p. 17). For instance, Ali (2013) argues, Muslim girls might not be allowed to wear hijabs to school (p. 8-9). For Muslim women, hijabs are an integral part of their religious expression, which makes it unfair to refuse them the right to wear it to schools.
The negative ethical implications of the mandatory school uniform policy far outweigh its perceived benefits – especially in spite of the fact that, as Ali (2014) argues, research proved these to be false: “Uniforms have not deterred absenteeism, behavioral problems, substance abuse, violence, poor academic achievement, or poor school attitudes” (p. 35). The best way of addressing this ethical dilemma, therefore, is to cancel mandatory uniform policies in schools. This would help to ensure that the student’s rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion are not violated.
Overall, in the case of school uniforms, ethical conflict occurred because the perceived benefits of the policy made some people disregard the real implications of introducing school uniforms. It is important to mediate this type of ethical conflict by spreading awareness of the ethical implications connected with certain policies to help people make thoughtful ethical decisions.
Ali, F. (2013). Students’ religious liberty: Religious attire and symbols in American public schools. Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, 15(1), 1-46.
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Chamberlain, G. (2015). Tesco and Sainsbury school uniforms made by workers paid 25p an hour. The Mirror. Web.
Vopat, M. C. (2014). Mandatory school uniforms and freedom of expression. Ethics and Education, 5(3), 203-215. Web.