Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Would Have Voted No...

School will be starting up again here in just nine days. We, in my family, are pretty much set and ready to go. There were some great sales online for school supplies, so boxes are arriving daily. That makes the boys happy. They like to open boxes (even if the contents are only pencils, folders, packets of lined paper and high lighters,) pop the bubble wrap and do crafts with the boxes.

In the not so rushed preparations to get the kids ready to start this new school year, I had a few other little unpleasant tasks to do besides making sure the school supplies were all purchased and put into the new back packs. I had to buy then wash, dry, fold and put away the school uniforms.

There are a lot of arguments to back the benefits of uniforms for school. They're supposed to keep  inappropriate clothing out of the school environment, prevent competition among the kids, promote neatness and orderliness, and be more cost effective and, therefore, less of a financial burden to families.

I'm sure there are other merits to add to that list. I just can't think of them. I can, however, think of a whole host of reasons not to require school uniforms. Had I been given a chance to state my opinion on whether or not to require uniforms for the schools my children have attended, I would have voted a resounding no.

When I was growing up, I attended both public and private parochial schools. I know what it's like to be a child forced to wear a uniform. Kids don't like it. I (and my fellow uniform wearers) did not like it then and I know that kids (mine, and I'm sure others) don't like having to do it now.

We all longed for those very few "free dress" days, usually limited to picture day and field day and the student's birthday (bummer for kids born during vacation times.) We got to be individuals then, wear our favorite colors, express a sense of style and, most importantly, have a whole day free of those ugly, unflattering and uncomfortable uniforms!

Children have very few opportunities to exercise personal options and to make good choices for themselves. They are told what to eat and when, where to go and when, when to study, where to attend school, when to go to bed, where and with what and with whom they may play, what they can and should read, what they can watch on television and for how long. These are not necessarily bad things! Children should have structure and rules and to learn to follow boundries.

But kids should also have some options. How else will they learn to make good choices? To discover who and what they are and to develop a sense of themselves? I believe that school uniforms rob children of one of the best forms of self expression available to them. I, and I'm sure I'm not alone, wouldn't purchase anything for my children that wouldn't be appropriate for them to wear at school, anyway. If the parents are  providing only appropriate clothing, there is no reason for kids not to wear what they select, from among those wardrobe options provided, to school.

My thoughts always run along these lines when this time of year rolls around. I think back to my childhood (when I went to a uniformless public school) and memories of back-to-school shopping trips are kindled. I recall trips to store after store with my mother and my siblings, Mom shopping for bargains while keeping our sizes, favorite colors and current styles in mind. She would allow us to present things to her, but she had the final decision based on price and what she thought was appropriate for children of our ages.

These are fond memories for me. I would hate to think my own children would lack the same kind of experiences because they are required to wear uniforms and there is no reason to shop, except to see if the same-old-same-old fits. There's nothing exciting about back-to-school shopping in that for a child.

My children are not deprived of the shopping experience though. Despite their school requiring uniforms, we still need to go shopping for every day clothing for them. Which leads me to say that a school uniform policy does not lessen the expense to families when it comes to purchasing clothing for its younger members.

To preserve the school uniform from stains and the wear and tear caused by every day play, my kids have to change out of their uniforms when they get home from school. That means they have to wear regular, every day clothes, every day. And they, obviously, won't be wearing uniforms on the weekend. Clothing has to be provided for their daily wear whether or not uniforms are worn. So uniforms are an extra expense not a savings!

Add to that the fact that almost all schools require a white shirt as part of the uniform ensemble. Just wearing these white shirts to school, my two elementary aged boys gather pencil and ink marks, food stains, smudges from activities on the playground... I pretreat every stain, bleach every load of whites but by the time we move into winter break, ten shirts (between two boys) still have to be replaced because they look dingy and no amount of careful laundering got the stains out. I point out again that this is not a savings!

And since I've brought up the subject of laundry, I need to say that school uniforms put a serious burden on the family when it comes to that!

My children wear three different sets of clothing a day. Their school uniforms are put on in the morning and worn to school, play clothes are donned as soon as they get home and worn for about four hours and then, after baths, they change once again into pajamas. All of that laundry has to be done, plus towels, bedding and the laundry of the other members of the family who aren't required to wear uniforms. With two school aged uniform wearing children in my home, my laundry is increased by at least one quarter because of those uniforms. Those are extra clothes to pretreat (especially the whites,) launder, fold and put away. This does not make things easier for a parent. It makes it harder.

The worst part about uniforms when it comes to laundry, though, is that it takes good quality time away from family. During the school year, it is absolutely impossible for my family to take weekend excursions. Purchasing school uniforms and regular clothing, too, is already expensive. I can't afford to buy extras. My children have enough uniform shirts and pants to get them through one five day week of school  and those clothes have to be washed every single weekend. I can't miss a day of doing the uniform laundry, so we can't go anywhere for weekend get-aways. If I didn't have to purchase an entire week's worth of uniforms for two boys, I would always have several extra things for both to wear. I wouldn't be held to such a rigid laundry schedule and we could spend more and better quality family time taking short trips away from home.

I've talked to a lot of parents and they have the same issues with uniforms that I do, and yet schools still require them knowing that parents are unhappy about them and that children don't like them, either. They must know that children would much rather be wearing street clothing, at least at my kids' school. They must know that not wearing uniforms is a valuable commodity since they charge for the priveledge of free dress days! Our school schedules those days and then put out notices that if the kids want to participate they can pay a dollar to wear jeans or have total free dress. The school uses free dress as a fund-raising tactic. Those dollars raised go to support our troops, or to children with special needs, or to some other worthy cause.

I don't mind the ocassional fund raiser and I am all for donating to worthy causes. They are welcome to those dollars from me... What I do mind is how they go about "asking" for those donations. Uniforms take away my choice to donate to the charities of my choosing. If I should choose not to support a particular cause they are promoting, my children would suffer. They would lose the chance at a day of comfort in clothes they enjoy wearing and they would be left out and the only ones not permitted free dress when all of the other kids had the chance at the cost of a dollar. To me, that is tantamount to emotional blackmail. They hold my children's happiness and comfort hostage for a buck. I believe that "fund-raising" like this can promote the very kind of competition uniforms are suppose to suppress as well as helping to ostracize children and adding a cause for bullying.

If it was my choice, schools would not require uniforms, but the trend seems to be for all schools, private and public, to adopt a uniform policy. Even if my children were to change schools due to a move or for any other reason, I can pretty much count on the next school to require a uniform, too. But all schools have a different uniform. Chances are the new school won't have the same one as the last. (They didn't when we changed schools this past year.) So, even more expense. My children and I wouldn't have anymore say in this when transfering to a new school than in the previous one.

There is an opt out for the uniform policy in some schools, but if all of the other kids are wearing the uniforms, how can a parent choose this option for their child? How can a parent make their child the one child in an entire school of uniform clad kids to be wearing street clothes? That seems to be the only option to express a desire for a no uniform policy, but how can a parent exercise that option without making their child a social outsider?

When it comes to uniforms in schools, parents and children have no vote. It's all up to the school. I wish it was up to the school to pay the extra expenses for the decision they make for all of us and to do the laundry, too.

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