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When Schools Re-Open: Will We Rethink Dress Codes among Students?

Dress Codes in Schools

COVID-19 has brought everything to a halt but soon we may deal with its deadly effects and get back to our normal order of activities.

And when everything normalizes, we should strive to do better than before. The issues of school dress codes, for instance, should be re-analyzed.

This topic matters because we can’t dispute the critical role of traditional schools even as we pace the shift to digital learning and assessment methods.

It’s not everyday topic because the education system is probably comfortable with the status quo. But that may not be the case for parents, teachers and especially students, who are affected directly.

In the previous years, parents, teachers and learners have been in dilemma concerning student’s dress code with some questioning whether uniforms are really a goldmine or a minefield.

Because of this indecision, urban public schools have experienced challenges regarding the students’ attire.

The main setbacks faced include; antisocial characteristics, dismal academic performance and illegal behavior like verbal mocking and cases of theft. In the worst cases, the violence that results from such theft leads to murder.

To some educators, uniforms are the best way to curb such antisocial habits, improve the performance of students and foster conformity to institutional laws.

While to some learners, parents and educators, uniforms are a breach of the students’ and parents’ rights. Educators like Paulo Freire, feel education system as whole—dress codes included— is to blame for all these crimes.

He refers to educational system as a banking approach where the system deposits ideas into student’s minds thereby denying them the important aspect of conscientization— the process by which a person consciously shapes out of what he or she learns.

The one-sidedness of policies on the issue of school uniforms has been blamed for the failure of the technique as a method to reduce these antisocial characteristics.

Many who are against uniforms have suggested that trying to address these social evils by forcing a dress code on students is a less satisfactory approach. Instead, the likes of Freire suggest that the problem should be solved from its roots.

First, we should start by creating a fair educator-leaner environment that seeks the opinion of both parties and stopping the “oppression”.

Here is an in-depth two-sided discussion of dress codes in schools with one side alleging that uniforms are the remedy. And the other side denouncing them and suggesting that the student and parents’ rights be considered if we are going to reduce social impunity.

Common Problems and Why Uniforms are considered a Remedy.

To counter the increasing social crimes, most schools in main urban areas use different kinds of uniforms or dress codes. But there are still doubts as to whether these interventions will offer answers to problems related to student attire.

Some of the problems relating to student appearance, dressing code and behavior may be classified into four areas:

1. Excessive attention on looks and clothing as from late childhood through adolescence.

2. Tainted values and bad attitude towards self and others.

3. Participation in antisocial behavior, sometimes criminal acts.

4. Disruptive dressing at home, work, school or in any other social gatherings.

Psychologists have confirmed that clothing & appearance largely influences personal as well as group behavior. You can tell one or two things about a person’s status from the way they dress. The same way, a person’s attire can reflect their values.

It is a usual characteristic for people of different ages to use attire to express different personalities and sometimes, group conformity.

But youths tend to follow a particular style of clothing to fit in specific groups. Sometimes, students, more so in schools that have less strict codes, may dress in clothing that seems ridiculous or disrespectful to adults.

Young people often get preoccupied with looks and clothing. And these days, designer-label items and brands endorsed by celebrities set the standards for students. Youth view these as the equal of competence, success and power. 

1. Problems in Schools.

Grades and performance drop when more attention is given to looks than books. For instance, scholars have observed that that some students would rather spend on market-latest outfit and accessories than on books & stationery.

In some instances, students skip school or labor for long after school to fund their expensive wardrobes. In the worst cases, others join gangs and take part in illegal activities to keep up with the rapidly changing trends. In fact, educators have complained that students view schools as an excellent platform to show off their latest fashions.

At times, competition over attire results in verbal mockery, fights, or even deaths. And most threatening are the upcoming clothing trends that relate to violence, drugs and defiance to authority. 2.

Problems in the Community Setting.

Families, pals and the community at large are involved when students are victims or perpetrators of crime triggered due to competition for clothing. Plus, the manufacturers & retailers who deal in these products may be criticized for advertising and selling to youths. Or worse still, local businesses could be targeted by student gangs.

Dress Codes & African American Students.

African American students often face dress-code related problems. The reasons why this occurs include: 1.

Reaction to discrimination.

Sometimes African American students receive provocative messages from white students about origin, skin color, hair texture and facial looks which may push to indulge in certain high status clothing and accessories to cover up for their devalued status.

This discrimination may make them eager to show off their wealth status to prove that the opposite is true. And the problem worsens when the need to keep up with these trends arises because some may turn to robbery or peddle drugs for money. 2.

Cultural Heritage.

African American dressing trends are characterized by bold bright-colored designs, and elaborate accessories.

This cultural influence may follow them to schools; others trying to accessories their uniforms with gold chains which may lead to dress code scandals either with the school administration or fellow students. 3.

Discrimination from the Media.

Low earning American youth, particularly males are the target of media reports when cases of violence or murder due to dress codes are reported.

And because these events are “gossip” to millennials, they move from one social network to the other, become topics in radio and TV shows and it all ends in discrimination and criticism.

Regrettably, the media, in most cases, fail to look into the source of the problem before criticizing the perpetrator. And not once have we seen the media judge the African American youth founded on their looks, ethnicity and dress codes. 4.

Material influence.

Like all youths, African American students have become influenced by materialistic nature of the present society. They make up a huge percentage of billion-dollar markets like accessories and shoes, and are these days a common target for manufacturers. 5.

Free-Floating Anger.

Some of the economically challenged youths may exhibit violent behavior due to free-floating anger toward fellow students and themselves.

Because the society discriminates against them and allows them only a few opportunities to make it in school, at work and in different aspects of life, they may be volatile to small provocations concerning outfits or looks.

Possible Solutions to Immoralities due to Dressing in Schools.

Educational institutions can help come up with strategies to address problems related to dress codes and appearance.

Several public schools have come up with attire that prohibit or recommend certain grooming practices.

More stringent institutions have insisted on uniforms. However, these policies vary significantly from school to school as this decision is often left for principals and teachers.

It is like higher authorities are trying to practice full participatory governance and avoid lawsuits relating to violation of the students’ rights.

But despite these large variations, most public schools have the same opinion on what’s considered acceptable and what is prohibited.

Specific outfits or accessories are not allowed in schools. Gold accessories, leather coats, miniskirts and many other items that may cause antisocial behavior or destruct others are not allowed.

Still for most public schools, the use of uniforms is still the preferred remedy. Those advocating for school uniforms say they do so for several reasons: 1.

Symbolize schools as a learning Institution.

Uniforms symbolize the school as learning institution and certify each student as a legal member of the organization. Moreover, they conceal status. 2.

Bring a sense of oneness.

Some educators believe uniforms can foster a feeling of togetherness and oneness among learners and reduce the disparity between the well-off and the have-nots. 3.

They can promote adherence to institutional rules and goals.

Some principals have reported that uniforms promote adherence to school goals. For example, a principal has reported a drop in the number of dress code related among students and a more positive interaction. 4.

They can reduce spending on clothing and accessories.

Uniforms are an excellent way to save on clothing and accessory related expenses. The money youths spend in keeping up with trends can be more useful if invested elsewhere.

A different Opinion on Dress Codes in Schools.

On the other hand, not all educators, school officials, learners, and parents are for the idea of uniforms. There’s the group of people feels that the education system is a pedagogy used to oppress the leaner. And the idea of school uniforms is part of how educators are oppressing students.

“Education either works as an instrument used to make possible the integration of the youth into the existing system and leaf to conformity or the practice of freedom by which scholars deal critically & creatively with reality and learn how to take part in transforming their world” (Freire, 1970).

The learners, parents and some educators like Paulo Friere, author of the influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed that addresses similar matters in schools oppose uniforms for several reasons;

1. They restrict the student & parents’ rights to freely express themselves

2. They restrict the youth from taking part in their normal developmental goals of identifying themselves to specific clothing or bodily looks

3. They intrude into the students’ (and parents’) private lives.

4. And lastly, there is no conclusive evidence linking improved academic performance to good social behavior to dress codes in schools.

In addition, some argue that uniforms are not a solution as main social problems are still on the rise. For that reason, educators must consider the issues listed below when analyzing the benefits and disadvantaged of uniforms as a code of dressing in schools.

1. The Student’s right to express their identity through looks within schools

2. The rights of educators to make dress code policies even when various human rights groups seek to protect the students’ rights to dress & look as they desire.

3. The parents’ right to socialize their kids in accordance to their values which may disagree with some institutional dress code policies.

4. The role of manufacturers and in making and selling clothing as well as “questionable” items to students.

First, some feel the idea that school dress codes affect all scholars equally is untrue. Despite the false equivalence, and reasons educators give as explanations, they have not set the same standard of codes and behavior for males and females.

In most cases, girls, boy of color and gender non-conforming learners are targeted, humiliated and penalized. Girls are largely affected than any other gender.

The bottom line for social acceptability of gender based dress coding children sets the stage for allows for other forms of concurrent discrimination that often lead to class as well as racial inequities.

Most times, schools set the white male’s standards as the code for all students. Moreover, stereotypes concerning race, hyper sexuality, as well as factors like “maturity or size greatly affect the educational experience of young African American and Hispanic girls.

Second, the language and methods used to push learners to toe the line encourages the spread of stereotypes thus fostering a bullying culture.

A stringent gender-based code that’s aggressively enforced is a sign of a system where gender-based harassment is imminent. For instance, religious or church-founded schools openly use dress codes to encourage “gender distinctiveness.”

Gender-based dressing and many other forms of discrimination like having boys and girl line up in different queues have less to do with class performance than they do with the oppression to conform.

In pedagogy of the oppressed, the author shows how oppression is a problem— and the role of the oppressor (educators) and the oppressed (scholars).

He attempts to examine how power between the oppressor & oppressed remains balanced and eventually realizes that "Freedom is achieved by conquest, and not by gift. You must pursue it constantly and responsibly. It is not merely an ideal located outside man; nor is it a concept which becomes myth. It is instead a necessary condition to live as complete humans".

To Freire, freedom is the result of praxis— when we actually achieve the equilibrium between theory and action.

In an attempt to explain the status quo in schools, Freire uses "banking" approach to describe the existing education system using a metaphor that views students as empty bank accounts that remain open to the educator’s deposits.

He rejects this kind of approach claiming that it leads to dehumanization of both scholars and educators.

He argues this banking approach fosters oppressive attitudes and practices seen among scholars. In its place, Freire proposes a more thought out mutual approach to education and all aspects surrounding it including attire which he believes will encourage better learning and attitudes.

The author suggests that a “better” approach to education should allow people to identify their incompleteness and work hard to be fully human.

This idea of using education as way to consciously shape students is known as conscientization. The term was first made up by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.



In the previous years, parents, teachers and learners have been in dilemma concerning student’s dress code with some questioning whether uniforms are really a goldmine or a minefield.

Because of this indecision, urban public schools have experienced challenges regarding the students’ attire.

Many who are against uniforms have suggested that trying to address these social evils by forcing a dress code on students is a less satisfactory approach.

But whether uniforms are a goldmine or minefield remain a bone of contention among the various parties in the education system. Still, we can’t ignore the topic because it directly influences student performance.

The education community is yet to come up with a reasonable solution to this problem. But students and parents feel laxity among educators is to blame for the status quo.

To avoid mixed feelings, we stop ignoring this important agenda and come up with a longstanding solution to our problems.

Contributor: admin
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