Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Uniform Student...

Hi, folks remember me? Anyone? No? Well, I tried.

Anyway. In an unanimous vote, the Springfield School Committee voted to establish a uniform for all students beginning with the 2008-2009 school year. The plan is meant to reduce the emphasis on clothing among students, establish discipline, and limit the ability of gangs to use clothing as a means for identification. The uniform code released sounds more like a dress code than an actually uniform like a Catholic School student may find. Still, it is a revolutionary step.

The effectiveness of school uniforms is debatable. Additionally, it runs aground freedom of expression. Although they have been survived judicial scrutiny, many remain concerned from a civil libertarian point of view. This view cannot be ignored, however, as schools, particularly urban districts, grapple for solutions, students' First Amendment issues are not gravely threatened.

Uniforms are an integral part of both the experience and the success of Catholic schools. However, there are a number of elements that Catholic schools possess that public schools will never have that make them successful. Certainly, bad eggs exist at the Catholic schools, too. Instilling discipline upon students with a uniform allows faculty to cast a wider net and create a new system by which a broken windows policy can operate. In other words, something small like a uniform violation being enforced may discourage worse behavior.

Least important in all of this is the notion of fashion. Students will be more focused on studies than clothes. This is a concern, no doubt, but in Springfield it is not the clothes (unless you are a gang member) that is distracting you. Plus, a uniform, however, cheaper by itself, essentially requires parents to maintain two sets of clothes for their kids: school and casual. The School Committee made the right decision by planning to start a fund and donation system to aid needier students. If done right, it can also be discreet.

For now, everybody needs to take a wait and see approach. Uniforms are unlikely to make anything worse. However, it is unknown if things will improve. In the meantime, officials must continue their work that will benefit students in the classroom and bring parents into the fold more. Hopefully, this action will not be held up by the less worthy School Committee members as proof of real action and change.

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