OPINION: Make uniforms mandatory in schools

Once thought of as a bad idea, the writer now thinks differently about school uniforms

By Derek Lewers

When I was younger, my parents wanted me to attend private school. It was something that I didn’t have a problem with, until I learned about the dreaded “school uniform.”

I would sooner have cut off my right arm than wear a uniform. The year was 1986, and that’ was how I thought. There was no way I was going to be stuffed into a uniform and have my peers mock me.

Fast forward some 30-plus years, and I now find myself realizing that the 14-year-old me didn’t have a clue, and the uniform would have been a great idea.

This stood out for me recently, as on a recent trip to the Caribbean, I was in a country where all the school children were in uniform.

The first thing I recognized was that I could easily identify students as students, and secondly, how good they all looked.

I knew what I thought of the uniforms when I saw them, but appreciated that, at nearly 50, my views on the subject are most likely not in line with the youth of the day.

So, since I found myself riding a lot of public transit during my stay, I decided to engage with the local youth while on the buses and at the bus stops, and ask them what they thought of their uniforms.

To my surprise, the response from these children ages from about 9-17, were unanimous. They all loved their uniforms. When I asked why that was, the answers were again, nearly unanimous, with the two top factors being, they didn’t have to shop for clothes, and secondly, they were all the same and not judged on appearance.

It was with the second reason that I really understood how school uniforms are the great equalizer. There is a long standing saying, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and being that the clothes we wear every day cover more than 90 per cent of our bodies, we are judged by the clothes we wear.

Moving our schools to a uniform would be the great equalizer. It would not matter rich or poor, all children would, for the most part, look the same. The children would then have the opportunity to be judged by both teachers and peers, for what is on the inside. They would not face criticism from their peers if they didn’t have the latest fashion, or if someone had worn out shoes, and bullying based on appearance would almost disappear.

There is also the great opportunity to create healthy rivalries between schools and renew school pride.

Now some of you are going to argue about freedom of expression and individuality. I can assure you, I thought of this too, and I asked these kids about that.

Not one of them expressed any concern about that, and they said that after school they have their own expression of dress and individuality. I can also say first hand, that the adult population of this island nation certainly did not lack individuality or seemed oppressed in their freedom of expression.

I also take a look around me, and see where uniforms come into play in the adult world, from Walmart, to pest-control, to UPS and our emergency services and beyond. Our adult world is full of uniforms and in many cases, we admire and respect those wearing them.

So, you see, it appears the 14-year-old me was wrong (shocker), and I should have embraced the change.

For those that are wondering, no, I never did go to private school, because I dug in on this issue. Only time will tell if I am better or worse off for that decision back then, but looking back then and looking forward now, I can say with all certainty, that uniforms should be mandatory in schools, for everyone’s benefit.

•••

Derek Lewers is a long-time political commentator, activist, and the father of two boys. He lives in Sooke.

Column

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