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Are school uniforms unconsitutional?

Old 05-20-07, 05:27 PM
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Are school uniforms unconsitutional?

Follow-up to a closed thread -- I actually wanted to discuss this point, minus any kind of McCarthyist debate. Here's a link to the Time magazine article:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/ar...619549,00.html

Now, as I understand it... "students do not shed their Constituitional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door" re: Tinker vs. Des Moines (1969). In Bethel vs. Fraser (1988), the position was refined to declare administrative censorship constituitional as long as it "interfered with legitimate educational and disciplinary objectives".

The question is whether public school uniforms have a legitimate educational or disciplinary objective. A 1998 study found that "school uniforms did not lead to an improvement in attendance, behavior, drug use, or academic achievement." There is no evidence that it curtails gang activity. There is no evidence that it improves student self-esteem. In my opinion, I believe school uniforms are nothing but a futile panacea for the ills of our modern educational system; rather than focus on class size, or improved parent involvement (two facets that consistently lead to improved academic performance), we'd rather toss a bone to the "back to basics" crowd and implement some meaningless "dress code" to strip away our student's individuality. Thus, absent any real educational or disciplinary objective... school uniforms are unconstitutional.

(Full disclosure: both of my kids go to a charter school, and they are required to wear uniforms. I don't like this, but the educational environment is otherwise good enough that I grit my teeth and bare it.)

I think it is pretty well established that clothing falls under the protection of the 1st Ammendment. What if a student at a school that required uniforms wanted to wear a Bush T-shirt to class? Or a Greenpeace shirt? Or a shirt that said "I Love Jesus"? Where does the line stand between promoting academic excellence and denying students their constitutional right to self-expression?
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Old 05-20-07, 05:38 PM
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Schools are largely run by the government and have compulsory attendence. Those two facts are key.

There are basic conditions that a school needs to maintain, and it can only do so by restricting substantially the behavior/activities of the student body. A great many of these restrictions could be seen to violate the civil liberties of the students, yet most have existed since before any of us were born.

The only way to truly balance the educational needs of our schools with the BoR is to basically recognize that children do not enjoy all Constitutional protections, at least while on school grounds.

As for dress codes specifically, I have no real comments to add. If they don't work, they don't work. However, their effectiveness really has only minimal bearing on the discussion.
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Old 05-20-07, 06:03 PM
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Originally Posted by JustinS
The only way to truly balance the educational needs of our schools with the BoR is to basically recognize that children do not enjoy all Constitutional protections, at least while on school grounds.
That position seems to run counter to the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, though.
Originally Posted by JustinS
As for dress codes specifically, I have no real comments to add. If they don't work, they don't work. However, their effectiveness really has only minimal bearing on the discussion.
I disagree. School uniforms would seem to be a direct violation of a student's right to self-expression. Unless it can be shown that enforcing a rigorous dress code has a "legitimate educational or disciplinary objective", then it should be found unconstitutional.
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Old 05-20-07, 06:11 PM
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Originally Posted by NCMojo
That position seems to run counter to the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, though.
I concur with that. In this case, however, I feel that the SC is completely out to lunch.

I disagree. School uniforms would seem to be a direct violation of a student's right to self-expression. Unless it can be shown that enforcing a rigorous dress code has a "legitimate educational or disciplinary objective", then it should be found unconstitutional.
There is a rather substantial difference between showing that dress codes have such an objective and in showing that dress codes are actually effective. I don't think it would be difficult at all to demonstrate that dress codes are almost exclusively enacted in pursuit of the very objective that the SC specified.
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Old 05-20-07, 06:12 PM
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Good, I'll argue without calling my counterparts anything.

My arguments:
- there is no pressing need for school uniforms
- school uniforms are not effective and don't serve their purpose
- free speech is an extremely fundamental freedom, and as such, the state should be impartial and not impose any restrictions without extremely qualified justifications.


As for my comments that school uniforms are not effectice... school uniforms don't remove elements of competition one bit. So you're in the same clothes. Great. Appearence? Jewelry/watches? Heck, even shoes? Natural looks? Tall, short, skinny, fat muscular or flabby, charm/no charm, intimidation/no intimidation, etc.
It's bull, it's "signal" law. We in our great democracy pass a law and somehow feel we're serving some purpose, meeting some requirement, tending to something. But it's crap, and it infringes on those who simply want to wear whatever clothing they want.

Are school uniforms some pressing need? No. Look at free speech restrictions.. racism, slander, threats, etc. These are for a VAST majority of people areas where free speech can be limited because the justifications are qualified. Because there is a direct need in the population to govern this area and to regulate this area.

The more you people legislate and restrict the less American you become. And I mean that seriously. You're making yourself into Europe v. 2.0. Pretty bad f--- job.
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Old 05-20-07, 06:18 PM
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Funny. I bet the people who support school uniforms wouldn't support uniforms in general... ie. a simple dresscode for ALL people in society.
Neither would I - the idea is mad.

But, let's look at the arguments for:
- There is so much competition among males and females to look the best, to look better, dress in expensive clothing. It's a race. Buy something new, buy something more expensive, buy something better. This is associated with great cost and peer pressure and even bullying in workplaces and in public areas.
The goal is to promote solidarity, to rid out negative differences between us so we can better focus on our jobs and out inter-personal relations.

Of course, these arguments are just as insane and ludicrous as the arguments arguing in favor of school uniforms. Just because we're talkinmg 8 years or whatever as opposed to your adult life does not mean free speech should be void in that area. Don't let yourself be the judge of what others may or may not wear.

What is the argument against? That "well a school uniform is only for X years!"
- so what. Don't be the judge. If I steal 1000 bucks from you, it's not 10000 bucks. Doesn't make my stealing 1000 bucks from you any better or less severe or intense. the whole "well this restriction COULD be more imposing" is what's erroding our freedoms slowly but surely, accepting that someone else dictate aspects of our lives without the qualified reasons to do so.
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Old 05-20-07, 07:05 PM
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So, you're saying there should not be any enforcement of clothing attire rules in schools? We should just let them wear whatever they want?
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Old 05-20-07, 07:12 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD Polizei
So, you're saying there should not be any enforcement of clothing attire rules in schools? We should just let them wear whatever
they want?
No I didn't say that. Freedom of speech is under restrictions. Restrictions that a VAST majority of the popluation supports and wishes to enforce and for which there are rational, moral and ethical non-religios non-controversial justifications. Like I JUST explained in my previous post, dude.
Did you not read it?
racism (propaganda), slander, threats, etc
Also, one can rationally and without stepping on everyone's toes allow for rules that t-shirts showing people being cut open and tortured, harcore pornography, etc should not be allowed. These images would grossly offend a great significant amount of people in the school and such images would probably also interfere with teaching, the latter being the most important argument. Interestingly, it's a non-issue. The number of instances and situations where young people would actually wear this stuff (and by stuff I mean t-shirts with images of massacres and bloodbath) is hardly worth mentioning. Any problems associated with such laissez-faire policy would be largely theoretical and of "what IF..." interest.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing, you know.
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Old 05-20-07, 07:16 PM
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Also, a glaringly obvious point that must be mentioned (just in case someone should be sleepingly reading the debate): Laws punishing racial propaganda, threats, etc, exist, are enforced and are supported in a VAST amount of countries around the world. I dare say, a universal principle in any developed country with rule of law. However, if we look at the school uniform principle, it's controversial as it is, not universal, not supported by an overwhelming grand majority of the population. And any responsible understanding of constitutional law would always give the freedom, the liberty, the benefit of doubt in such grey-zones as this one.
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Old 05-20-07, 07:21 PM
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Of course, this is all just words on a monitor. If the individual favoring such a restriction does not:
- appreciate his own freedom (he is allowed not do)
- does not appreciate the freedoms of others
Then what sympathy should he have for arguments based on freedom? Well, probably not any, or probably very little. Freedom is always trivialized by those who want to restrict it - somehow we tell ourselves that we can be judge over our neighbors without any universal, classical justifications.
That's scaringly enough how all control societies began, and it's a scaring trend in democratic states. NOw I don't favor the minimal state, but the Founding Fathers argued that the government that governs least governs best. Implicit in that saying is to give the people the benefit of the doubt, since the government - the state as such and as it is - exist FOR the very people.
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Old 05-20-07, 07:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Parcher
Funny. I bet the people who support school uniforms wouldn't support uniforms in general... ie. a simple dresscode for ALL people in society.
Neither would I - the idea is mad.
But then you have no reason to get so extremely excited. Since most of us do not support uniforms in a larger societal context, what is wrong with just a place of learning. An institution of learning. Why should students worry about how they look at age 10? At age 12?
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Old 05-20-07, 07:40 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD Polizei
But then you have no reason to get so extremely excited. Since most of us do not support uniforms in a larger societal context, what is wrong with just a place of learning. An institution of learning. Why should students worry about how they look at age 10? At age 12?
I'll be the judge of what societal tendencies and trends I worry about. Frankly the idea of uniformity and singularity as a requirement outside of any military context, and I as a responsible democrat (not Democrat) will always weigh the moral and ethical aspects of such a proposed restriction. In this case, I also worry that imposing such a requirement may lead to *more* requirements along the way. Many people will accept minor restrictions on freedom to pursue some goal - of course. Who wouldn't? we need government. I'm not an anarchist. But the problem is, what about the next generation. Would be gradually be passing on a society that gets more and more restricted and restrictive? And in doing so, do we encourage a mentality and behavior and ehtical and moral reasoning not compatible with the fundamental principles of freedom, hereunder as described by countless philosophers, moral thinkers, political commentators and as described in natural law. There is no guarantee that such a restriction would remain at that - in a democracy there is no guarantee of a status quo. As Thomas Jefferson feared, the majority will rule the minority - on areas not suited for government. Also, it is not necessarily the restriction ITSELF of which I am scared. It's the mentality and justification behind it.There is no pressing need. There are bigger problems and society (and for that matter, globablly) that ten-fold deserve much more concentration and treatment than the question of school uniforms. It's priorities gone bad, it's NOT giving freedom the benefit of doubt, and it's encouraring a potentially very dangerous set of values where problems - rather, "problems" - are treated by legislation and regulations rather than common sense, decency, and time. Whoever thought government could fix all issues? Unfortunately, some people did, and some people do. The very strength of our socities is the understanding that there are inalienable rights that government may not infringe. On top of that, there are utilitarian grounds in most western societies for making laws. Rooted in some utilitarian reasoning in some way another. The lesser of evils, the greater good, for and against. I see NO problem that calls for restrictions by the government, and certainly not restrictions on not only a fundamental of freedoms, but perhaps THE most fundamental of all freedoms in a modern democracy. Take Turkey. They do not allow religious clothing (veils) in Universities. This came before the European Human Rights Court in Strassbourg, and without a doubt the reason why the court DID allow this rule was due to the tense political situation in Turkey and the very purpose of that rule - to secure a secular state, a non-religous state. Sorry, those kinds of reasons and justifications are simply not present in America.
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Old 05-20-07, 07:42 PM
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I don't see what the big deal is. If a parent says to a teenager "you're not going out dressed like this" and makes him/her change their clothes are they infringing on their constitutional rights? I know a number of people who teach in high school, and there isn't a single high school I know that doesn't have a dress code. Uniforms are just a form of dress code. If a school judges that some attire is more appropriate than others in a learning environment and chooses to regulate on it, I don't have a de facto problem with this. Of course the "constitutionality" of such measures means squat over here and I really don't get why this should be more important than addressing an issue on it's own merit based on reason and logic. But then again, I ain't American.
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Old 05-20-07, 07:48 PM
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The very core-principle of negative rights and freedoms is that government - government - may not coerce. What parents tell their children they may or may not do is comparable to any given, random stranger telling some other stranger what he may or may not say. Government rules and punishes upon offenses. So, therefore, what parents tell their children is extremely irrelevant to this discussion. Constitutional law is largely about restricting government's infringement on freedoms. Government. Please create a different thread if you want to discuss possible legislation concerning what parents may or may not dictate their children do. So, withing the context of constituional law, if your neighbor tells you "don't cheer at football games!" (and does nothing more) he is restricting no freedom. It doesn't concern the government, it doesn't concern constitutional law.
I think we should keep to the subject at hand and not engage in any meta-discussions and spin-offs, please. This is a rational debate.
The distinction between "force" initiated by government OR initiated by private citizens is CRUCIAL.

As an addition to the debate I may add that we've practically got no rules about clothing here, and I've yet to hear of any horror storries about clothes, or even see any problems myself. Just because a pattern of behavior is possible does not mean that such behavior is gonna happen. If this were the case, society would collapse. Such reasoning is complete lack of understanding of the stability mechanisms and the fine balance between the private and government that keeps modern society together.

Last edited by Parcher; 05-20-07 at 07:51 PM.
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Old 05-20-07, 08:32 PM
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In some situations, uniforms are particular to the type of neighborhood they are in. For example, in a gang neighborhood where kids steal shoes and other attire from each other at school, a uniform policy would reduce those incidents. And would probably reduce violence related to the thefts as well. Uniforms can help neutralize and divert particular types of behavior.
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Old 05-20-07, 08:40 PM
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Sure. And if one has no apprecation of the full freedom that the freedom to speech offers, one would surely weigh some pros and positives as more important. Please see my other posts.
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Old 05-20-07, 08:45 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD Polizei
In some situations, uniforms are particular to the type of neighborhood they are in. For example, in a gang neighborhood where kids steal shoes and other attire from each other at school, a uniform policy would reduce those incidents. And would probably reduce violence related to the thefts as well. Uniforms can help neutralize and divert particular types of behavior.

That's a major reason why I believe the SCt would uphold a uniform policy, and I have very little doubt about this. Honestly, a school uniform policy is more likely to pass constitutional muster because it is content neutral than a dress code policy because school adminstrators have struggled with consistent dress code enforcement.

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Old 05-20-07, 08:48 PM
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Originally Posted by DVD Polizei
In some situations, uniforms are particular to the type of neighborhood they are in. For example, in a gang neighborhood where kids steal shoes and other attire from each other at school, a uniform policy would reduce those incidents. And would probably reduce violence related to the thefts as well. Uniforms can help neutralize and divert particular types of behavior.
Let rules govern what is a desired behavior and what is not.
Also, again, what is the pressing need? We're talking theft at schools. in "some" situations... yes. Exactly... in some situations. And such a policy MAY REDUCE such incidents. Frankly, so what? This is not a pressing need. This is micro, almost negligible. Kids stealing from each others. On the basis of that reasoning, to potentially violate the highest source of law for your nation. No. Pressing needs are required. And by pressing needs I really mean pressing needs. When you're talking about potentially violating the constitution, hereunder the most fundamental of human rights, there should be no doubt as to the obvious necessity of that law and to its unquestionable positive effects that without any doubt should outweigh any of the cons.
Frankly, I see very little sanity in potentially violating freedom of speech on this basis, both morally and ethically, but also legally. Your arguments are fairly utilitarian, problem is, such arguments are classic to violate natural rights, and even so, there's the obvious issue: priorities. Certainly there are many, many, many more problems in our democracy and in our world deserving our attention than what I dare call a petty issue that if treated as proposed might violate the highest of laws and with questionable justification and effects.
I can only repeat the thoughts I've expressed in my previous posts, and I'd like to stress again that I'd rather err on the cautious freedom-loving side of an issue than to violate the law.

Last edited by Parcher; 05-20-07 at 08:51 PM.
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Old 05-20-07, 09:01 PM
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I don't think I can follow your logic, Parcher. On the one hand you are for free speech, but on the other you wouldn't permit a school to reduce crime by implementing a new policy which they more than likely voted on.

Even while you might think uniforms are pointless, is it not best to let the particular school to decide the issue rather than a sweeping policy that would outright ban all uniforms in public schools altogether?

You argue there are more pressing needs at hand. What kind? School is the #1 place where our future society is being formed. Their behaviors, their way of interacting with others. Their respect. Most of it is being formed and learned from their peers at school.
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Old 05-20-07, 09:11 PM
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But Polizei, do you have any evidence that school uniforms actually do reduce crime? Or improve academic performance? Or build self-esteem?
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Old 05-20-07, 09:31 PM
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As I said before, schools do need to focus on teaching and less about trivial stuff like clothes.

But are uniforms unconstitutional? No.

There are many arguments for school uniforms. One being that many kids end up competing with each other over wearing the most expensive clothes and shoes which causes a burden on poor and even average income families.

I remember being overly concerned in high school about always wearing designer brands and logos but I quickly grew out of that in college when I realized all the foolishness. It wasn't extreme, even at that time, I still knew the limits, but there were kids who always wore new clothes every single day and got new expensive shoes nearly every month.

Although families, both poor and rich, should always stress the 10th Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's Air Jordans or whatever. Of course, if schools started doing that, it would be unconstitutional.
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Old 05-20-07, 09:36 PM
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My kids aren't school-aged, but as a parent I would 100% support school uniforms. There is no reason children need to wear particular clothes. "Freedom of expression" is all well and good, but I don't think people who have to wear uniforms grow up unable to express themselves. It's just part of the deal of attending to school and doesn't discriminate against anyone.

I see no downside and would have been fine with uniforms when I was in high school too, if that had been a requirement. Clothes were the least of my worries.
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Old 05-20-07, 09:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Draven
My kids aren't school-aged, but as a parent I would 100% support school uniforms. There is no reason children need to wear particular clothes. "Freedom of expression" is all well and good, but I don't think people who have to wear uniforms grow up unable to express themselves. It's just part of the deal of attending to school and doesn't discriminate against anyone.

I see no downside and would have been fine with uniforms when I was in high school too, if that had been a requirement. Clothes were the least of my worries.
So would you be fine if a city passed a dress code? If the government said that you couldn't wear a political T-shirt or even a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish"? shirt?

Or are you suggesting that kids don't have constitutional rights?
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Old 05-20-07, 09:45 PM
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This does remind me of the headscarf ban case in France. I think it's OK to do that for schools. Wearing hats in class weren't allowed in my time so it's the same thing.

What would be unconstitutional is if the government actually banned it in public: the Dutch already did that, IIRC.
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Old 05-20-07, 09:48 PM
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Originally Posted by NCMojo
So would you be fine if a city passed a dress code? If the government said that you couldn't wear a political T-shirt or even a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish"? shirt?

Or are you suggesting that kids don't have constitutional rights?
I don't think government employees could get away with wearing t-shirts like that to work. Are their rights being violated? I think not.
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