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School uniforms and collectivism

Written by ReturnOfTheJ355 Jan 09, 2006

To me, school uniforms are so vehemently opposed by young people in the United States because they violate our individual-centured culture. In other countries, such as east Asian, Native-American, or African cultures, uniforms do not arouse the same level of ire because their cultures are collective in nature. Uniforms, because of their inherent nature, seem to inculcate a collectivist approach to life into students.

Students in individualist cultures resent the uniforms because they want to be unique and individual, not mere faces in the crowd. Uniforms violate the individualist’s views of self-expression and uniqueness. A member of an individualist culture will want to express himself through what he is wearing, as well as through other things. To individualists, clothing sends others an important sign — they want to be seen as who they are, not simply A Member Of The School Collective ™. But in a collectivist culture, uniforms are desired because they provide the security of being a member of the crowd, rather than being considered Other. They provide comfort and do not provoke resentment. They identify their wearers as team members, rather than outsiders. Even the languages of individualist and collective culture reflect these views. In English, the personal pronouns are never omitted, and there is no grammatical construct for the “in” group and the “out” group. In Japanese, however (as far as I know)there are different forms of introduction to others, based on membership in a group, whether it be a family, a group of friends, or co-workers. Although our culture is strongly individualistic, we do have some collective elements, which are perpetuated the most in schools. Public schools, as they are run currently, are based on a collectivist idea of having state-run schools in order to create obedient workers. Uniforms, peer pressure, and other elements add to this atmosphere. Anyone who breaks from the school’s prescribed code of conduct is considered ‘other’. In addition, in the collectivist school of thought, uniforms represent a prevention of social embarassment. They are seen as an equaliser that allows every member of the school to be seen as part of the collective. In this way, they can be considered to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, because students’ socio-economic status cannot be determined from what they are wearing to school if they are all wearing the same thing. All these factors combined make me ambivalent about school uniforms. I think that decision should be left up to an individual school and its philosophy, and I don’t think that school uniform should be mandatory in an individualistic society. If the school is individualistic, let there be no uniforms. If it is collectivistic, let there be uniforms. However, no student should be forced to attend a school that implements a uniform policy in an individualistic society. Since students are required to attend some sort of school and public schools are state-run, there should be no uniforms in public schools. Private and charter schools can have their own policy, as it is often a family’s choice to send children there. Public schools are assigned to a student (unless they are ‘magnet’ schools or something similar, which are attended by choice) based on where she lives, so there is no choice in that matter. In a public institution, students should have any freedom of choice that they can get.

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