Even though my advocacy for school uniforms caused a major career snag when I was a middle school principal in Moreland School District nearly 15 years ago, I am still a strong and passionate proponent. Placing an emphasis on the proper tone for learning while reducing discipline problems are two outcomes of an effective uniform policy. I believe we need a renewed county conversation about the efficacy of school uniforms, particularly for our students in middle school. Let me explain.
I am serving my second voluntary term on the San Jose Arena Authority Board. Our monthly meeting at the end of August was short and effective, yet at the end of the meeting one of my fellow members stated that her daughter’s middle school prohibits any students from wearing San Jose Shark’s gear due to its association with gangs. That news was distressing to her daughter entering middle school, since she is a fan of the Shark’s and owns some Sharks-gear wardrobe items.
Knowing I am an educator and Santa Clara County Office of Education Board member, she asked if the policy made sense to me. I told her I don’t know enough to form an opinion one way or another, but that I would contact the superintendent of the middle school and check out the reasoning behind the policy.
Within 48 hours, I contacted the superintendent (a former colleague), and forwarded the e-mail from my Arena Authority comrade. The superintendent, being the outstanding leader he is, immediately contacted the principal and assistant principal and after some discussion they decided to rescind the ban on Shark’s gear for 2009-10 unless there was a future problem. He noted further that the school administration would contact the parent directly and inform her of the new decision.
It appeared to be a win-win situation for all. I was delighted with the quick resolution to the issue—until my Santa Clara County Board meeting on last Wednesday evening. Agenda Item 10A was a report to the County Board on Gang Awareness and Prevention in San Jose. The report was requested by the Board of Education several months prior.
The agenda item was presented to us by Assistant District Attorney Marc Buller and two members of his staff. The information in the report was sobering.
Approximately 1,329 youth gang-related incidents occurred in San Jose in 2008. There are 5,833 validated gang members (many more non-validated gang associates) with 160 validated gangs in San Jose and 200 in Santa Clara County. Sixty-one percent of gang-related crimes in San Jose were committed by those 19 years and younger, and 48 percent were victims 19 years and younger.
Here is the rub. The fourth slide in the PowerPoint presentation mentioned the gang known as the Norteños. It pointed out that Norteños usually wear red or maroon colors. Yet DA Buller said there is a recent trend for some Norteños to wear San Jose Sharks teal.
I assert that it is impossible for school or district staff to stay ahead of the every changing trends that gangs use for identification. Therefore, we make some situations in schools unsafe for the students and staff that we need to protect from harm.
Life is not as simple as it was when San Jose in 1950 had 95,000 residents. Gangs have been a growing issue in San Jose since 1968. Their propensity for violence must be taken seriously. Principals and school boards must keep their staff and students safe. Allowing students to wear what they wish in a vaguely enforced dress code is not good enough in these times, even though many of my liberal friends would argue that students’ freedom of self-expression is one of the most important elements of our public school system.
I would argue to the contrary. School uniforms promote modesty, focus on learning, egalitarian philosophy, order, and a reduction of bullying. In order to spot strangers on campus we must be able to identify them quickly and school uniforms are a great tool to do just that.
In 1996 President Clinton said, “ If it means…our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside, instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear uniforms.”
Many countries have mandatory uniform policies in 2009 and several are based on the British system. School uniforms were introduced in the UK by King Henry VIII almost 500 years ago. In those times blue was the color due to the inexpensiveness of the dye and was a way to inculcate humility into all school children. I think humility for all school children is a good thing. Blue might not be the color of choice today since Sureños use blue for identification, but I think the discussion relative to school uniforms in middle schools must begin today.