Uniforms are becoming a necessary fact of life for schools nationally. In fact, 50 percent of Santa Clara County elementary and middle schools have a required uniform program.
As a student at a private school that strictly enforces a uniform, I have a love-hate relationship with my navy blue duds.
I love them for the simplicity of not having to think about what I wear in the morning, but I hate them for the fact that I can't go off campus without eliciting contemptuous glances from freely clad Paly students.
Our uniform consists of navy blue pants or a specific blue, pleated skirt. The shirts must have a collar (polos and turtlenecks) and be navy blue, white, or "fire engine" red.
When I say "fire engine," I mean it. You better look like a stop sign. Students can be severely penalized for wearing a maroon polo. Or they can be cited for wearing oatmeal socks. Or black tights.
Unfortunately, the uniform has turned our school into a police state, where teachers take the job of the "holier than thou" enforcers of a uniform whose rationale has been long forgotten.
Teachers spend their time tallying petty violations when time should really be spent learning or fostering better student teacher relationships.
The school has also adopted questionable methods of enforcing uniform violations. We hold very frequent "fire drills" in order to bring the whole student body out on the lawn for a giant uniform check. I remember once that a teacher, eagerly intent upon finding violations, unzipped a students jacket to reveal, gasp!, a pinkish red vest, horror of horrors!
The student only wore the vest under her other clothes because it was 30 degrees outside, but nevertheless she got an infraction. I feel that at my small, all-girls school, students don't care anyway how they look; most people dress better and wear cleaner clothes on free dress days.
However, despite my misgivings about the uniform at my small, all-girls school, I heartily endorse uniforms on the middle school and elementary school level for protecting students and eliminating clothing competition. Nevertheless, I think the administrators should keep these things in mind for success.
First of all, the uniforms should not be plaid. Nothing brings about amused looks from freely dressed like plaid. Yes, plaid is charming for English schoolchildren, but we did kick out the British 200 years ago.
Uniforms should have some semblance of attractiveness. Yes, uniforms are supposed to be ordinary, plain, and inexpensive, but considering they are worn every day, they ought to be fashionable. Schools should get students involved in designing and enforcing the uniform on a student run uniform committee. Student input would make students much more amenable to wearing a uniform.
The uniform should also be adaptable for cold weather. Just because we live in California doesn't mean it doesn't get cold and frosty. Short skirts, shorts, and thin cotton blouses will not be suitable on nippy days. Many schools in California still haven't figured out it rains here and consequently have not installed proper facilities, i.e. lunch rooms, awnings.
Lastly, schools should remember that the uniform is to protect students, and therefore if someone accidentally wears the wrong kind of socks, he is not a danger to himself or others. A uniform must be enforced, but not with a religious zeal that takes away from the learning environment.
Danya Epstein is a junior at Castelleja School in Palo Alto, a private all-girls school that has a uniform program. Epstein is currently an intern with the Town Crier.