Should Schools in China Require that Students Wear Uniforms?

All Chinese schools require students to wear uniforms. There are different opinions regarding this situation. Some experts claim that it is a reasonable and even desirable requirement, whereas others believe that it has highly negative social consequences. The school uniforms should not be obligatory because students’ rights and liberties should be respected, and students should be free to make their own choices.

It is reasonable to present a counter-argument developed by those experts who believe that schools should have the right to make wearing uniforms obligatory to all students. First, many researchers suggest that school uniforms affect students’ performance in a positive way (Kraft 41). It also contributes to school’s success. Gentile and Imberman point out that the wearing of uniforms contributes to higher school attendance in secondary grades. Thus, many scholars tend to believe that the Chinese government as well as other governments all over the world can and should impose these standards on all students. Second, Sciolino demonstrates that the majority of the population opposes diversity and people with opposite views regarding dress styles. Therefore, it may be reasonable to take into account the public opinion and make wearing uniforms obligatory to avoid potential social conflicts. Thus, the position of these experts is that wearing uniforms is beneficial both for these students and the rest of society.

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Although these arguments contain some rational elements, their ultimate conclusions are incorrect. Almost all experts either explicitly or implicitly confuse people’s voluntary choices with some standards that are imposed on them by the external authority. The arguments in favor of uniforms due to its positive impact on students’ performance seem reasonable. However, the ultimate decision regarding their adoption should be voluntary. It means that the following parties should participate in this process: the school’s administration, students, and parents (if it is necessary). If all these parties agree on the necessity to wear the uniform as well as on other complementary issues such as color, design, etc., then school uniforms should be introduced. If a given student disagrees, he/she is free to select another school that has different requirements regarding uniforms. In this way, the interests of all social members are harmonized.

However, the obligatory character of uniforms creates a completely different structure of social motives (Calamur). The positions of students and their parents are neglected. The government imposes its standards on all students regardless of their preferences. Even if the government considerations are based on the latest scientific research, they neglect the diversity of students’ needs and preferences. Moreover, all government initiatives are financed through taxes that are collected from the rest of the population. Therefore, they are involuntary by their essence and do not contribute to harmonizing social interests. Graff explains the role of diversity and individual liberties. He states in relation to gender differences that “all of us deviate from what is expected from our sex” (273).The same kind of reasoning applies to other social and individual aspects such as basic civil rights. All people should be free to decide whether uniforms are desirable for them. Everyone can make his/her own choice but should not impose it on others.

It is reasonable to examine the above mentioned arguments in favor of obligatory wearing uniforms in more detail. As the first argument consists in the positive effects on students’ performance and school attendance, it is possible to determine the key implications from this statement. The potential explanations of this statistical fact may be different. For example, students may better demonstrate their abilities if their attention is focused on learning rather than other distracting aspects, or the differences in people’s social status may have a negative effect on students’ performance. In any case, the statement that uniforms are likely to have a positive impact on learning seems to be correct. However, it does not imply that the government intervention in this sphere is justified. Individual differences between people should be respected (Graff 274).

If uniforms are beneficial for students, then many schools will tend to adopt them even without any government intervention. The fact that many American schools have adopted uniforms proves the correctness of this position. Moreover, different schools can adopt different uniforms. Thus, students will select those uniforms that correspond to their interests in the optimal way. The situation in China is different as the national government has developed standards that are obligatory for all students in all locations of China regardless of people’s preferences. Thus, many local differences are neglected due to the artificial uniformity and governmental control. If schools voluntarily adopted uniforms, students could have the necessary choice of schools. When the government imposes such standards for the entire population, students have no choice.

The second argument relates to the statement that many people oppose diversity. According to this interpretation, the government does not impose its views on the rest of the population but merely follows the interests of the majority. It seems that only a free social environment can demonstrate whether people prefer uniformity or diversity (Wagman). The experience of such comparatively free countries as the United States, Canada, Germany and Great Britain demonstrates that people mostly prefer diversity as it reflects their internal differences in the worldview, tastes, needs, etc. The highest degree of uniformity is mostly observed in such unfree countries as China or North Korea. The potential counter-argument may be that people prefer diversity in other social spheres while they prefer uniformity in the educational process because it leads to higher results.

Although this position may be correct, it does not mean that uniform policies should be enforced through the government apparatus. If people prefer some degree of uniformity, a large number of schools offer different solutions to this problem. Students who are free to select the most appropriate solution to them tend to become more responsible and demonstrate higher performance. In fact, a free environment often leads to the uniformity within a given school and diversity between schools. This situation seems to be optimal for all students and schools as it allows balancing their basic needs.

It is also reasonable to provide some empirically-oriented suggestions regarding the Chinese government involvement in this process. The fact that the government can impose its views on the entire population means that there is no competition in this sphere. Thus, there is no need to care about the quality of innovations. Calamur demonstrates that such system of motivations leads to serious problems in China such the use of cancer-causing dyes in students’ uniforms. Although this problem was solved, it was not the first quality-problem in China (Calamur). Therefore, the situation when a single authority makes decisions obligatory for the rest of the population inevitably leads to the inefficiencies in the use of power. It also negatively affects the quality of products and the well-being of people.

Thus, the problem of students’ uniforms is much more complicated than it is generally recognized. It refers not only to the issues of learning and optimal organization of the learning process but also to the fundamental aspects of individual rights and liberties. It is a dilemma between people’s rights to make a choice regarding their lives and well-being and the imposition of the will of the authority on others. Gentile and Imberman support the idea of school uniforms because, apart from enhancing students’ independence, it is also likely to achieve the necessary degree of variation in schools over time (22). Thus, even those scholars who recognize the benefits of uniforms, they believe that they may be realized only in the case the entire process is voluntary and flexible.

It may be concluded that the Chinese government should not make uniforms obligatory for all Chinese students. It should not intervene in the process of their adoption and determining their design. The possibility of the existence of different types of uniforms in different schools should exist. The basic individual rights of students and other parties involved should be respected. No one can impose his/her views on others and “optimize” the learning or educational process through influencing other people’s behavior.

The abolition of government intervention in this sphere is highly important for the development of China in general. The country demonstrates considerable rates of economic growth, but the level of individual liberties is still unsatisfactory. Respect to students’ choices and needs may be achieved due to the liberalization of the entire political, economic, and social structure of China. It seems that these reforms are also needed for increasing the quality of education and students’ motivation. It may be expected that the problems with the quality of uniforms may also disappear if the government intervention is abolished. Although many arguments in favor of uniforms are correct, the entire process should be organized on a voluntary basis. Only in this way, the interests of all parties can be effectively harmonized.