Thursday, 30 August 2012

School uniforms and uniformity

Sad news that the great Rhodes Boyson has died, he of the mutton-chop whiskers and the wonderful Black Papers. 

And on the same morning Suzanne Moore has published an article attacking school uniforms as promoting conformism in children.

Actually exactly the reverse is true. Lack of uniforms promote conformism, whereas uniforms provide something to rebel against and children find this reassuring. It's like poetry - you need to know the rules before you break them. 

School uniforms prevent snobbery towards children from the more hard-up families. This is incredibly important.  And, anyway, children cannot be idiosyncratic individuals - it is impossible. I know - I was one.

Children all need to look alike too - children are horribly conformist, snobbish, aggressive, cruel. In my day they were very sexist, racist and homophobic too and I doubt if the thought police have eliminated these characteristics.  As Philip Larkin said, and he was certainly sexist and racist, 

'When I was a child I thought I hated the human race but when I grew up I realised it was just children I couldn't stand.' 

It is not by chance that this is my favourite quotation.


  1. It's an interesting argument, no doubt; I tend to think that conformity is promoted no matter what. We as human beings tend towards conformity to find comfort in conformity - this is not bad. As Aristotle observed, man is a ζῷον πολιτικόν; part of this is the desire to belong to a group, which means conforming to group ethoi, customs, etc.

    Homosexuals conform: they conform to the ever re-invented definition of "homosexuality", which as a social phenomenon didn't exist before the 1930s. Feminists conform: they conform to their vision of what makes a "strong woman", which is defined over and against the act of being a "submissive" to the "patriarchy". These are ideas that these women do not come to on their own: they must be educated in feminist theory, and then subsequently conform to that.

    Therefore, I would argue that school uniforms do not discourage conformity any more than they encourage it - conformity is part of the human condition. The real goal of school uniforms is the limitation of superficial distractions - appearance, wealth, etc. - and help promote order in the classroom that has an explicit focus on the task at hand. The elimination of uniforms typically precedes a decrease in academic performance and a more chaotic social environment.

  2. I think uniforms are about order and schools have too little these days now that corporal punishment has been abolished (not that my schools had corporal punishment). As for conformity, it is necessary as is nonconformity. I felt that urge to conform as a child but the equally strong urge to be different from the rest. I would have been different anyway and nonconformists suffer at school. Uniforms make things easier and show that the frown ups are still in charge.