Black Educators' Views on Middle School Students' Dress and Uniforms: Addressing Challenges from Commercialism*

Article excerpt

Youth dress, influenced by commercialism, impacts students' attitudes and behaviors in public schools. This article reports quantitative data and qualitative data on Black educators' views on student dress and behavior, including the use of uniforms. Findings indicate that educators support the use of school uniforms because they believe that uniforms reduced the risk of both psychological harm and school related problems. Younger students (sixth graders) agreed with the educators while the older students disagreed. These findings generally reflect the views of many educators who are grappling with effective strategies to reduce dress-related problems among youth in public schools.

Children and adolescents are socialized around dress across several settings such as the family, school, marketplace, workplace, and others. Research has been conducted on dress socialization and its influence on children's development and has identified many dress-related challenges and problems within these various contexts (LaPoint, Alleyne, Lee, & Mitchell, 2003). Many public schools, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, have begun to implement student uniforms in an effort to promote student health and safety (Lopez, 2003). Very little empirical research exists on the effectiveness of school uniforms on student achievement and social competence. Moreover, little research exists in educators' views on the nature of dress-related problems at school, especially the views of educators of color (LaPoint et al., 2003).

This article reports qualitative and quantitative data on Black educators' views on dress and behavior in a public middle school in a large Northeastern city. It is part of a larger study on youth dress and behavior and includes data collected from students (LaPoint et al., 2003). The article includes a literature review, a description of the study including the sample and methods, analysis and findings, and implications for further research, policies, and programs relating to the use of uniforms in public schools.

LITERATURE REVIEW

While literature on student dress and behavior in public schools often cites educators' views on youth dress and behavior in public schools, it is often anecdotal (LaPoint et al., 2003). The literature generally focuses on educators' (e.g., teachers, administrators, staff) views of challenges of youth dress to classroom and school behaviors and the solutions to theses challenges, including the use of uniforms (King, Walker, & Minor, 2002; King, 1998; LaPoint et al., 2003; Lopez, 2003; Mitchell & Knechtle, 2003). Research and reports are inconclusive about the positive impact of uniforms on various academic and academic-related behaviors (Brunsma & Rockquemore, 1998; LaPoint et al., 2003). Moreover, some research indicates mixed support for the use of uniforms in public schools (National Association of Elementary School Principals, 1998) even though the federal government issued guidelines encouraging the use of uniforms in public schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1996). Finally, the literature, generally does not relate commercialism influences on youth dress in schools to broader commercialism influences in other settings (LaPoint & Alleyne, 2001; LaPoint et al., 2003). The present study provides empirical data, both quantitative and qualitative, on educators' views on the use student uniforms in one public middle school. It also provides data on educators' views about commercial influences on students' attitudes and dress in the school and other socialization settings.

THE RESEARCH STUDY

The study used two approaches to obtain educators' views on student dress and behavior in a public middle school in a northeastern U.S. city. The first was a survey that examined Black educators' attitudes toward dress and behavior among students. These data were compared with the data obtained from all students in the school (grades 6, 7, and 8). …