But it seems highly unlikely that uniforms will prevent the sort of school shootings and placing of bombs that have been in the news. After all, the U.S. Post Office requires uniforms, and yet it is "going postal" that schools want to prevent.
There are, of course, many factors that influence students' behavior and their moral character, but one important ingredient is never even raised for consideration - how impersonally, uncharitably and antagonistically schools themselves treat students. It is no wonder that alleged "character education" in schools these days leans heavily on reading them stories about people with good moral character who triumph over adversity, since fiction and very selective history are the only place where good character, particularly courage to resist unfair authority, can be expected to be rewarded. Students learn pretty quickly from the way they are treated by teachers and administrators that reason, desert, and fairness have little to do with school. And it is no wonder that they neither respect nor value those who do not value them and who do not respect their ideas sufficiently to respond to them reasonably and substantively, instead of ignoring and squelching them, or meting out punishment or low grades for their expression.
Most schools are places of endless tests and quizzes on meaningless, often inherently uninteresting material, and of equally meaningless, often senseless, laborious assignments and projects. There is no real justification for most of the material, and even where there is, it is often taught in ways that rob it of any interest and that mask its significance. Yet students are judged, and often marked for life, on how well they do on their tests and their assignments, and on how well they conform to the rules of acceptable school behavior, which generally means being quiet, passive, and obedient, speaking only when spoken to, and saying only what teachers want to hear. It often means being able to sit six or seven hours a day listening to others drone on about things of no real interest. Where there are dress codes, it also means dressing in ways that adults consider proper, even if that is not the current fashion for the student generation. Many children today who do not have the proper patience and passivity are considered to be undisciplined and are ever more frequently being diagnosed with a supposed medical illness, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder -- even though when they do something that is interesting or intrinsically important to them, they can attend to it in rapt concentration hour upon hour, for days or weeks if necessary.
There are, of course, some exceptional teachers who do make subject matter come alive for students, and there are some exceptional administrators who treat both their students and their faculty with sense and compassion, but those teachers and those administrators are relatively rare. Schools are not places where students can raise issues important to them that teachers and administrators do not wish to discuss. Schools are not generally places where students can express and persist in making a case in the classroom for ideas that teachers do not initially accept and with which they do not agree. Teachers rarely give, or would be able to give, rational, convincing explanations of what is wrong with those ideas. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with them. Yet if students persist in trying to explain their views, they will be considered impudent, disrespectful, and obstreperous; and if they persist in maintaining their views on tests and in papers, they will be given low grades. There are classrooms where students may not even go to the bathroom when they need to. There are schools where gum chewing is met with automatic suspension even if it is chewed quietly and discarded properly. Kids can be sent home, and their parents made to leave work to pick them up, because their skirts are an inch too short or their hair an inch too long.
I am not arguing that students do not need to learn anything about either subject matter or reasonable behavior, nor that there are no badly behaved students who need to be dealt with in some more stringent ways. I am arguing that what is taught should be reasonable, and it should be taught in sensible ways - ways which also make it interesting and meaningful whenever possible. And I am arguing that punishment should fit the offense, if any, and not also be meted out to the innocent classmates of the offenders by the enforcement of relatively draconian preventative policies. And I am arguing that schools should quit mistaking maturity, self-discipline, and responsible behavior for forced conformity to arbitrary and unreasonable rules, particularly when those rules are patently trivial and silly. The ways schools tend to treat children actually delay intellectual and emotional maturity, and responsible autonomy, rather than fostering those traits.
If schools are always going to treat adolescents as either children or slaves, they should not be surprised when they act childishly nor when they rebel forcefully. Nor should they be surprised when frustration and the feeling of victimization explodes in anger, hostility, or a desire for what seems to the student to be deserved retribution. With the ready availability of weapons that can do great damage, in a society that does not often clearly distinguish justified force from its unjustified use, nor reasonably discuss, articulate, and make clear the difference, teachers, administrators, school boards, curriculum committees, and departments of education might want to find it in their hearts to treat students more humanely, if not because they can see that is decent and right, then because they should see it as prudent.