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Are School Uniforms Racist and Homophobic?

American public schools are getting worse. Declining results are clear in the government’s own “Nation’s Report Card” on the state of public education. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) likewise shows that students got lower scores in mathematics across almost the entire country in 2021 compared to 2019. Blacks and Hispanics fell even farther behind than whites, and reading scores in most jurisdictions also fell.

The basic skills of America’s workforce may also be declining. “According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” wrote Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, “the millennials in our workforce tied for last on tests for mathematics and problem solving among the millennials in the workforces of all the industrial countries tested.”

Violence in schools is increasing. There were more than four times as many school shootings in 2020–2021 than there were in 2000–2001. The National Educational Association (NEA), the country’s largest teacher’s union, held a summit on the problem earlier this month. Just last year, it wanted an end to the “criminalization and policing of students,” instead favoring “restorative justice, culturally competent professional development, family and community engagement, and the elimination of inequities in student discipline and the policing of students on campus.” Thus, more security won’t be an option unless the NEA reverses its position.

The decline in American schools is driven in part by the federal government. The Obama administration wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2014, which warned schools that the Department of Justice might investigate if there were “substantial racial disparities” in school discipline. Schools lowered suspension rates and violence increased. The reality is that blacks and Hispanics cause more violence in schools, and so are punished more often. If schools are prevented from punishing them, there will simply be more violence.

It is common to find videos of mass brawls in schools on social media, with teachers barely able to maintain control.

The AP reports that some school systems are already giving up on “restorative justice” and returning to traditional discipline, although it may be too late for some frustrated parents. Many have abandoned schools entirely, instead turning to homeschooling. Most parents who homeschool said they made the choice because of “a concern about the environment of other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.” Blacks are increasingly homeschooling as well, but a motive for some white parents to do so may be the teaching of Critical Race Theory and anti-white attitudes among staff. For example, Jackson Board of Education school board member Kesha Hamilton recently tweeted: “Whiteness is so evil.”

MSNBC evidently doesn’t like this trend:

Yet it wasn’t long ago that even Democrats were trying to bring back traditional discipline. President Bill Clinton touted school uniforms in two separate State of the Union addresses, claiming that they would make schoolrooms more “orderly” and “disciplined,” and teach young people “to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they’re wearing on the outside.” This was one of his classic “triangulations” against the Right that allowed him to remain popular during his administration’s later years, despite his impeachment.

Now, the federal government is warning against school uniforms. “Sexist, racist and classist: Why the feds are getting involved in school dress codes,” reads a report from USA Today. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) likewise issued its own report, stating that the Department of Education should “provide information on equity and safety in school dress codes.”

Credit Image: © Kike Calvo /ZUMA Press Wire

The authors worried that “dress codes disproportionately focus on girls’ clothing and bodies and that exclusionary discipline — the practice of removing students from the classroom — for dress code violations may disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic students, among other students.” Likewise, “rules that are open to interpretation may also be disproportionately applied to vulnerable student groups including LGBTQI+ students, Black students, and students with disabilities.” There was a special focus on blacks’ hair, because “the elasticity and texture of Black hair can make it more susceptible to breaking.”

In the conclusion, the GAO says:

[S]ome dress codes may create a less equitable and safe environment for some students, especially girls, Black students, and LGBTQI+ students. Specifically, common aspects of dress code policies — such as taking measurements of students’ bodies and clothing — may make school less safe for girls, in particular.

The GAO report notes that uniforms are more often required in majority non-white schools. This could be because that is where they are most needed. If blacks and Hispanics are punished more often for breaking the rules, that isn’t necessarily evidence of discrimination. The point of a uniform is to maintain a universal standard, applicable to everyone.

According to today’s educational authorities, however, even rules that don’t take race into account can still be “racist” if they affect groups differently. It’s therefore not surprising that the federal government is turning against uniforms. Scrapping them won’t stop violence, reduce racial gaps in performance, or bring back parents who have turned to homeschooling.

Thus, it is a relatively minor issue — but like Bill Clinton’s initiative in 1996, it is telling. During his administration, the Democrats needed at least to pretend to care about school discipline, crime, and basic standards. Today, nothing must get in the way of the hunt for “equity.” If schools can’t even enforce dress codes, there’s not much hope that they’ll be able to raise academic standards.