Friday, June 28, 2013

Debunking the School Uniform Myth

I once heard, someone I respected for knowing about schools and education say while he preferred no uniforms, the research said otherwise. I believed him. At the time our children were at a school without uniforms so I wasn't really bothered, more intrigued.
This year they are at a school with a uniform. So I looked up the research - after I had forked out a substantial sum of money to buy the uniforms - it wasn't true.

Myth One: Kids perform better in uniform

At best this is debatable, at worst it is completely untrue.
Read this study in the USA where the authors found; "Our failure to find a direct effect of uniforms on behavioral outcomes or academic achievement provide cause for a closer examination of the uniform debate.
There are many other interesting implications and discussion points at the conclusion of this study so it is worth a read.
Or this paper, part of the conclusion, if you can't be bothered reading the whole study, is below:
"Overall, we find that uniforms appear to have a moderately positive impact on students in middle and high school and little impact on elementary students. Students in middle and high school grades who are required to wear uniforms show improvements in scores on language exams of between 0.02 and 0.04 standard deviations and improvements in attendance rates of between 0.2 and 0.4 percentage points. These improvements appear to be strong for female students. For all other outcomes we cannot definitively bound the estimates away from zero using both gains and levels models. Nonetheless, we do see increases in disciplinary infractions in levels models that are concentrated in boys and some small drops in Hispanic reading scores. It is possible that the increase in disciplinary infractions are due to uniform violations or increased enforcement, although the lack of a similar increase for girls suggest that the latter is unlikely."

Or this report, is an interesting read as it appears very positive about uniforms, until you get to the cautions on reading the research. It is at the top of the second page but if you are short of time - it says:

 "There is some debate about the overall impact of school uniforms on students (King, 1998; Lumsden, 2001; Anderson, 2002; Schachter, 2005; Konheim-Kalkstein, 2006).
  •  Studies conducted by Brunsma & Rockquemore (1998, 2003) find no significant correlation between school uniforms and their impact on students’ self-esteem, behaviour, school safety or academic achievement.
  • One study suggested that a tightened dress code may be just as effective as having school uniforms (White, 2000).
  • Wade & Stafford, in their 2003 study, report that although uniforms contribute to positive school climate, they have no direct impact on substance use, behaviour issues, attendance, academic achievement, students’ self- perception and students’ perception of gang violence.
  • A few researchers express concern about the quality of research in the area of school uniforms impact on student behaviour and academic achievement and therefore, say that drawing generalized conclusions about study findings should be done cautiously (Wilson, 1999; Brunsma & Rockquemore, 2003)."
Myth Two: Uniform is cheaper
My children already had perfectly adequate clothes that they could have worn to school but because a uniform was required, I had to go out and buy extra clothes to fulfill the criteria. These are not cheaper because they may have the school logo on them (some items are of lesser quality than their regular clothes too), and I have to buy them from set places at full price not when I see something on sale that will work for them. Sure there are second hand sales but they are fairly erratic in having the item you might need. 
Then there is the problem of the kids losing items. Kids will do this and in the past, it was annoying but it didn't mean I had to necessarily buy a replacement. They usually already had another jersey or t-shirt and then I could buy a replacement as appropriate when something appeared on special - not another replacement at full price because it is an awkward time of year. Losing items is also less likely when every kid's clothing was different. When it is all the same - it can be mistakenly taken home by another kid or just lost in the great pile of lost property. Distinctive different clothes are more easily returned to the right kid.

Myth Three: Uniform makes everyone the same, no matter what background
This is just plain wrong. Those with money have all new uniforms, those without have scruffier items or items that are too small or too big. If anything uniforms make it harder because if money is tight, spending more on a uniform just adds to the stress.

Myth Four: No uniform leads to competition in fashion

Mufti days lead to competition in fashion. In a school with uniform, mufti days are rare. Kids wear their coolest clothes on mufti day and you can see them eyeing each other up. These days are a fashion competition. In a school without uniform, kids are so used to wearing their normal clothes everyday, the competitive element is less. Besides it is a good lesson for children to learn, choosing appropriate clothes to wear and dealing with any possible peer pressure about what to look like. Either way uniform makes this worse because rather than getting used to this everyday, mufti days build it up into something more important.

But by far my biggest problem with it at the moment is, the future of factory style/non thinking jobs are not the future for our kids - they have almost all gone off shore. Our kids need to be creative, individual, resourceful and thinking up new ideas for an app or whatever they will develop in the future. So we make them dress all the same, when it could be a small step to maintaining their creativity and individualism. 

The only thing uniform does do is possibly make it quicker in the morning to get dressed - but only if the items are dry.

Coming Back to Old Work

I have a longer piece I want to lick into shape to submit for a competition. I have wondered if I should pay a professional editor to check it before I submit it to make it as best as it can be, but time might be an issue for this option.
I have had part of this work critiqued. This led to it languishing in a folder on my computer ignored out of embarrassment. Many of the flaws were as clear and sharp as a frosty afternoon once they had been pointed out in slashes of someone else's pen. 
The flaws flamed my cheeks with embarrassment because they were flaws I never let happen in my professional work. 
The experience was tough enough to completely shift my thinking back to where it should have been - what I already knew in my other professional written work also applied to my own personal work. I was very relieved recently to hear a writer, who was placed in a writing competition, say her feedback was usually pointing out things she realised she already knew - phew I wasn't alone!
I find working on longer pieces, I can get lost in so many words and details. I am going to try Sol Stein's triage method for revision. It is chapter thirty-two of my all time favourite book on writing - Sol Stein on Writing.
His triage approach is to take the main character first and think about how well you understand them, if they are distinct from you and if you would want them on holiday with you.
The next step is to revise the villain/antagonist.
Then to revise the conflict and check if it is credible.
After that take the scenes and work out if they are memorable by seeing which ones you can remember and then find the least memorable one, (probably from browsing the manuscript, since it has been forgotten). Rewrite it better by looking at the most memorable scenes and seeing what is great about them. If it can't be rewritten - dump it. Then work through the next least memorable scene. He has many more excellent suggestions to follow on from this, which is why I find his book so helpful. Time for me to get revising - Triage Stat!
But first there is a rant I need to get out of my head.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Writing The Future

Proof read and critique as you wish because this is a record of my attempt to be successful with my own writing projects. These projects are different from my paid freelance work but they are not all fiction. Sharing your own creativity is scary as I worry about if it is good enough or if I have anything worthy to say.
I have joined the New Zealand Authors' Society this year through my freelance published work. The most useful aspects so far are the weekly emails from the local and national branch that let me know about competitions and opportunities for my writing. These are great motivators to keep writing. The monthly branch meetings are also thoroughly worthwhile. Hearing the speakers talk about their writing journeys and their work has had many valuable lessons and provided much to think about. The other exciting aspect of these meetings is talking to other writers and hearing about their projects. I also like finding out how others go about fitting writing into their busy lives.
At the moment I am entering as many writing competitions as I can. The deadlines keep me writing and the competitive aspect makes me continue trying to improve my stories. So far I have had no luck but I keep in mind the words of New Zealand writer, Coral Atkinson who likened winning writing competitions to needles and locating them in dried grass.
I will keep trying alongside my other projects because almost every New Zealand writer profile I have read includes winning writing competitions which lead on to future success.
I have also set myself a deadline for two other of my writing projects of the end of the year. Both of these are non-fiction. One requires quite a lot of interviewing so making myself a deadline helps with ringing and getting those interview appointments booked in.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.