Germany this week has
something much more exciting than the EU constitution to argue about.
Yes, it’s school uniforms again, set off by a recent case in which two
Muslim girls were suspended for turning up to their Bonn school wearing burqas.

That could have made for yet another controversy about
Muslim identity vs assimilation vs women’s rights, but it was made into
something different by Germany’s justice minister, Brigitte Zypries,
who suggested
last weekend that the problem could be solved by the introduction of
school uniforms. “That way we would resolve not only the burqa issue,
but also the problems that arise from social differences”.

If
any country understands where excessive militarisation can lead to,
it’s Germany. Sure enough, someone was able to explain it to the
minister: the teachers’ union chairman, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, was
quoted saying that “Unlike in Britain, the image of uniformed youths in
the Nazi era led to a well-founded rejection of school uniforms in
post-war Germany”.

On Wednesday, a very interesting report
by Laura Smith-Spark for the BBC provided some background to the debate
– full of fascinating information, such as that “In Japan, boys in
secondary school wear an outfit modelled on 19th Century Prussian army
uniforms.” And that in the US, despite the push by then-president
Clinton, school uniforms have still only been adopted “in about a
quarter of all US primary schools and perhaps 12% of secondary schools”.

But
not only do school uniforms disadvantage poor families and send
unpleasant messages about social conformity, it also appears they don’t
produce results. Smith-Spark quotes an American expert on the subject,
David Brunsma, as follows: “emphatically there really is no difference
between students who are forced to wear uniforms and those who are not
… In fact I’ve found some very small but significant negative
findings on academic achievement”.

What a surprise – freedom
produces better results than regimentation. Did we really need a study
on school uniforms to tell us that? Wouldn’t a quick comparison of the
economic performance of the US and Japan over the last 20 years be
enough?

Peter Fray

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