Most D.C. public school students have similar gut reactions to wearing uniforms to school:

"I don't want to wear any tacky uniforms!"

"If I wanted to wear a uniform, I would have gone to a Catholic school."

"I think it's wrong because we should be able to express ourselves the way we want to."

Teen-agers have very little control over their lives. Parents, teachers and other authority figures regulate all sorts of things. By choosing their own clothes, students are able to express themselves. But recent evidence suggests that students are unable to responsibly use this freedom.

A visitor walking through the halls of any D.C. public high school would be surrounded by students decked out in the latest overpriced designer fashions. Students are walking models for $350 Fila Gortex sweatsuits, $100 leather skirts and $50 Guess jeans. Some students resort to shoplifting so they can keep up with the trends. Still others work long hours at the local fast-food restaurant so they can buy the latest fashions. Some students are so tired after their long hours at work that they fall asleep the next day in class.

Students taunt others who are not fashionably up-to-date. Many families spend more money than they can afford so their kids are "dressed for success." (Of course, many students dress nicely without spending hundreds of dollars on a sweatsuit.)

If the pressure to dress right were removed, students would pay more attention to their school work, and the whole school will benefit. A dress code would be a more acceptable choice than a uniform, but it would simply not work. By banning blue jeans, for example, you would be banning $20 Levis along with $50 Guess jeans. It is the brand names that are causing the trouble, not the particular kind of clothing, and banning brands would be impractical. Banning one popular, overpriced designer line of clothing would simply cause another to be de rigueur.

It seems the only solution to the problem is to mandate uniforms for all D.C. public school students. Of course, students would hate them, including me. Who wants to be told what to do? But if uniforms eliminated some of the problems that are undermining our schools, maybe their time has come. -- Karen Pence is a student at Wilson Senior High.