Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Rules - HUH - what are they good for?

Rules are everywhere in society, and they range from the formal - the penal code for example - to the informal - form a single file line when waiting at the bank. Some rules have definite consequences, while others bear no repercussion beyond mild embarrassment. At their core, rules exist to create order in an otherwise chaotic environment.

Is there a more potentially chaotic environment than a public high school? Schools rely on rules to create a safe and secure learning environment free from distractions. Enforcement of school rules has changed dramatically over the past few generations. There was was a time when teachers were allowed to abuse students, both physically and emotionally. Late to class? Detention. Talking when you're not supposed to be? See me after class. Fighting? Get out. A growing body of research and the continuing pussification of America has forced us to reevaluate how we enforce rules. 

It's my opinion that rules give educators an opportunity to decide what is truly important in the daily operation of our schools. Which rules are directly related to learning and which relate primarily to behavior? Is our goal to change a problem behavior, or are we merely attempting to maintain order? Are there aspects of the classroom and school environment that are beyond our control? If so, should we have rules to address those issues?

Consider on-time behavior for example. Why should a teacher care if a student is tardy? If classroom time is being utilized to its fullest extent, then having missed out on a portion of the lesson should serve as its own punishment. If a student arrives 10 minutes late to class and didn't miss anything of consequence, where is the crime? 

There are a few common points brought up in regards to tardiness. One is that schools should be encouraging a strong work ethic, and part of that involves an appreciation for being on time. After all, at some point this kids are going to find a job that requires them to be on time, and if the school never enforced on-time behavior, then they won't be able to hold down a job. This raises an interesting issue - how much of a classroom teacher's day should be spent teaching things like "work ethic?" If we concede the point (that schools should be responsible for promoting on-time behavior), how should schools approach the issue? Should students be punished for being late or rewarded for being on time In either event, wouldn't the result be that students still have no appreciation for being on-time, they've simply developed certain positive or negative associations with certain actions (the argument against behaviorism). 

Another rebuttal involves a tardy student being disruptive. I'd contend that the issue there is that of disruption, not of tardiness. Certainly there are students who can manage to be late and not bother anyone. 

Then there's the slippery slope example - if we didn't enforced a tardy policy, then students would wander the halls and never go to class! That may be, but would that also imply that those students would be disrupting the learning of others (a different issue to be addressed separately) and probably failing their classes? Who's to blame here? If a school takes the position of "Show up at 7:45 am and we'll teach you a bunch of stuff" and the student's response is "I'll show up whenever I feel like it," why can't we simply record when the student chose to arrive at school and go on about our business? 

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