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What rules should a school have?

October 20, 2006

How does a school decide on its rules?

Hello again,

I have to confess that I hate rules. I like to feel that I am well enough behaved that I don’t need a rule book to tell me what to do. I also have basic a instinctive reaction to being told I mustn’t do something…

… and that is to think of times when I might want to do it, even when the activity itself might be something I never usually do. I can remember seeing notices on buses when I was child that said “no spitting.” I found this very curious; why should anybody want to spit on a bus? Was it such a problem that a rule was needed? But I started coming up with reasons why I might need to break it. For example, I might find a smudge of ink on my hand and try to rub it off by spitting on it. Would that count?

The recent furore in the UK over the niqab has shown, however, that we can’t count on common sense or good manners to prevail. It seems now we need a rule that says teachers must not wear the veil in front of their pupils. When it comes to setting school rules, then clearly dress code has to be among them. Many years ago teachers wore academic gowns and “mortar boards”. Perhaps that’s the answer. Let teachers wear a “uniform” and that takes away the problem. But surely, teachers must be enjoined to dress appropriately for the teaching situation. I once told a teacher that I thought wearing shorts to work was inappropriate. He was quite offended and pointed out that students were wearing them. He seemed unhappy at the idea that the teacher should dress differently from the students. Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned.

Smoking, eating and drinking can also be a problem. Fortunately, in many countries national legislation now outlaws smoking in the workplace. But, although I have never had a problem with banning teachers and students from smoking in class, I have often returned after a break to a smoky atmosphere because students smoked in the room in their free time. I think it is perfectly reasonable for smoking to be confined to smoking-only areas or banned altogether. I also find it impolite for students to be eating in the classroom and that includes chewing gum. I suppose the main issue is what is normal for the culture in which the school is situated.

Time-keeping and punctuality are another area in which a school has a right to set rules but in countries that do not feel ruled by the clock, such rules will be difficult to enforce.

Perhaps the best approach to rule-making is to make it a shared responsibility with teachers and students drawing up a mutually acceptable code for each new academic year.

Let me know what you think.

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