Thursday, June 16, 2011

One Rule to Rule Them All

Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Ted Leo & the Pharmacists (mp3)

Jesus had two rules. Wabash College has just one. They one-upped Jesus! Here is their rule:
"The student is expected to conduct himself at all times, both on and off the campus, as a gentleman and a responsible citizen."
My daughters’ school has three rules:
I will respect myself and others.
I will take responsibility for my actions.
I will treat others the way I want to be treated.
Wabash has had its “Gentleman’s Rule” for almost 60 years. My daughters’ school has had the same three rules since it opened its doors in 1991. Meanwhile, the school where I work has a 62-page handbook of rules. At least one school I know has a handbook that approaches 80 pages.

Every year, my school adds and subtracts pages of rules. Mostly adds. Same story at schools across the country.

It’s like the entire history of the Torah, where 10 simple commandments became three books of the Torah that rival the worst portions of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, has been ignored. ("But Pa, it's not fair! You only had to memorize 10 commandments, and I have to memorize 406 pages!" "Shut up and eat your manna.")

Seriously, Christians circa 2011 can’t even remember 10 f**king commandments, much less whether some dude’s ox needs to be gored if it attempts to hump your goat on your side of the fence if your wife or daughter witnesses it. Nor do we know where to look in the Torah to find out.

Two schools, four rules.

Neither Wabash nor my daughter’s school spends hours and days in meetings attempting to clarify or tweak the rules they have laid out. Neither school has lengthy meetings with parents and/or students where the administrators must begrudgingly acknowledge that the rule against inappropriate sexual conduct did not explicitly state that one student could not grope a female student by the buttocks, so therefore the student cannot be punished for doing what was not expressly forbidden in the rules from doing. (For the record, it stated “breasts and genital areas.”)

To be fair, neither school has a military component, and many of the schools obsessed with lengthy rulebooks do, or at least did at one point in time. And anyone with military experience knows that the handbook on how to properly prepare and eat toast is at least 16 pages long.

Did you ever see A Few Good Men? Remember that scene where Lt. Caffey grabs the Army field manual and asks Noah Wyle if anywhere in there it says how to go to the mess hall for meals, and Wyle says “Nossir.” And Caffey throws him the Gitmo field manual and asks the same question, and Wyle says, “Nossir.” Remember that?

Well, I gay-ron-tee you that, when the movie came out, Army brass dudes looked at one another and said, “Is it really not in there? F**k!! We need to add that to next year’s edition!” And next year, there was a 14-page breakdown on how to get to a mess hall for three squares a day. Complete with bullet points that looked something like this:
  • Breakfast
    • Between 4:30 a.m. - 6:30 a.m.
      • Meat Lover preferences
      • Dairy allergies
      • For those with religious dietary restrictions
      • Vegetarian preferences
        • Pure vegan
        • Traditional vegetarian
        • Just no moo cows or cluck clucks or oink oinks, please
          • No exceptions version
          • "Bacon is too good and must be granted exception" version
    • Between 6:30 a.m. - 8 a.m.
And so on. And each of those bullet points included multiple paragraphs of explanations that would make even the sharpest contract lawyer raise a unibrow of begrudging respect.

I’m not convinced that the One Rule or Three Rule model is a perfect fit for our school or any school, but doesn’t it more effectively get to the heart of what education is supposed to, ultimately, be about: getting students to think for themselves?

To annoy Bob, I’ll whip out my own bastardized version of Occam’s Razor again: All things being equal, the simplest explanation is most likely the right one. Which is to say, if both approaches to rules are a guaranteed pain in the ass for administrators and students, then isn’t too few rules better than too many?


Bob said...

I think Wabash has got your daughter's school (note change in apostrophe since your older one is moving on to a place with many, many rules) whipped. While your daughter's school rules sound good, there is no way that younger children can handle those kinds of abstractions in daily, meaningful ways. Their brains simply aren't developed enough yet.

A college student, on the other hand, has a pretty good sense of what it means to be a gentleman and a responsible citizen, whether or not he chooses to act like one.

Unfortunately, both technology and litigation have helped lead to those ever-expanding rules. However, what makes me smile, even as I sit in meetings where those rules are scrutinized, is the Graham Parker song, "Children and dogs always win." No matter how many rules there are, our students will always find a way around them. As it should be.

Daisy said...

"any fool can follow a rule, but it takes wisdom to know when to break it."

Willard Scott (i think)

BeckEye said...

That damn Noah Wyle. I was so convinced that he was going to turn out to be a huge star and then...he just didn't.