Rules & Rulers

Mooring Crocodiles

If the internet is true (and how could it not be?), there are some strange laws on the books in Oklahoma:

It’s illegal to take a bite out of someone else’s hamburger.

It’s illegal for women not licensed by the state to do anyone’s hair – including their own. 

It’s illegal to have tissues in the back of your car.

AND NO ORAL SEX – even among consenting adults. It’s against the law. Stop it!

Many seem designed to protect our animal friends:

It’s illegal to make ugly faces at a dog, or carry a fish in a fishbowl on the bus. You may not promote a ‘horse-tripping’ event. (It’s presumably OK if the horse trips accidentally.) 

It’s illegal for bar owners to allow customers to pretend to have sex with buffalo. (I assume actually having buffalo bar-sex is covered in a separate statute…?)

It’s illegal to have the rear legs of a farm animal in your boots. And whale-hunting is ABSOLUTELY prohibited - anywhere in the state, under ANY circumstances.

Carrying FishPresumably these are antiquated codes passed in different times and circumstances. Some would be difficult to repeal even if legit. What aspiring legislator wants to campaign FOR simulated buffalo intercourse, or come out as pro-hamburger violating?

But these laws aren’t really a problem. No one MEANS them anymore - not most of them, anyway. 

No one’s been prosecuted lately for using a little gel or helping their bestie with her braids. Even in revenue-hungry times I’m not aware the TPD or Highway Patrol have EVER written someone up based on that revealing Kleenex box sticking out from under the seat.

The state seems content to let us make our best guesses which laws they mean, and which they don’t. 

Officer Writing TicketEven more modern, slightly less-ludicrous legislation can fall into gray areas. Staying parked on the street in a residential area for more than 24 hours can get you towed, but rarely does unless other issues are involved. Disposing of a car battery in the trash is big no-no, but I’m not sure anyone actually checks that sort of thing. 

And then there’s all that oral sex. I assume it’s happening from time to time, somewhere in the bounds of this otherwise rather conservative state. Is that a 911 situation, or do you simply file a complaint form the next business day?

A citizen’s arrest would just be… awkward. 

Some degree of confusion and clusterfoolery may be understandable – or at least tolerable – after a century of prolific law-making… especially given the general quality of our elected leaders. And there’s rarely real mystery what the authorities will or won’t bust you for – go ahead and make fun of your dog, but keep your boots away from that goat!

The same clarity is often lacking, however, in the rules and policies we institute as districts, school buildings, or in our individual classrooms. 

Like our dear state, we do love our many prohibitions and contingencies. Anything undesirable which has ever happened in your district, been rumored to have happened in other districts, or been imagined as possibly happening one day in the most hypothetical of circumstances - there’s probably a rule about it in a handbook somewhere. 

Tree RingsYou can often tell how long a teacher has been in the classroom by how many detailed expectations and procedures make it onto her wall or into his syllabus; it’s like counting a tree’s rings to determine its age. 

We can argue the depth and detail of rules and policies some other time. The problem here is that, much like some of the state laws above, we don’t actually mean all of them - at least not all of the time, for everyone. 

Please understand, I’m all for flexibility in the application of consequences based on the student, the circumstances, etc. ‘Equity is not always equality’ and all that. What I’m talking about are the super-secret and ever-shifting distinctions between the rules we actually mean, the ones we kinda mean early in the year or when we randomly decide we need to ‘crack down’ on something, and the ones which simply sound good and we don’t really want to get rid of but have no intention of enforcing - and haven’t for years. We just kinda hope they 'slow down' the inevitable problems associated with ignoring them.

Maybe it’s dress code (“But I wasn’t WEARING the hat; I was CARRYING it!”), or student ID’s, or raising your hand before getting up at lunch to go to the restroom. Maybe it’s phones and other electronics, or tardies, or those leftover prohibitions about tattoos or multi-colored hair. 

School Rules

I don’t really care WHAT the rules are, but I do wish we’d try something crazy:  if it’s a rule, let’s enforce it; if it’s not worth enforcing, let’s not keep it as a rule. 

I realize this is right up there with doing away with grades, eliminating gender-biased bathrooms, and extra Jeans Days for meeting our United Way goal – it’s THAT crazy.

We’re infuriated with students who simply DON’T catch on that they can’t wear spandex to class, while at the same time we never really INTENDED to spend our entire lunch duty coordinating tinkle-time for six hundred teenagers. The girl who guesses incorrectly about which rules we actually mean gets busted for her booty-wear, while the super-demure cooperative honor student gets a UTI and loses circulation in her right arm. 

We’re bewildered by both of them, but their crime was the same – incorrectly guessing what we really mean, despite what we say. 

I get that no one wants to “give up” on dress codes or ID’s and just let them wear… whatever, indecipherably grunting their name as needed and wandering into class whenever ready. I support our desire to avoid packing ISD with anonymous students wearing yoga pants or arguing over how long it really takes to get to 3rd Hour – they need to be in class, where there’s at least a chance they’ll learn something. We want to prioritize the important things – our primary function.  

Unfortunately, “holding the line” and “not holding the line” are, well… completely contradictory. 

I fear the real reason we keep so many rules in place without the willingness to follow through when tested is that it makes US feel better.

“We have high expectations, by golly – just look at our rules!”

“We’re so caring about the individual student and value learning over dogma – just look at how we never enforce any of our rules!”

"New Shimmer is a floor wax AND a dessert topping!"   

Gotta PeeWe need to figure out what our actual goals are, both as a whole and in our individual classrooms. Is the purpose of our rules to help things run smoothly? To keep everyone safe & opportunities relatively equitable? To introduce life skills like ‘manipulation’ and ‘guessing which laws actually apply to ME?’ 

Are we trying to breed creativity? Compliance? Independence? Cynicism? 

I’m not saying it’s easy, or that anyone’s intentions are suspect. But our kids are already surrounded by chaos and injustice, uncertainty and the general flakiness of those purporting to lead them. At the very least, we shouldn't ADD to the madness by forcing them to guess how things work THIS week, or punish the ones who take us at our word - while only those willing to constantly test our sincerity can check that text from mom or pee from time to time. 

Then again, at least they’re not keeping Kleenex in their cars or pretending to have sex with buffalo. 

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This is my new favorite word. I will use it ten times tomorrow.


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