Dumb Rules

A comment I made yesterday brought back a bizarre memory about rules.

There was a time when our two older kids were in daycare together.  Depending upon my wife’s and my schedules, you’d either drop the kids off in the morning or pick them up at the end of the day.  Because of their age difference, they were in two different rooms.  Between the two rooms, there was a cloak room where the kids’ clothes, boots, etc. were hung up and the doorways were such that you could see from one room into the other.  Each of the rooms had an outside door for entry and exit.  OK, stage set.

Dropping the kids off was no big deal.  They were always excited to see their friends and get involved in the play activities.  Often it was hard to even say goodbye to them as they were off like a shot once their coats and shoes were off.  It was picking them up that was the issue.

And where the rules came in.

Rule #1.  You have to pick up the older child first.  I’m assuming that the rationale was that they could dress themselves but it would take longer than if Dad did it.  A big shoutout to whoever invented velcro.  So, you enter their room, takes your shoes/boots off and take the child into the cloakroom and get them ready.

The problem was that the younger child could see you coming and would come to their entrance to the cloak room which was blocked by a see-through gate.  He was excited to see you, knowing that the family would be going home for supper soon.  In a perfect world, I could just reach over the gate, grab him, dress him and we were gone.  But the rules prohibited that.

Rule #2.  You could then pick up the younger child.  But, I had to leave the first room by its exit, walk around the corner into the second room, take my shoes/boots off and then get him.  The situation was always the same.  He was standing at the gate looking into the other room crying, just knowing that he’d been abandoned again.

Ever the inquirer, I asked “Why do we have to do it this way?”

The answer?  “That’s the rules.”

The response?  “Why?”

The comeback.  “That’s the rules.”

The situation helped me with my own understanding of rules.  The bottom line should be – if you’re going to have rules, you need to know why.  There are good reasons for rules – I get that – and if you could explain why, it would go a long way to understanding.

It made me think of rules in my own school.  My Computer Studies classroom was in one corner on the second floor.  The gymnasium was on the ground floor way on the other side of the school.  Some of the students would have Phys. Ed. before Computer Science (as an aside, if you have a chance to get involved in scheduling, try to avoid the period after Phys. Ed. – just sayin’) and were constantly late.  In our school, we had a rule – there was five minutes transition time between classes.  As a first year teacher, I tried to follow the rules and would regularly try to deal with it.

“Siiiiir, Why?”

My answer?  “That’s the rules.”

Later one day, I picked up the kids from daycare and realized that I was using the same lame reason myself.

It got so frustrating – the next night after the school had emptied, I timed it myself.  It took the best part of five minutes to do the walk.  Stop for a drink of water and you’d be late!

So, I decided to drop in on the vice-principal for a chat.  As a first year teacher, I was really nervous – I didn’t have a permanent contract – how dare I question things that have been established for years?  I explained the situation and got this incredulous look from him. 

“If it’s impossible, it’s impossible.  Bend the rule”. 

I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.  I’ll make the new rule “five minutes and a drink of water”.

In education, we like to have rules.  I suppose in some ways, we rationalize it by thinking that we’re making kids better citizens and keeping things safe.  In practical terms, we probably do many of them to make life easier for ourselves.

But, if we can’t think of a good reason to have and enforce the rules, do we really need it?

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