Thursday, March 20, 2014

On Rules: Is Less More?

Every year, the administration sends out the call for changes that should be made to the student handbook for the upcoming year. I tend to not think much about it. This year, I wondered if having more rules was better. These rules that typically get changed deal with behavior and conduct and the enforcement of said behavior and conduct. (Side note - I mistyped behavior as behaviour in the last sentence. When I did, for some reason, I began reading what I was typing in a British accent. It took me until the end of the sentence to notice I was doing it. :) That's a look into my brain.) Where I see things struggle in our school is how different things might be acceptable with one teacher and not with another. From this, I wonder if it's easier to have less overarching school rules in place to allow for some creativity and autonomy in each individual classroom.

Upon graduation from high school, I attended Wabash College for about two months. I loved the school. It just wasn't the right fit for me. I had been dating my now wife since I was a freshman in high school, I am very close to my family, which leads me into feeling blue from homesickness.  Looking back, I wish I would have stayed, but I also love how my life has played out, as well. One thing that will always stick with me is this: Wabash College's all-male campus operates under one rule for conduct and behavior. One. That's it. Not two. Not an appendix of forty-five. One.
“The student is expected to conduct himself at all times, both on and off campus, as a gentleman and a responsible citizen.”
This one rule fits everything. Yes, everything.

I'd like to see rule books in schools shrink to something like this. Of course there are drawbacks. What exactly is a gentleman? This could mean 500 different things to 500 different people. How does someone interpret what being a gentleman actually mean? The major issue is it's left up to interpretation by an individual.

What does it mean to be a responsible citizen? Once again, multiple viewpoints would exist.

Let's take a step back a moment and see this through the eyes of a student. The one thing students always seem to want more of is freedom. The next thing that students always seem to want is to be trusted. Isn't this what Wabash's Gentleman's Rule accomplishes? It gives students the freedom and trust they want, but also gives them the responsibility that comes along with the freedom and being trustworthy. If a student get's in "trouble," couldn't the teacher just simply ask one of these questions and it be covered by the One Rule?

  • "Was that a gentlemanly thing to do?"
  • "Were you being a responsible citizen?"
They are really yes/no questions. Simple, yet it encompasses so much. Simple. Basic. Focused. 

How about classes that teach kids what the expectation of  being a gentleman is all about? How about classes that teach manners? How about skills-for-life classes that teach students how to cope with stress, handle issues positively, study skills, interpersonal relationships, how to offer positive feedback to others, etc? 

Of course, there would have to be consequences if you answered, "No" to the above questions. I assume that would have to be looked at on an individual basis. I also assume that the freedoms would be then be limited and trust would then have to be regained over a period of time. 

Simplifying rules lets students not live in fear of breaking a rule, but to develop trust and responsibility as freedom increases. 

I really like the last line in the article at the bottom of this post. 
The challenge is great. From the first day you step on campus, our expectation is that you will live up to the example set by generations of Wabash men who have gone before and to set examples for those who will follow you.
There is no doubt that it would be hard to live up to, especially squirrely-minded middle schoolers. What I love most is this rule is actually telling you what to do. Most rule books tell you what not to do. It's a culture shift. One that flips the negative into positive. One rule that not only could be with you during your school career, but your entire life.

Are there any schools that operate like this? Could a middle schooler handle this? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

For more information on the Gentleman's Rule visit -


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