Day 22: When to Break the Rules

I am a teacher. And, like teachers everywhere, I am invested in what students learn. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about how education also involves unlearning.

A few days ago, I overheard a conversation Nigel was having with our daughter, Logan. Logan was telling Nigel about Kyle, a boy in her class who hits her “all the time.” Most recently, during their skating time at the ice rink, Kyle pushed Logan; she fell down on the ice and hurt her arm.

At times, Logan and Kyle sit at the same table during lunch. As they eat, Logan said, Kyle sometimes punches her in the arm. When the teachers see Kyle punching her or other kids, he has to leave the lunchroom. But, Logan noted, the teachers of course don’t always see what’s happening.

We don’t think Logan should hit anyone. So Nigel told her that, if Kyle hits her, she should first tell him to stop. If he doesn’t listen, she should tell the teacher. If that doesn’t work, she should get up and leave the lunch table. “But I’m not supposed to leave the table,” Logan insisted even though Nigel told her it would be ok to do so. So he explained to her that the most important thing in that situation is that she not get hurt. And that, if she can help it, she shouldn’t let other people hurt her. So, if breaking a rule and leaving the lunch table will protect her from being hurt, then she should go ahead and break that rule.

How do you know when it’s time to break the rules? Nigel and I have been wondering how to teach our kids to respect rules while, at the same time, helping them understand that some rules are at times, indeed, meant to be broken. Logan is only 7 and, already, she needs to unlearn something — the idea that you should always follow rules. While we want our kids to respect home rules and school rules, we also want them eventually to develop a keen ability to listen, to consider the situation in which they find themselves at a given moment and act appropriately, without rotely following the rules just for the sake of doing so.

Good teachers and schools, I think, do teach kids how to follow rules. But great schools allow kids to learn when it is time to break — or at least question — those rules.

What have you had to unlearn?

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