To the Gallows, All of You!

Fresh off WordCamp San Diego, I was checking out Matt Mullenweg’s (founder of WordPress) blog, and ran across this short, clever YouTube video from Derek Sivers. Wow, is it ever true! It got me thinking. How many rules do we conjure up in our schools and classrooms to make our jobs more convenient and our students easier to control, when really we’re just crushing the spirit of the youngsters in our charge?  Insert “Teacher” every time you hear “business owner” and see how it resonates with you.

I think back to all the rules that blanket most classrooms, especially math classrooms.

  • ONLY PENCIL surely began because one student’s scrawling in pen was wrong, couldn’t be erased, drew the ire of the frustrated teacher, who then invented a no pen rule. I’ve eased up tremendously on this one myself. Students could pretty much write in blood if it were allowed.
  • NO GUM, NO FOOD, NO DRINKS These seem to be a universally shunned trio of class black sheep.  In all honesty, I think all three have a time and a place AT school, but the occasional mishap generally has all three banned inside most classroom walls. The teachers who allow such rule breaking are, dare I say, mavericks. When I first started teaching, these rules were posted by the school facilities manager in every classroom, on an unsightly shade of pink card stock, in unflattering font, telling all who read, that this was a place of NO. Underneath them I wrote, just for fun:  NO SMILING, NO GIGGLING, NO LAUGHING, NO FUN, which actually made all four occur. Except from far away, my NO SMILING rule looked like NO SAILING and puzzled many students.
  • NO CELL PHONES Kids text, get on the internet, and can distract themselves right out of our content during class time, but shouldn’t we be using the rich technology they already pine to use to our advantage? Ask Alan November. Why punish the whole lot when it’s just a few students who need to get guided back to the straight and narrow? I loathe students texting in class, but me outlawing cell phones because of the actions of the immature few will ultimately derail my opportunity to use these as tools of learning.

About 10 years ago, in the middle of a lesson, I had a very cool, likable, honors student, blurt out the F-word. THE F-word. Yep, right at the conclusion of something we did as a class. It might have been that we arrived at the solution to an involved problem together, I don’t recall, but in a fit of exclamatory delight he said “F#$% Yeah!” In no way was his slip-up appropriate or allowed to slide by. I called him on it, in a firm yet tactful way.  It was innocent.  It was a mistake.  It was also passion. Yet, to this day, I don’t have a sign on my wall that says NO F-Word. I will have that conversation when it comes up and honor the the many who have not used it by giving them one less NO to shout at them.

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7 thoughts on “To the Gallows, All of You!

  1. I agree!!!! Most scientists don’t use pencils. They must use pens and simply line out mistakes. They have a record of all their trials and can always reference their lab book.

  2. Great post, John…I wholeheartedly agree. Way too many “no”, “never”, and “can’t” in education. You might enjoy new short book by Sivers called Anything You Want.

  3. Cell phones are interesting one. Should we accept that students are plugged in all the time or should we provide environments where, for some of the time, those in your immediate vicinity get all of your attention? For what it’s worth I don’t have an answer.

    My school are trying this year to allow mobile devices on sites in specific locations at specific times. I read somewhere that school administrators are afraid of allowing students to use these devices because while they are ‘banned’ from premises any loss or damage is not their liability.

    • Yeah, the district is piloting a few wireless classrooms in my school too. Unfortunately, mine is not one of them, but that’s okay. My buddies who are the lucky teachers getting access can learn the ropes for me. I’m sure there will be a learning curve.
      I’m implementing SBG this year, so not having to worry about a curriculum that relies on students’ own devices will probably be a good thing for my time.
      Since I got my iPhone this February, I’m like an addict without it. I can only imagine my students’ frustration at not being able to use their phones at school.

  4. I ran a summer camp and prized it as a place where kids could find their own fun and their own rules. We provided as much structure as they needed to be comfortable and safe, but always tried to talk about what they *could* do and what *would* be fun.

    Words have a huge influence on our culture, and it’s worth the time to choose them very carefully! Thanks for the reminder.

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