Monday, September 5, 2011

Lawful. But is it Good?

I didn't plan to post today. I'm working on a major post right now, something that will hopefully expose some of the deeper flaws of our education system, but I hadn't quite found the words to plead my case yet. But sometimes, one just can't deny the urge to write. Please look at me with pity, graphomania is a serious condition.

Today, after I bit a dry marker in two to squeeze a little more ink from it, a boy commented, "the thing I like about you is that you don't care about manners, only about doing what you want," without the slightest hint of sarcasm. Was my action wrong? No, merely unorthodox.
Later that day a boy from a school all the way across town came to one of my classes. He said he didn't like his new instructor because, "she doesn't like noise and mess, like you do." Are noise and mess inherently wrong? No, merely unorthodox.

Some months ago, a girl had asked me if she may go to the bathroom. I asked her if this question was an inquiry as to whether she possessed the physical faculties needed to perform this basic anatomical function, or an examination of the socio-cultural norms concerning this activity. She looked at me queerly and went to the bathroom.

The point I wanted to make, and which I felt may have been lost on the polite young lady, is that I don't care if one is in the bathroom or not. There is no need to ask me. Just do it!

Now, don't get the wrong impression of me. Discipline in my classroom is not lax. If anything, I view myself as an old-school, possibly even an authoritarian, figure. I uphold the rules of the game and the rules of courtesy to the highest standards and if you don't play nice, you're not going to play at all.

However, I don't have needless rules. I don't care if a kid is sitting by the table or on the table. I don't care if he's wearing a hat in class. If the class is hot and the air conditioning is broken, I won't hesitate to go all McGuiver on the secured windows to get some air into the classroom. All these things would make a teacher faint. Why, just today a school principle phoned to scream at me that I left one of the classes in a mess. What kind of mess? The tables were all wrong, some of them were shifted almost a foot to the left.

I decided one of us must be insane. I just don't know who.

This can't possibly be fun! There aren't any perfectly aligned tables in this picture!

And yet, despite not measuring the table locations with an atomic ruler, if someone interferes in my game, I go Gygaxian on their ass. My tyranny on this subject had even earned me significant controversy in the past. The discussion of my DNDkids article on discipline had covered dozens of message boards and blogs and generated a discussion longer than longcat on the Wizards forums. But this harshness is justified in my eyes. It is needed. Needed for the game to be fun and for me not to throw myself out of the window I had just unscrewed.

And a guy standing on his head? Why, if it not his turn, he might as well climb the walls like Spiderman or fly around like Superman. He might even fight criminals like Batman - it's none of my business, now is it? He's not interfering with the game and he's not going to harm himself or anyone else, why should I rob him of his right of self-expression?

On the other hand, there is the education system. It screams at you for moving a table several inches. It screams at you for anything unorthodox. They would even scream at you for repeating the previous sentence.

This had led me to a revelation that struck me like an ACME anvil today as I drove back from my first day of work this year. Most laws are not meant to safeguard freedom or defend life or property in the schoolyard - they are meant to humiliate, dehumanize, and make slaves out of freefolk. They come from the same place as the endless and often comically absurd regulations of basic training - to show you you're nothing but a cog in the system. To make you nothing but a cog in the system. In a place which raises cannon fodder, it is right and proper. In a place which claims to create thinkers and virtuous citizens, it is laughable.

People say my classes looks like a jungle, maybe they do. I hope they do.

A jungle is such a nicer place than a prison.


  1. The etymological meaning of good: the example within a society.

    The etymological meaning of evil: the exception within a society.

  2. I can't help but add that laws and stuff are also meant to make a society work. Which means for example that one may not interfere with the freedom of others. That includes trying to answer the question where to draw the line between self expression and the freedom of those whose freedom is limited by others self expression. It also includes the need to learn to shut up when it's not your turn so others may speak, too. Which surprisingly often is not learned properly. but it surely does not include bolting tables to the floor.

  3. TheClone, I'm not an anarchist in any way - I do think we must be civil, law obedient and proud of our culture and traditions. But I feel many rules are implemented solely to feed the teacher's egos or to make their job easier at the expense of the children's spiritual and creative development.

  4. Random collection of letters and numbers, I don't agree with you. A man who gives all his income to the poor is an exception but none would dare to call him evil.

  5. I guess you're right. Though it's a kind of balance there, too. If there were no rules just for making the teachers' life easier, there would be not teacher working 30 years in his life. Though this definitely depends on culture, country, age and whatnot.

  6. I am, honestly, baffled about why the article on discipline is controversial. You have a very good grasp of what motivates kids, and nowhere in here do you advocate staking any of them over an anthill. I have three kids, myself, and I wouldn't hesitate to take your advice about how to deal with bad behavior. (Although I've tried to pull off "kick them out of the group" before, and it turns out the hospital won't take them back!)

  7. I believe this article had only baffled people who only saw kids in family gatherings and shuddered in terror. I don't think a single person with teaching or parenting experience had any issues with it. Some people had a problem with the implied comics violence. Such a severe lack of sense of humor, black as it may be, requires medical treatment!

    In any case, thanks for the support!