Many schools have developed simple sets of rules which are displayed in classrooms and form an integral part of their behaviour policy.
The rules themselves often seem quite obvious – be kind, do your best, don’t damage the school… but these rules express an underlying belief in certain values, which the school hopes will have a formative effect on the children in their care.
These ethical assumptions repay closer reflection, and this page, developed with several schools , unpacks some of the deeper reasons for our ethical priorities.
The particular rules I have examined are taken from one fairly typical infants school. Your school rules may differ from these, but my guess is that they will be broadly similar in scope. Simply find those closest to yours and, if the suggestions fit, try them!
THE RULESClicking on each rule below will take you to specific material on that topic.However,I suggest that you first read the introduction below .
- Be Gentle and Kind
- Be Polite and Helpful
- Always try to do your best
- Be a good listener
- Take care of our school and everything in it
- Move carefully around the school
THE THEOLOGY OF RULES - Biblical background.
There is a stereotype of Christian faith which says that it is all to do with rules 'Thou shalt not....'. It is true that Christianity, like all faiths and ideologies -religious or secular - can be and has been used to reinforce social control, often with disastrous results.
Perhaps because of this, there is a certain nervousness now about talking about rules at all. The sixties and seventies, during which many teachers grew up, were marked by a rejection of rules and the growth of moral relativism and situation ethics.
This approach, however, has its own dangers, and we are now seeing the pendulum swing back towards a rediscovery of the importance of common values.
WHY DO WE NEED RULES?
1. The Value of Tradition
Rules help us to avoid having to reinvent the wheel in every generation. While it is right for people to explore and apply rules in new ways, we have recognised that our ancestors were not always as green as they were cabbage looking.
Having battled with adversity for centuries, they perhaps knew a thing or two about life worth passing on and cherishing.
Even if we would now consider them wrong, and want to make different decisions for different times, spending time considering traditional values preserves us from making the same mistakes.
Many societies place great emphasis on respecting the wisdom of those who have gone before them - Australian aboriginal and Native American communities, for example.
It is perhaps only post enlightenment Europeans who have, on a large scale, deified 'progress' and 'change' and use the word 'old-fashioned' in a pejorative sense. However, the periodic waves of nostalgia - retro fashions, Shaker furniture etc.- betray the fact that we feel we are in danger of losing something important.
“Do what your father tells you, my son, and never forget what your mother taught you. Keep their words with you always, locked in your heart. Their teaching will lead you when you travel, protect you at night, and advise you during the day. Their instructions are a shining light; their correction can teach you how to live.” Proverbs 6:20 -23)
2. Community and Social Identity
Rules are an expression of the values, which bind societies together.
It is no accident that the writers of the Old Testament choose to place the giving of the Jewish law and the Ten Commandments in the context of the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
A rag-tag bunch of ex-slaves, who have never had experience of power and autonomy, will have no idea how to govern themselves. During forty years of wandering, they are gradually transformed from individuals into a cohesive society. The establishment of commonly held values and ways of encouraging and enforcing those values is an important and inevitable part of that process.
The same process is in evidence in New Testament times, as Jewish and non- Jewish followers of Christ struggle with the challenge of forging a new and distinctive community, in the face of persecution.
Later St. Benedict and other early founders of monasteries developed formal rules for their communities which were read in chunks at regular meetings, which were called ‘chapter’ meetings, (because a chapter of the rule was read). Local clergy gatherings are still called ‘chapters’, as are Hell's Angels though perhaps they aren't aware of the term’s origins! "Golden rules" assemblies are your 'chapter' meetings.
The making and transmitting of rules is obviously, then, not an optional activity, it is an inevitable feature of situations in which people live in close proximity.
Communities which attempt to let their members do just as they please always end up living by rules. In fact they are often are more rigid than those consciously adopted by the societies they have rejected.
Christians believe that God created us to live in relationship with one another.” It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
'By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, that you love one another." (John 13:8)
3.Righteousness and Justice
Righteousness is not a word which people seem happy to use these days. It has acquired negative connotations of a 'holier than thou' mentality.
This is a shame because it is at the root of Christian understanding of what God is doing in the world. Christians believe that the world is meant to be a place of justice and righteousness.
However, we, by our actions, have created a society in which much is wrong. We have pulled the world out of true. like woven cloth in which the threads have been snagged and tangled.
Born into a society which is so misshapen, we too cannot entirely avoid being misshapen ourselves It is the Christian belief that God is constantly at work in the world putting things right, through his Spirit and through the right actions of human beings of any faith and of none.
Righteousness is this process by which God rights the world. (In Hebrew the word has far more of the feeling of a verb than a noun. God 'righteouses' the world.) Celebrating and reinforcing our rules, for Christians, is to share in the work of God. They are Golden indeed!
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control." (Galatians 5: 22)
RULES AS A PART OF COLLECTIVE WORSHIP
It is entirely proper that the restating and exploration of rules be a part of worship. Church services often include the recital of the ten commandments or the summary of the law. (Luke 10: 27). They also include times when we consider our failure to live as we would hope to (confession and absolution) and times to celebrate our sense of community (the sharing of the peace and the celebration of Holy Communion). Worship like the rest of life is not, and cannot be, value-free. Worship that tries to be value-free just descends into individualistic emotional mush.
Of course all this needs to be balanced by the awareness that simply restating rules as unchallengeable and arbitrary commands does little to help children grow into responsible adults. We can, if we do this, leave them with real problems later (what one writer described as the "hardening of the oughteries”). However, understanding and coming to own our rules shapes us into people who have a strong inner sense of what is good and creative, and a strong outer connection to the wisdom of others in our time and in the past.
LINKS TO THE RULES
Be Gentle and Kind
Be Polite and Helpful
Always try to do your best
Be a good listener
Take care of our school and everything in it
Move carefully around the school
Guide to the Bible
Bible Gateway - Online Bibles
Textweek.com - comments, art and movies with Biblical themes
Email: Anne Le Bas