ST - When rules do not make sense

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ST - When rules do not make sense

Postby xiaostar » Sun Dec 02, 2012 10:34 am

By Rachel Chang

...Cleaning toilets was what the school made us do for "detention class"...My toilet-cleaning afternoons were always accompanied by a sense of indignation. Not because I was innocent of breaching the rules but because somewhere in my adolescent heart stirred a feeling that these rules I had trespassed were arbitrary, empty and bore little resemblance to what actually matters in real life.

Years later, I still think so - the difference is now I actually know that to be true, and no longer have to live in a nonsensical dystopia that channels students' energy into meaningless conformity.

The rule book was as convoluted and anal as the United States tax code. A pair of earrings with tiny studs were allowed if the studs were white - but bookable if the studs were blue. (I have no idea why white was validated over blue when our uniforms had more blue than white.)

Shoes had to be all-white, so a pair of popular Reebok shoes at that time, which had black soles peeking out slightly at the front, were bookable - but not if the soles were "whitened" by students with liquid paper. Once, I got booked because the liquid paper had rubbed off a little.

What made this even more nightmarish was the army of student prefects who, rumour had it, had monthly quotas of bookings to reach. Every eccentricity and caveat in that rulebook was tattoed on their hearts, like accountants and tax loopholes.

They reminded me of members of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, waving around their little red books of Mao thought; zealots for one man's lazy, internally illogical rambling.

When Singaporeans moan about the education system and how it does not instil creativity, innovation and risk-taking in kids, they always seem to be talking about the curriculum. And while rote-learning plays a big part in stamping out the natural energy and inquisitiveness in children, so does the environment in which they learn.

Those afternoons cleaning toilets were meant to impress upon me the importance of following the rules. But what if the rules made no sense? What my secondary school taught me was not to ask these questions, and if you want to, you can do so while cleaning toilets.

A decade later, I know it doesn't matter whether my earring studs are white or blue or if my shoes' black soles peek out from the front. But as a student, the message I got was that infringing this made me somehow worthless, even though I did well in class and enjoyed my extra-curricular activities and in all other ways thrived.

I can see why rules in schools are important - kids need to learn discipline, respect for authority and the value of an orderly society. "Slippery slope" proponents will say it's a hop, skip and jump from loose belts to knife fights (an argument I won't dignify with a response).

When reverence for rules is taken to an extreme, what is lost is a sense of perspective and the chance for kids to forge for themselves a moral conviction on how to live in a civilised society. They lose a sense of play, of wonder; they don't believe that their lives have limitless potential, which they do.

For my rebellion then, I cleaned toilets. But sometimes I wonder if it cost me more than the afternoon.

xiaostar
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Re: ST - When rules do not make sense

Postby concern2 » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:17 am

xiaostar wrote:By Rachel Chang

...Cleaning toilets was what the school made us do for "detention class"...My toilet-cleaning afternoons were always accompanied by a sense of indignation. Not because I was innocent of breaching the rules but because somewhere in my adolescent heart stirred a feeling that these rules I had trespassed were arbitrary, empty and bore little resemblance to what actually matters in real life.

Years later, I still think so - the difference is now I actually know that to be true, and no longer have to live in a nonsensical dystopia that channels students' energy into meaningless conformity.

The rule book was as convoluted and anal as the United States tax code. A pair of earrings with tiny studs were allowed if the studs were white - but bookable if the studs were blue. (I have no idea why white was validated over blue when our uniforms had more blue than white.)

Shoes had to be all-white, so a pair of popular Reebok shoes at that time, which had black soles peeking out slightly at the front, were bookable - but not if the soles were "whitened" by students with liquid paper. Once, I got booked because the liquid paper had rubbed off a little.

What made this even more nightmarish was the army of student prefects who, rumour had it, had monthly quotas of bookings to reach. Every eccentricity and caveat in that rulebook was tattoed on their hearts, like accountants and tax loopholes.

They reminded me of members of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, waving around their little red books of Mao thought; zealots for one man's lazy, internally illogical rambling.

When Singaporeans moan about the education system and how it does not instil creativity, innovation and risk-taking in kids, they always seem to be talking about the curriculum. And while rote-learning plays a big part in stamping out the natural energy and inquisitiveness in children, so does the environment in which they learn.

Those afternoons cleaning toilets were meant to impress upon me the importance of following the rules. But what if the rules made no sense? What my secondary school taught me was not to ask these questions, and if you want to, you can do so while cleaning toilets.

A decade later, I know it doesn't matter whether my earring studs are white or blue or if my shoes' black soles peek out from the front. But as a student, the message I got was that infringing this made me somehow worthless, even though I did well in class and enjoyed my extra-curricular activities and in all other ways thrived.

I can see why rules in schools are important - kids need to learn discipline, respect for authority and the value of an orderly society. "Slippery slope" proponents will say it's a hop, skip and jump from loose belts to knife fights (an argument I won't dignify with a response).

When reverence for rules is taken to an extreme, what is lost is a sense of perspective and the chance for kids to forge for themselves a moral conviction on how to live in a civilised society. They lose a sense of play, of wonder; they don't believe that their lives have limitless potential, which they do.

For my rebellion then, I cleaned toilets. But sometimes I wonder if it cost me more than the afternoon.


:goodpost:

I like the thought process and analytical thinking expressed in your post.

Many 'rebellious' kids have a lot going inside their heads, and they are not afraid to put their thoughts into action. However, this doesn't mean kids who follow the rules do not think - they probably don't want to risk the known consequences and see no point in 'wasting time' fighting it.

I :lol: at the white vs blue ear-studs (political party colours :laugh: )

Reading your post also brings back some of my memories of my own schooling days. I was from an all-girls' school that allowed only short hair, and it was also something that some of my school mates detested - and rebelled by hiding little 'pigtails' under their bobs. We weren't even allowed to wear earrings - only little sticks to ensure our pierced holes do not close up :roll: The rules have since been changed and they are less extreme now.

Allow me to add one more reason for certain school rules - to eliminate as many sources of distraction (and 'time-wasters') as possible from school work, like choosing what earings and dress to wear for school today and what hairstyle to do up :laugh:

concern2
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