I had a recent chat with a teacher who shared with me an issue he face in school. He had students who disagreed with certain school rules and do not comply with them. In some cases, it could be about sleeping during the reading period for example where they are supposed to be reading a copy of newspaper that day. That seemed mild enough and the rules only state they are not supposed to sleep or work on anything else except to use that time to peruse the newspaper.
He realises that some students are involved in so many activities or busy with many other things in school and hence would naturally be sleepy or tired during that time slot. So it seemed pointless to go around classrooms waking these students up. He had the chance to speak to these students but they just generally don’t believe that time slot was going to be helpful to them and hence rather take the time to ‘rest’. He asked me when the students do not accept or align themselves with the intention of the rules, how should we get them to comply?
I suggested the following analogy: If you visit your friend’s place and they take off their shoes before entering the house, do you keep your shoes on and enter their house just because you do that at home yourself, and disagree with their practice? And the reason for you to be doing that is because you do want to maintain your identity as a friend, and receive the benefits of friendship and the house visit you’re taking part in. Likewise in school, respect for the rules comes with the privilege of being able to attend the school.
If, even after explaining such and giving the student (in his/her teens) to digest it, then it makes sense to mete out punishments. The problem with an approach to just get students to ‘follow the rules’ without clear indication of the intent is that they would only learn superficial compliance. But the even greater challenge is when they are resentful about being ‘forced’ into that compliance if they don’t buy into the intent. Then, the principle is that of privilege and responsibility. Something I’m not sure we emphasise enough in schools.