Let kids be kids: allowing for freedom and teaching responsibility

How do schools expect students to develop ethics: responsibility, tolerance, acceptance, cooperation, trust — if they refuse to usher in school policies that allow for it?

Anyone in education would state that responsibility is a key notion to teach children, whether in elementary or high school. But, how does a school go about this? Typically, it is by restricting access to whatever a student could do irresponsibly. It is not acceptable for a student to perform any irresponsible actions; therefore, they should never have the ability to do them. Doesn’t this just encourage students to be irresponsible — just to see what it’s like — when there aren’t rules governing over them?

For example:

  • When students use their phones in class, they play video games! Okay, let’s enforce a no cell phone rule!

  • Students spend all day watching YouTube videos in my class. Install a web filter that blocks most websites.

  • Kids are skipping class! Design a hall pass system where students can never leave the classroom without explicit monitoring.

  • Students are “goofing off” when given work that requires movement in the school. Ensure that all students are constantly accounted for in a set, small space. Double check attendance often!

  • A student does something heavily against school policy(smoking, dealing drugs, sexual activity) while out of class. Red alert! Shut down the entire school. No students can do anything anymore!

Do note, I’m not stating that rules should not exist, instead — I believe that students should be taught the conscious decision to make good choices. Will this lead to more students making improper choices? Probably. I would argue that most students would do these things irregardless from policy via web filters or just skipping class. However, what about students who are deterred by these rules? Are they actually learning responsibility or just terrified of the ramifications?

This has a direct parallel to parenting. Parents who tend to reinforce strict rules and guidelines usually almost manifest some of the most rebellious actions by their children. Or, their children grow up and take a “rule-breaking” action (i.e. smoking) and realize that nothing happened! That must mean…all these other strict rules have no purpose! Because no one in this equation ever learned responsibility: how their actions have consequences — for them and possibly others — they don’t know why their making these decisions.

This obviously applies to school as well: if a student does something improper on their computer — what a great time for a discussion on proper Internet usage — how it would impact your job performance, your digital literacy, even your Internet bill! If a student is running through the hallways and breaks a student’s project in their moment of exuberance, then it’s time to teach apologies, personal accountability, and moments of reflection. The point is, without an opportunity to fail, you can’t have teachable moments. It’s the same as writing a paper for a student in English class.

And, of course, this has to be reinforced across the entire school. Teachers have to recognize that all students are their students. It’s not “your students” when they’re in one class — everyone in the school should want everyone to succeed. If you see something, you can teach it — we’re equally responsible for everyone. Administrators also need to reinforce this culture and encourage proper behavior of students and staff.