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Philosophical Meanderings

Don’t Bring Dangeres things.

School Rules by dhbatesbunch

School Rules by dhbatesbunch

Before we opened our school, we decided that we wouldn’t have any hat or hoodie policy at all. We knew that in our first year we were enrolling many students with overwhelmingly negative experiences with authority in school. We worked to avoid as many power struggles as possible. We also acknowledged hats and hoodies as parts of students’ identities and as defense mechanisms, in some cases, against unwanted attention and overwhelming stimuli. While we didn’t quite avoid every power struggle that year – and while we’ve changed how we operate over time – we have never gone back to write a hat or hoodie policy, despite the obvious pressure to do so from the school in which we co-locate. It is, of course, an unfamiliar experience for educators to hear questions from kids about why certain kids have rights that they do not have.

Not too long ago, a colleague from the school in which we co-locate and I met to share our work. We first met earlier this year in a break-out session at a school board meeting about new learning spaces. I completely admired how my colleague described her classroom and the effort she made to create a welcoming space for all students. Once we realized we were in the same building and that I was already meeting regularly with one of her teammates, we made time to talk.

Hats became the topic of conversation. My colleague wondered why we allowed them – they were out, like gum, in her classroom, because they were a distraction whenever she asked a student to take off a hat.

I explained our philosophy about power struggles and our students’ shared needs for security and identity.

My colleague couldn’t see adopting our views in her school. What would happen, she wondered, if students found out they could get away with breaking one rule? What good would the others be then?

I sympathize with her fully in that it’s always difficult to be different in a large, traditional school.

Moreover, I don’t think I explained myself particularly well that day. It isn’t that we let our students break rules. It’s that we don’t set norms or rules that get in the way of our mission or encourage our students to push against us because of nothing but a rule.

Students can’t break rules that don’t exist.

Students don’t buy into rules that they don’t value. Kid don’t learn manners by taking off a hat or hood; they learn distrust.

Every year we do some work with norms and student-written contracts guiding behavior at school. Sometimes we resort to habit over our norms, but, all in all, we teach and learn in an environment students are frequently invited to shape.

I can’t tell you you how much more human it feels to compliment a kid on an awesome hat or fantastically designed hoodie than it does to tell him or her to get rid of it.

I unreservedly beg all of us to stop enforcing illegitimate and unnecessary rules at our schools that foster hostility and distrust between adults and children.

Are there places where items of clothing flag gang colors? Might it be legitimate to limit some forms of speech to maintain a safe environment for children in a school? By precedent – and by practicality – of course. But, universally in schools, there are rules we impose on kids that we would never impose on ourselves, and those rules are obstacles to discovering our shared humanity and the teaching and learning and understanding we could accomplish together therein.

When we adhere to these rules, not only are we disadvantaging the kids we target, but we’re training all the school-successful, rule-abiding kids we condition to please adults to look down on their peers and to consider their non-violent forms of expression to be criminal.

We shouldn’t be uncritical of ourselves; we shouldn’t be uncritical of the system or the harmful attitudes it accommodates even though we tacitly support the system through our attendance at the workplace; we shouldn’t be about the enforcement of illegitimate cosmetic edicts – even when they’re “legal” – when there’s so much more we genuinely, legitimately need to discuss with our kids.

The presumptions we bring to our rules – and the silence we enforce when they’re questioned – are much more dangeres things than a hat or hoodie.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


21 thoughts on “Don’t Bring Dangeres things.

  1. Thanks for an indication that not every school and teacher has taken leave of common sense. I consult with various high school as a math coach. I also like to wear hats. And I often forget to take mine off when I come into a building. Some schools ignore my blatant (though unintentional) violation of school policy. I’m an adult. I’m an outsider. I’m older than the vast majority of those with whom I work. I get slack.

    Other places, most particularly in schools with a large security presence (e.g., Detroit Public Schools), I am jumped on verbally if I take three steps into a building, in the dead of winter, mind you, without removing my hat. As if a 61 y.o. bald, bearded white guy sporting a University of Michigan ball cap is obviously a gang member in his spare time.

    I’m not sure which is more disturbing: the convenient blindness or the lock-step illogic. But the whole silly business is a pain in the ass.

    What your colleague seems to have missed, of course, is that she wouldn’t be wasting time in class telling kids to take hats and hoods off if the proscription against perfectly normal headgear didn’t exist. Your comment about all the more important things to talk about in school is, of course, dead on, particularly now. And it’s always now.

    Posted by akismet-457375c2686d2ce6aa9740f00ee2f8f4 | March 24, 2012, 9:38 am
    • Talking through agreements, as well as disagreements, is essential to community-building in a way that rules are not. Rules might give us a society, but a society without community is impoverished. In schools there are rich student and adult communities that exists side-by-side but seldom meet in a rich, holistic community.

      Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to read and to walk into those schools to help.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | March 24, 2012, 9:47 am
  2. huge Chad:

    The presumptions we bring to our rules – and the silence we enforce when they’re questioned – are much more dangeres things than a hat or hoodie.

    bravo..and grazie man…

    I’d even simply say.. the silence any rules perpetuate.

    we’re trying to get into heads/ hearts.. no? not define or command or ignore them..
    assessment via Latin assidere.. to sit beside.. via Joe’s new blog subscript.. have a convo.. via all that is humane w/in us… listen.

    let’s imagine that.. let’s prototype that..

    Posted by monika hardy | March 24, 2012, 9:46 am
  3. I could not agree more. Rules are often used to implement authority over children. We, the adults, say they are to prevent violence as you shared. This message becomes confusing when our unecessary use of authority is in and of itself an act of violence, though not always physical. Rules should be few and simple, it doesn’t hurt to state them positively (e.g., Focus in class v. Don’t Sleep, or Treat all people with respect v. Don’t fight). When rules are few and simple they open a dialogue between teacher and student. They require interpretation, discussion, debate. The conversation that arises from “treat all people with respect” is immense. When it is broken, it’s time for more discussion, perhaps disciplinary action, but only in severe cases. Negatively stated, specific lists of rules and directives undoubtedly require a disciplinary ladder. “If you do or don’t do this, here is your consequence.” Such parallels a highly punitive legal system. Some may argue that we must maintain order, we must teach children to obey. Forced obedience is not sustainable, first. Further, it fosters no skill or practice for participating in a democratic society (which we would like, I believe). Democracy, open society, must be built on dialogue and active interpretation regarding interaction with people. Finally, extensive rules become the downfall of schools, as they are difficult to enforce. It exposes deep inconsistencies, and further problems with behavior. We should seek to liberate and enlighten rather than suppress and control. Thanks for writing the lovely article above.


    Posted by educatedtodeath | March 24, 2012, 10:07 am
    • It’s time to inhabit those deep inconsistencies and resolve some of them before the internalization of violence becomes the primary purpose of schooling our children. Thanks for sharing your sharp comments here – we talk a lot about natural consequences at our school, which are the practical outcomes of the decisions we make, in cases that don’t warrant extreme adult intervention. Talking to kids about what happens when they make choices is a crucial step in reminding kids – and ourselves – that we all have a choice about how we behave toward one another.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | March 24, 2012, 10:24 am
  4. The only dangerous hat is a Sorting Hat and that’s only because it places kids in competitive groups based upon who fits what stereotype. (I would have wanted to be in Gryffindor, but I know they would have placed me in Ravenclaw) Beyond that, I say let kids wear hats, hoodies, baggy jeans or feathered fedoras for that matter.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | March 24, 2012, 12:42 pm
    • I appreciate the humor, John. I would add that it’s important to explicitly acknowledge and value the hats, hoodies, and other choices students make, as well. This is about so much more than adults letting kids get away with something. It’s about viewing kids’ decisions as sincere acts of discourse and personhood that deserve consideration by others. We don’t need to give every decision unconditional praise and approval, but kids and their decisions deserve our time, consideration, and constructive participation – your last post illustrated this beautifully. Rules are not shorthand for care.

      The kids are not the villains in our narrative; we are the villains in theirs, and resisting school is a heroic act. If we want kids to see school differently, we must see kids differently, and we must build the next thing – school, community, world – together. School as the communal pejorative must stop.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | March 24, 2012, 12:51 pm
      • I have often felt that fashion (and I use the term loosely) is a part of their voice, their identity, their culture and sub-culture. The word ‘uniform’ speaks volumes about the value system of a district; chiefly the notion of uniformity.

        Posted by John T. Spencer | March 24, 2012, 1:55 pm
    • This made me laugh and think about one of the students who graduated last year and was rarely seen without his fedora. Another student started wearing a fedora this year, I think in honor of the other.

      Posted by kaseyerrico | March 24, 2012, 3:00 pm
  5. These are important conversations. These are the kinds of rules that seem arbitrary to students. One area that our graduates struggle with after leaving is the no hat rule at their high schools. Since we are outside so much in our school, hats are actually part of our regular gear list – sun hats, straw hats, baseball hats, winter hats, balaclavas and even the occasional fedora. The 7/8th grade group last year held periodic hat “competitions” with students showing up with all sorts of interesting hats. One young lady even sewed an Adventure Time hat at home one night to wear to school. It was always fun to see what they would wear when they showed up and brought a lot of laughter and joy to the classroom. I especially don’t like the feeling that my role is to monitor student behavior and

    Posted by kaseyerrico | March 24, 2012, 3:16 pm
    • The Adventure Time hat has me jealous.

      The examples of joy and community you describe here, as well as the fedora-of-honor story you shared in your last comment, all remind of how often we cut off and blockade ourselves and our students from joy, from the outside world, from relating to one another. We have to stop using rules as the justification for not relating to one another.

      Here’s to sewing hats in school,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | March 24, 2012, 8:54 pm
      • Thinking back to this, the hats were actually how a new girl, who came to the class, got to know everyone and feel that she belonged. She picked up on someone having a “different” hat and commented on it and then came in the next day with something attention worthy herself and issued the challenge. I ended up taking pictures each morning and they started charting the daily results and reporting them in morning circle. I remember thinking how clever she was – she was coming from a very difficult situation to this sort of sheltered environment and I think she was wondering how or if she would fit in. She bridged that gap almost immediately. More effectively than something I could have constructed. She was the one to sew the Adventure Time hat. Totally kid generated.
        I’m grateful to have a forum like this that brings such memories back to the forefront.

        Posted by kaseyerrico | March 24, 2012, 11:00 pm
  6. But if we don’t gave these rules then how would we fill staff meeting#1-discussing gum rule and staff meeting #2 -discussing dress code? I’ve been teaching for 20 years and we have never gone a year without filling staff meeting time with these topics. If more educators could agree with your stance, just think, that would be 2 hours ever year we could get back to discussing real educational concerns. Thank you for sharing your views.

    Posted by Real teacher | March 25, 2012, 4:18 pm
  7. But for the “good intentions” of adults enamored of detailed rules a cyncial individual might imagine the rules to exist not so much for the “good of the kids” as to assure stability for the comfort of adults.

    Do you have any thoughts as to whether harping on physical manifestations of resistance-through-apparel (and/or other dangeres physical things) is a way to avoid dealing with resistance-through-dangeres-ideas?


    Posted by Brent Snavely | March 26, 2012, 7:51 am
    • I think history has shown that – traditionally – schools and their rules are all about adult convenience, Brent.

      Ideas, identities, insights – it seems to me that cosmetic rules are meant to protect us adults from our “others” and to justify us in punishing kids for being unlike us if we represent school and school represents itself as the best of all possible worlds. Others have spent much longer and sacrificed much more to say and share as much. I hope I help a few people get past the rules and the idea that this is even about rules. It’s about being a human being and recognizing kids’ humanity. It’s about listening, not telling (not matter how “good” the rule). It’s about finding ways to communicate with students as people without trying to modify them all to “grow” the same way in the same place at the same time.

      And it’s about explicitly unpacking privilege for privileged kids so they don’t go through life suspecting and sentencing disadvantaged peers.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | March 26, 2012, 8:31 am
  8. Reblogged this on readinggirl1976.

    Posted by readinggirl | March 30, 2012, 2:20 pm


  1. Pingback: School Dress Codes | SheilaSpeaking - June 2, 2014

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