It's Time to Admit School Rules Have Gone too Far -- Because I'm Still the Parent

little girl doing schoolwork

Whenever you see kids of any age misbehaving, there are invariably comments about "kids these days" being a largely lawless, out of control bunch. People blame the parents, of course -- for disallowing corporal punishment; for lack of prayer or God; for raising kids with no guidelines, structure, or punishment. There's a lot of blame and a lot of mouthiness.


Largely, parents are doing the best they can. Yes, there are exceptions, as there are for everything. But when my third grader came home from school with an 84-point, bulleted "behavior matrix" that parents had to sign and return to acknowledge they had gone over every single point with their child, I reached the end of my patience with people telling me how to parent.

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Now, I love my son's school. I serve on the PTA, I am as active as I'm able to be in school activities and fund-raisers, and I vote for all the levies that strengthen our schools (and, in turn, our community). I help my son with his homework, I check it, drill it with him, and do whatever is required for school projects. I have mailed Flat Stanley all over, hawked popcorn and candy for sale with coworkers, and ordered pizza on special fund-raising nights. I support the school and its efforts.

But really, 84 points of behavior? For an 8-year-old kid? I'm certain I didn't follow many of these rules when I was a kid. And when I did act out, no one called my parents to say it was their fault because they signed a paper promising to go over every single school rule with me to ensure my compliance.

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The matrix is a three-page document broken down into columns for every single physical place a child will be in school, from hallways to the bathroom to the playground, and more. Some of these are reasonable -- "Use an inside voice." Okay, yes, little kids aren't always great at that, and it's a work in progress. "Turn off water faucet when finished." I mean, all right, I guess? I assume there isn't a chronic problem of all five grades of children in the school leaving the faucet on every time they go to the bathroom. If there are a few problematic kids doing this, how about just addressing them?

"Walk quietly so others can continue learning." Yes, all right. "Be prepared and pay attention." I mean, really? As if my dropping off my kid every day and saying, "Now don't forget, be prepared and pay attention" is going to do anything? Further, there's another one under "Specials" that just says, "Be prepared." What does that even mean? How exactly do I go over this with my son?

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"Use one pump of soap." All right, now we're getting into the territory of ridiculous. What if a child threw up or had a real messy poop? Or the soap didn't come out right on the first pump. Do we want them standing there going, man, if I take another pump right now, I'm going to get into trouble. How about saying, "Only take as much soap as you need." My dad had rules posted in our bathroom about how many squares of toilet paper we were allowed to use for #1 and #2 when I grew up because we were so poor he was rationing the paper. This smacks of that. I get that kids can be wasteful. But, you know, KIDS. 

It continues. At assemblies, "Eyes on the presenter." "Listen to the performer and be attentive." I mean, I pretty much didn't do any of this when I was a kid if the presenter was boring or shitty. Do they expect everyone to sit robot straight, eyes forward, like a group of a thousand automatons, marching quietly in lockstep through the sterile halls, eyes glowing like androids? 

I think I finally lost it at "Home & Community," where directions included, "Be polite and use good manners (eye contact, smile)." (Emphasis added.) HAVE WE NOT BEEN OVER HOW IT'S WRONG TO INSIST PEOPLE SMILE? Can we BE DONE WITH THIS, PLEASE?

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Yes, much of this is common sense, common courtesy, and I can understand setting reasonable expectations for things like classroom behavior. But some of these points are abstract, impossible for a little kid to maintain 100 percent of the time, and, collectively, an awful lot to ask of elementary school–aged children, if you ask me.

Here's what I ultimately told my kid: Behave. You're one of the upperclassmen in your school now; littler kids are going to be looking to you for what's acceptable behavior, so you have to start to pay attention to that and set a good example.

When I pick him up each day, I ask him three questions:

  1. Did you find a way to do anything nice for anyone today?
  2. Did you get into trouble for anything?
  3. Do you have homework?

I think that's plenty, sorry not sorry.

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