In a staff meeting at school, I watched as teachers spent fifteen minutes discussing whether or not we should enforce the rule about wearing hats in schools. Perhaps this was the shortest amount of time wasted on something so needless that I’ve experienced, but it still was a non-issue that took away from things that we should actually be discussing, like things that would improve the school community.
Instead, the head of school openly stated that, though they knew they were “making a big deal out of nothing,” they “didn’t like feeling like an asshole by enforcing a rule that most other people weren’t.” They said it “undermined their authority” and “made them look weak.” They said it “harmed the relationships of some teachers with students” by not being consistent about hats because students would complain that other teachers weren’t bothered about it.
At no point did they stop and recognise the absurdity of the situation, even when they acknowledged the irony of wasting time on a non-issue. Instead, they wanted to highlight how they felt, with no real evidence, that their authority was being undermined.
In fact, they didn’t stop to realise that they were no longer talking about hats.
Now, I wasn’t simply watching. I threw out a bunch of reasoning for why we should just dismiss the rule.
What was the purpose of the rule? Were hats actually disrupting the class? Were they causing problems for other people in the room?
“Wearing hats is just rude. It’s not allowed, especially in church.”
But we’re not in a church. We’re in a school that includes people of multiple backgrounds and religions, and many of those kids don’t follow or agree with the “cultural codes” that were developed within a Christian context. Anyway, why does it matter if children wear hats in school?
“It doesn’t, but it’s just rude. When I was in school, we were told that we shouldn’t.”
When I was in school, there were tons of rules that I personally thought were asinine and pointless. How many feminine people were embarrassed in front of their classmates because they were wearing spaghetti straps or other clothes that male teachers were flustered by? How many feminine people were told that they should “cover up” so they “didn’t distract the boys?”
How many Black children have gotten in trouble for common hairstyles or wearing “baggy clothes?” How many more were forced to change their clothes because some teacher thought that what they were wearing was “gang-related?”
How many rules reinforced ableism and classism in the school system, like policies about absences? And how many of those policies have changed? (Hint: Not many.)
“But we’ve always done it that way.”
And that just doesn’t cut it, especially not for a group of teachers who openly claim they want students to “think critically.” If you can’t think critically about a hat, you most certainly aren’t in a place to do anything more than reinforce the teaching of obedience.
So many teachers claim that they went into the profession because they really like children and they value education. A lot of my former colleagues claimed they “wanted to make a difference in the world,” but I don’t really see that in their actions.
Maybe they genuinely believe that, maybe they don’t. But honestly, I just don’t buy it.
I think far too many of them went into the profession because they like the idea of having power over someone else, especially if that person has little recourse to speak out against it because people dismiss their complaints simply due to their age (among other factors). A lot of my current and former colleagues seem to want to enforce unnecessary and archaic rules only for the simple fact that they had to endure it, so these children must also endure the needlessly pointless rules that absolutely no one liked or agreed with.
I’m not sure what difference someone is making when they’re arguing to keep things that actively intrude upon the autonomy of another person. How are they making things better if they’re treating people as if they’re lesser? What kind of world do they think they’re contributing to when they’re requiring obedience instead of developing relationships?
The way I see it, they’re actively creating unnecessarily hostile environments that discourage learning. This is because schools aren’t for learning; they’re for creating “well-trained” and “obedient” citizens who start life believing that they have very little to say because no one will listen. They create people who will grow up to become adults who tolerate the status quo, even as it kills them.
They create people who accept gradual and marginal changes and that there is little to be done in the face of any problem because that’s the lesson they were taught in school when they tried to fight against the absurd rules and regulations.
And so many teachers dutifully play their role, content to participate in authoritarian behaviour by interfering in children’s autonomy simply by acquiescing to the nonsensical rules they’re required to enforce. By pretending they can’t fight back or change the rules.
Because that’s just how it’s always been.