Authoritarian Schooling: A Catalogue of Damage compiled by David Gribble













Rules imposed from above are characteristic of a dictatorship. Dictatorship breeds rebellion. Nevertheless, most schools have long lists of rules, many of which demonstrate an aggressive lack of respect for their pupils and seem designed to emphasise their inferior status.

Rules about uniform have a page of their own on this site. Here are some examples of other kinds of rule. There is probably no school that has all these rules, but they all exist in one school or another.

    • Certain areas of the school grounds are out of bounds to certain groups, for no clear reason.
    • You must write your name and the date in the top right-hand corner of any piece of work and draw a line under them with a ruler.
    • You must interrupt your work and stand up when a visitor enters the classroom, regardless of what you are doing or what the visitor has come to do.
    • If mobile phones are found, they will be confiscated for six weeks.
    • Movement inside the school building is to be made quietly, in single file.
    • You must not eat or drink during lessons.
    • You can only go to the toilet between lessons
    • You may not come into the school building when you arrive in the morning until the bell goes; then you must line up in the playground and wait till your class teacher tells you to go in.
    •  No pupil is allowed inside the building during mid-morning break or during the lunchtime.
    • You must not wear any outdoor clothing in the classroom.
    • All teachers must be addressed as 'Miss' or 'Sir.'

      When your behaviour is governed like this you are prevented from doing things for the right reasons. You don't learn to write neatly because you want other people to be able to read it, you write neatly because if you don't you will be made to write it all out again. You don't speak politely to the staff because you feel friendly towards them, you speak politely to them because you will be punished if you don't. In this kind of atmosphere breaking rules surreptitiously, regardless of the distress it may cause, becomes an attractive game. Smoking during the school day is a triumph.

Schools love making rules. They use them rather as governments use targets you see a problem and you make a rule, just as a government sees a problem and sets a target. In neither case is any practical action taken to ease the problem itself. Children have been late handing in their homework? Make a rule. The girls have been excluded from the playground by the boys playing football? Make a rule. There is too much noise in the dining hall? Make a rule. No questions are raised about the usefulness of homework, or the problems some children have in finding time or space to do it. There is no discussion of the fair use of playground space, or the general atmosphere in the dining hall. Rules are made and homework becomes even more of a repulsive chore, the girls are jeered a for their protected status and the midday meal is dominated by shouting teachers.

The implication of school rules of this kind is that the staff believe that children who are not kept in order by rules and punishments will be disruptive, rude and idle. In fact the reverse is true: children become disruptive, rude and idle as a direct response to rules and punishments. What is supposed to be a remedy actually makes the problem worse or indeed may have created the problem in the first place.

Any school has generally observed customs, such as opening hours and lesson times. It will also need rules to govern various activities, such as borrowing books from the library or using the school computers. All this is necessary and normally accepted without question. It is the unnecessary, repressive rules that cause resentment and often become an introduction to rule-breaking.

Where there are unnecessary rules there is a powerful urge to rebel. When the rules are broken, discipline is tightened up; the disruption, rudeness and idleness are drive underground but do not go away.

This is not the only damage done by dictatorial rules. A more serious consequence of submitting to a totalitarian regime in school is the loss of any sense of personal responsibility. If children only behave well because they know the rules and are afraid of punishment, they have no reason to conform when they are out of reach of authority. Their own natural wish to get on well with other people and behave in a constructive way is stifled and distorted. Even if they are 'good' pupils, they are good for the wrong reason, and when they are out of school there is no longer any reason to be good at all.