You’re driving on a day when there is little or no traffic. You come to an intersection where the light is red. You check on either side, and the coast seems clear. You’re very tempted to go through the junction – after all, there’s no one there, and no policeman in sight, either. What would you do? Break the rule because it won’t harm anyone if you do, or comply with the stop light because that is the right thing to do? What if there were no stop light, but the rule is that the first car that arrives at the intersection should be the first one to go through? In the first case, the rule takes primacy and is enforced by the presence of the traffic light. In the second instance, there is a code of behaviour based on a shared set of values (safety is a common concern, as is the belief that the first in should be the first out).
Schools have traditionally been the places (along with family and community) where we learn the rules that govern social and civic life, and along the way also imbibe some values. In a perfect world, we would all agree upon what those values are and also on the way those values are to be expressed. But we know the world is far from perfect. Hence, the need for rules. The word “values” seems to imply something warm and fuzzy, something generally positive. Rules, on the other hand, are things we believe are a necessary evil, and some of us would go so far as to say that rules exist only to be broken or resisted. So clearly, there is a tension between rules and values – even though we believe that rules are actually derived from values.
I don’t mean to tie myself – or you – up in knots in the process of grappling with the tangled problem of rules and values. Instead, this issue of Teacher Plus offers a set of articles from some of our thoughtful contributors who untangle the issue for us. Or at least begin to. Each of them leaves us thinking about our own responses to questions of rules and values, and how those questions and beliefs frame the way we deal with life.
So…what do you do at that open, empty traffic junction? Wait at the red even when there’s no one there (you value rules and what they represent) or go through having decided you won’t be endangering yourself or anyone else (the rule applies in certain contexts, and now is not one of them). Of course, there’s any number of responses in between those two positions….