Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cartman Rules

What is absolutely guaranteed to pop the wheels right off the school bus when it comes to order and atmosphere and culture and just plain treating children with the decency to which they are entitled because they are A) living human beings and B) here?

Cartman rules. (NSFW ahead)

Yeah, that's the whole point of a Cartman Rule. You will respect my authoritah. You will acknowledge that I am The Man. You will do whatever the hell I say because I AM the boss of you.

Is there anything more ridiculous, more silly, more counterproductive, more flat out disrespectful than getting in a grudge match with a child or young adult with absolutely no intent except to force them, through word or deed, to acknowledge that they respect your authority?

I wish it weren't true, but we've all seen it too many times within the walls of a school. The kid laughs with the wrong kind of smile. The kid responds to a direction with a shrug instead of quick compliance. The kid gives all the appearance of not giving a rat's rear about what he's just been told.

And the Enforcer of the Cartman Rule completely loses the thread. What were we trying to do? Were we trying to cover the instruction for today's lesson? Were we trying to get the class focused on a goal, or engaged with some practice? Never mind-- we're going to drop it all so that we can back this kid into a corner and browbeat him into submission.

Hell, we've now got entire schools devoted to Cartman Rules, where the first rule of the school is not about learning or growing but about recognizing the absolute authority of the school over every student action, and no excuses for failing to comply.

Cartman Rules have nothing to do with education, though the justification is always that we have to have order and control in order to teach Those Children. Cartman Rules are recognizable because they are tiny and picky and unrelated to any sort of instructional goals. You must sit just so. You must address me with the correct tone. You must not look at me with the wrong expression. Many Cartman Rules are never written down because in print it would be obvious just how wrong-headed they are.

Cartman Rules clash with race and class. Students who belong to my tribe already know how to play the game and show respect. But Those Students-- you know the ones-- are always too loud, too brash, not respectful enough in the way my tribe understands it. When a student from my tribe says something to a neighbor and laughs, I know nothing's wrong because he's Good People. But when one of Those Students does it-- well, you know how Those Students are and it is undoubtedly one more example of failing to respect my authoritah. Sometimes a Cartman Ruler is so sure that Those Students are out there that he will go looking for them, prodding and provoking until he can push some child to react, "proving" that he was right all along.

Cartman Rules believe in the slippery slope. We must not give an inch. I once heard an administrator explain that if we were going to let students violate parts of the dress code, we might as well just let them start murdering each other. Because dress code violations and murder are totally the same thing.

But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that those who live by Cartman Rules will make judgments that stick. Cartman Rule folks tend to sort the world into good and bad. That student who failed to respect my authoritah? His behavior just proves he's a Bad Kid, and once I know he's a Bad Kid, I can start seeing disrespect and defiance in every single thing he does.

Folks who live by Cartman Rules will always come off the rails sooner or later, and then they'll start flailing about and damaging everyone in sight. Sometimes they'll make such a mess they'll lose their position; sometimes they're so protected that they can get away with awful stuff. Another fictional teacher who lives by Cartman Rules-- Dolores Umbrage.

So (a Cartman Rules teacher will say) do you want chaos and disorder? Are you one of those touchy feely teachers who just lets the students run riot in your classroom?

The answer is no. The antidote to Cartman Rules ("Everyone must respect my authoritah") is another, simpler classroom and school rule. Everyone must treat everyone else with respect-- and "everyone" means everyone. If you like a simpler wording, try "everyone must treat everyone else as if they are a live human person."

Build an atmosphere of respect and decency and human consideration, and the order will follow. Try to build a system where rules and authority are the highest values, and nothing will thrive, not order, not education, and certainly not the students. Are there students out there who present a huge, huge challenge to a functioning classroom? Sure. But they are still human beings, and are entitled to be treated as such.

Every time you see one more news story about a student who was assaulted by a school official (though we never call the assault by its name) or about a child who was slapped in handcuffs or some other horrifying treatment of a student, you are seeing Cartman Rules in action. You are seeing an adult who put his or her own power and authority ahead of student needs or concerns. It's not okay. It's never okay. And the excuses are always lame because they always boil down to the same damn thing-- Cartman bleating "she wouldn't respect my authoritah."


  1. At my last (unsuccessful) job interview in my well-regarded school system in MD, I raised eyebrows by suggesting that my classroom discipline was not rigid, that I dealt with situations as they came up on a case-by-case basis. Crazy, crazy me.

    I may miss the classroom desperately, but I like my new job a lot better. *sigh*

  2. Yes, everyone has to respect everyone else to build a community in the classroom and trust and respect among the members.

    "Cartman Rules" and lack of community relationships of trust and respect is also the cancer we see in the police brutality cases.

  3. Kids don't respect themselves. It's been since 1980's and the self esteem movement that we've had problems. Think of the France song and add I am special , I am special ,so are you so are you. I grauted in mid 1960's and teachers came in to give us knowledge not baby sit us or be parents. College has become this way with hellcopter moms and student demanding B's for just showing up. Last four years since retirement I have taken courses at local university, no respect for professors, texting in class , showing up late ( that's acceptable) arguing about exams that are multiple choice ( only one correct answer) I've heard kids say in my prospective my answer was correct. These are all history courses I've taken.

    1. I'm always amazed at how much the "self-esteem movement" gets blamed for. To the extent it ever really was a "movement", it was a pretty weak one and certainly not wide-spread. And in the meantime there have been dozens of other social phenomena that could just as well if not better explain students' current attitudes. For instance, since the crash of 2008, graduates have found it increasingly difficult to find employment, or at least professional-level employment, yet the costs of college have not gone down and it is even harder (darn near impossible) to get out from under crushing student debt. Also, since 2000, we've seen the near ubiquitous rise of "no excuses" schools along with increased standardized tests and curriculum designed for the tests. Do you think those things might have some effect on students' attitudes toward education?

  4. Not so perfect then, though, either:

    “Who walks in the classroom, cool and slow,
    Who calls the English teacher Daddi-o?”

    Hindsight being 20-20 aside, the obvious solution is that “If Mohammed won't go to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed.” The teacher and Vice Principal should have arranged to move the rest of the class, to a study hall if necessary, and have the Vice Principal sit with her until the parents pick her up and take her home for an out-of school suspension. Most school administrators know this sort of jiu-jitsu. Calling in Officer Thug absolutely not necessary for someone sitting in a chair.

  5. Just want to say that watching that video truly sickened me. Now please, try picturing a police officer of color doing this to a white female student instead of the other way around. Unimaginable. To all those who are afraid of the rage that Michael Brown/Ferguson, Freddy Gray, Tamir Rice, etc. have brought to the surface, I say, you shall reap what you sow. I'm actually surprised it's taken this long...