When I wrote Breaking Rules, my focus is how we out of consciousness do many things as we teach. I urged teachers to record a few minutes of their interactions and then analyze them.

I recently read a report in The New Yorker about special ed students who teachers said broke rules. It seems that some autistic students find wearing shoes distressing. When these students took off their shoes in class, teachers demanded they put them back on. Those that did not were the taken to a room and told to sit at a desk facing a blank wall and meditate for 30 minutes about following the rules.

Of course during this time the students received no instruction. And day after day the students continued to remove their shoes.


In Japan as many know, students remove their shoes when they enter their schools.


Different rules in different places but why not accept that some autistic students get distressed when they have their shoes on?


In many NYC schools, students wear hats as they walk from one class to another during breaks. The rule is that students should not wear hats as they show disrespect. So teachers during the time when students walk from class to class during their breaks are shouted at: Take off your hat! Show respect” Of course the shouting does not show respect to the students.

I went to a bar mitzvah on a weekend after I had visited many schools where teachers were shouting at students to remove their hats to show respect. I had to put a scull cap on to enter the Temple to show respect.

These incidents–keep your shoes on, take your hats off–revealed to me a totally different idea of breaking rules!

In another recent article in The New Yorker, a former CIA agent became a policeman. He was taught that compliance with commands is the number one priority for the police. “Get out of your care and put your arms on the top of the car. Stop walking and lie on the ground.” If people to not follow the commands they are handcuffed or pushed or hit with a baton.

Late at night, are we able to understand what others shout at us? What if our language is different from those who are shouting?


These rules I think are more dangerous than the ones we follow out of consciousness in our classrooms. But if they are broken the consequences are more dire.

I advocate recording in classrooms and now out of classrooms. Many police are now equipped with digital video recorders to show what they say and do.


In classrooms what we do is not a matter of life or death but in the streets it is.


So new understandings of rules!


All the best.





3 Replies to “Rules”

  1. Is there an intended difference in meaning between following rules ‘out of consciousness’ and following rules ‘unconsciously’ (or ‘blindly’)?

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