10/10/2014 06:05 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST

Why Do Schools Implement These Ridiculous Rules?

What is it with some schools? Do administrators really enjoy being held up to ridicule? Have they learned nothing about living in a democracy? What about the idea that everyone is owed respect? Or do they believe the concept of "everyone" excludes students?

This week, a Grade 3 student in B.C., a small girl with long hair and a diversity of friends, decided to wear a head-scarf to hold back her locks. She has a friend who, for religious reasons, wears a head-scarf, but our small friend has no religious requirement to wear one. She likes the way it looks and she likes the way it keeps her hair tidy.

But her school has a rule. No non-religious hats or head coverings. Why? It seems that this rule was put in place to ensure respect. So how is this working for them, so far?

I guess that rule means that all bare-headed people must be respectful. I guess it also means that cultures where people traditionally keep their heads covered are by nature disrespectful. And what about schools that have an annual silly hat day? That day must be a free-for-all of ugliness and disrespect! And would someone please tell the Queen? Last I looked, hats were a pretty significant part of HER wardrobe!

When one of my granddaughters was in grade one, she too was told she had to remove the bandana that was holding back her long hair. The school said that this measure was to prevent gang activity. Was there actually a grade one girl-gang problem? If so, I suggest that the school needed to address a much bigger issue than head coverings.

In a school in Alberta this week, a Grade 11 student was sent some very ugly messages on Facebook. This strong young woman decided to respond to this invasion in a low-tech fashion. She prepared hundreds of sticky notes with positive, welcoming and simply pleasant comments. She then stuck the notes onto the lockers and washroom mirrors in her school. The school's response? They disciplined her for littering. Her city, however, proclaimed Positive Post-it Note Day. Three cheers for Airdrie, Alberta.

Some days we need to ask why we send our children to school. As someone who spends a lot of time in schools, with teachers, and with those becoming teachers, I thought I knew what schools were for. I thought they were places where children would learn to think critically and thereby become active and engaged democratic citizens.

However, when we only teach children that "rules are rules," instead of teaching them to think about those rules, children learn something else. Instead of critical thinking, they are learning NOT to question, NOT to stand up for others when those people are treated unfairly, and NOT to respect the diversity we claim is so important to Canada.

A rule that has an unclear or ridiculous purpose is, on its face, unfair. A rule that cannot possibly achieve its purpose is pointless. A rule that has more negative than positive effects is unfair and undemocratic. Discipline or punishment that does not address the behaviour it purports to correct is tyrannical.

The young people I know have learned all by themselves to scorn thoughtless, autocratic and knee-jerk limits to their rights and freedoms. And I am also heartened that, like the girls in B.C. and Alberta, many of the young people I know have the courage to stand up and show adults the foolishness of their ways.


Photo galleryHow To Talk About Bullying See Gallery