We’re all familiar with the scene. The unsuspecting student walks through the lunch line with a backpack on—he simply forgot to take it off. The backpack causes no disturbance, and nobody is even remotely affected by its presence. But despite the lack of any tangible hinderance, the act itself is seen as a mortal sin, and the student is subjected to the wrath of arbitrary lunchroom punishment.
He is made to stand against a wall and endure five consecutive minutes of verbal interrogation for his egregious and heinous act of momentarily forgetting an inconsequential policy. Only when the firm hand of justice decides the defeated student is broken can he return to his peers, often only to find more ridicule as a result of his ignominious shaming. On top of this, he will be cleaning tables for as long as it takes the gravity of his sin to sink in.
And why did all of this happen? No backpacks in the line.
Rules exist for a reason. They are meant to uphold the Ignatian mission of our school and to create a sense of order founded on good conduct. In theory, the degree of discipline a student receives should reflect the harm caused by his actions, either to the mission of the school or to the sense of order.
Why, then, are students consistently reprimanded disproportionately beyond the degree of their actions in the lunchroom? And furthermore, why are such superfluous rules enforced so rigidly in the lunchroom and around the school?
Without respect for authority, the disciplinary system would fall apart. But how can students be asked to respect authority if that authority is in the practice of enacting harsh discipline for things like putting ice cream in a cup, rather than a bowl? If silly rules continue to be enforced with such intensity, students will begin to lose respect for both the authority figure and the system itself.
I don’t think it is necessarily Utopian to imagine a school where logical rules are enforced with an appropriate degree of diligence. After All, Rockhurst students are supposed to act as men for others. Inherent in that expectation is the idea that the students are men. No self-respecting man would allow himself to be yelled at for housing his ice cream in the “wrong” vessel, and he shouldn’t be expected to. If we are to be men for others, we should first be treated as men.
And let’s keep one thing in mind: alternatives do exist. It wouldn’t be so hard to simply say, “Please take your backpack off,” or “Please put follow directions.” Perhaps it is time to consider the idea that communication, rather than yelling, would be a more productive way of fulfilling our mission.