Children's Reasoning about School Rules and Rule Transgressions in School

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Do children's judgements and reasoning behind judgements of rule transgressions in school vary as a function of rule category (relational/moral rules, structuring rules, protecting rules and etiquette rules)? 

School rules are usually associated with classroom management and school discipline. However, rules also define ways of thinking about oneself and the world. Rules are guidelines for actions and for the evaluation of actions in terms of good and bad, or right and wrong, and therefore a part of moral or values education in school. In our analysis five categories of school rules have been constructed:

  • relational rules
  • structural rules
  • protecting rules
  • personal rules
  • etiquette rules
This project consisted of two distinct phases: qualitative followed by quantitative. In the first phase, how children reasoned about school rules and rule transgressions was explored by ethnographic fieldwork, qualitative interviewing, focus groups and grounded theory. The second phase was built upon the findings from the first (qualitative) phase and consisted of two studies in which children responded to hypothetical scenarios in which students made transgressions in the absence of formal school rules. 
The findings show that the students’ reasoning about rules varies across the rule categories. The perception of reasonable meaning behind a rule seems to be – not surprisingly – significant to students’ acceptance of the rule. According to the students, relational rules are the most important in school. Students also value protecting and structuring rules as important because of the meaning giving to them. Etiquette rules are valued as the least important or even unnecessary by the students.

Pupils’ criticisms of school rules

Socialisation theories have traditionally focused on how children are socialised in a rather unidirectional manner, according to a transmission model. However, more recent research and theories show that children are not just passive recipients, but active agents in their socialisation process. At the same time, children are subordinated to adult control. In school, they are regimented and involuntarily subjected to mass routines, discipline and control. In this study we explored and gave a voice to pupils’ critical thinking about school rules and their teachers’ behaviour in relation to these rules. Ethnographic fieldwork and group interviews with students were conducted in two Swedish primary schools. The findings show that pupils criticise some school rules, distrust teachers’ explanations of particular school rules, perceive some school rules and teachers’ interventions as unfair and inconsistent, perceive no power over the construction of school rules, and express false acceptance and hidden criticism. The findings are discussed in terms of hidden curriculum, power, mentality resistance, democracy, participation and democratic citizenship education.

Children’s conceptions of school rules

This study investigated 202 elementary school children’s judgements and reasoning about transgressions when school rules regulating these transgressions have been removed in hypothetical school situations. As expected, moral transgressions were judged as more wrong and less accepted than structuring, protecting and etiquette transgressions. In turn, etiquette transgressions were judged as less wrong and more accepted than moral, structuring and protecting transgressions. Structuring transgressions were judged beyond expectations as more wrong and less accepted than protecting transgressions. Judgements and justifications made by the children showed that they discriminated between transgressions as a function of school-rule category (relational/moral rules, structuring rules, protecting rules and etiquette rules). The findings confirm as well as extend previous social-cognitive domain theory research on children’s socio-moral reasoning.

Children’s conceptions of bullying and repeated conventional transgressions

This study examined 307 elementary school children’s judgements and reasoning about bullying and other repeated transgressions when school rules regulating these transgressions have been removed in hypothetical school situations. As expected, children judged bullying (repeated moral transgressions) as wrong independently of rules and as more wrong than all the other repeated transgressions. They justified their judgement in terms of harm that the actions caused. Moreover, whereas children tended to judge repeated structuring transgressions as wrong independently of rules (but to a lesser degree than when they evaluated bullying) and justified their judgements in terms of the disruptive, obstructive or disturbing effects that the actions caused, they tended to accept repeated etiquette transgressions by arguing that the acts had no negative effects or simply that the rule had been removed. The findings confirm as well as extend previous social-cognitive domain research on children’s socio-moral reasoning.


 

 

 

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