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What is the point of rules?
07 Aug 2019

Why are we so keen on having rules for children? 

Homes and schools are full of rules for children. Rules that are set by adults to instruct children as to what is and is not acceptable. 

A question that I am increasingly interested in is, what are the value of such rules? 

To what extent does the practice of defining a social space with rules, simply reinforce traditional understandings between the adult and the child? Such traditional understandings reflect the role of the adult as both all knowing and all powerful, albeit acting with regard to the child’s best interests. 

I have been listening with interest to this years series of the BBCs Reith Lectures given by the former supreme court judge - Jonathan Sumption. These talks discussed the value or not of a written constitution. What Jonathan Sumption argued was that not having such a constitution allowed for a reaction to social change that resulted in incremental change led through the democratic system. By placing the responsibility for the ‘constitution’ within the democratic body, he argued that this creates an increased focus on the need for engagement and participation. 

What I am interested in understanding further is the extent to which rules defined by adults, that subsequently demand that they be judged by adults, simply enforces an understanding that a space is controlled by adults, limiting children’s engagement and participation. 

Rather than thinking about rules in this way, is it more appropriate to develop a code of conduct that might draw off past understandings of right and wrong but which is able to respond, react and change as a result of a process of interaction between adults and children that reflect the reality of the circumstances they find themselves in. 

It is that process of having an opportunity for conversation, rather than the need to apply judgement, that is so appealing, as the former invites participation and the possibility of creating shared practices that are meaningful to both adults and children. 

We are currently investigating questions like this as part of a new piece of research on children and learning at home. If you are interested in finding out more or taking part - please get in touch