On Common Sense

aphorisms Feb 06, 2020

Common Sense is not so common.

Voltaire

Rules are required. Or so I was told when I entered the classroom as a teacher. Make them clear, simple, and posted everywhere. If ambitious, get the class to make the rules themselves. You can try and channel popular sovereignty towards a functional system. Be warned, anarchy can sound fun to middle-schoolers.

I split the difference. Three were my rules. Three were the students. My first rule was an embarrassment:

Practice common sense.

I wrote the rule on poster paper. I added to it to the footer of some of my first assignments. I scribbled it on the shower board I used to cover my chalkboard ($8 from HomeDepot).

Four months into teaching, it dawned on me.

That which was common to me was not common to my students.

For my students, it was common to hoard the fruit I brought in before testing (wrapping strawberries in notebook paper and stuffing them into their desks when I looked away). It was common to spend their evenings watching their little brothers and sisters while mom or dad was at work (no homework please). It was common to hang everything on certain kinds of reputation, because that’s what you got (fights, talking smack, weird norms).

Now, when I hear “it’s just common sense” I just wince. The fact that we need to say the phrase means it’s likely not common. Better to ask a why question.

So I removed the rule. Took down the poster. And put up a bumper sticker. It said:

“There they go. I must follow them! Because I am their leader!”

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