A Chandler teaching assistant burst into the Lower School office last Tuesday at the end of the school day and began feverishly rifling through a copy of the parent-student handbook. “Do we have a policy against bringing toys to school?” she asked through gritted teeth
“What’s the problem?” I asked. The second grade boys were driving her nuts by playing with Pokemon cards in the courtyard. They weren’t paying attention to their names being called out when their rides arrived at 3:00 p.m. “They bring the cards out whenever they have free time, and they don’t even know how to play the game properly. It’s ridiculous.” I did my best to empathize with her predicament. As she left the office slightly exasperated that there is no policy, I suggested somewhat tongue in cheek that she should take the time to teach the kids how to play the game properly. She gave me a whithering look, rolled her eyes, and thanked me for the help.
I took the problem to a seventh-grade class on Wednesday morning. The question was how to control the use of Pokémon cards among younger students without adding a new rule or a new policy to our parent-student handbook. The class was divided into three groups of six students to work on the question, and they spent ten minutes deliberating. Two of the groups felt teachers should start a reward system so students could earn time with Pokémon cards through demonstrations of good citizenship and good work. The students acknowledged the biggest flaw was the extra work it would create for faculty. The class rallied around the third group’s solution, which was to start an afterschool Pokémon Card club for second grade boys that would start at 2:15 p.m. and end just before dismissal.
There are a few simple rules in Chandler’s parent-student handbook, and we have no intention of adding to them for the time being. We don’t want students bringing toys to school, but there is no rule reminding students not to bring toys to school. They would be a distraction. You know that and your children know that. We want to teach Chandler students at all grade levels to self-regulate, to make good decisions without imposing regulations. That doesn’t mean Chandler lacks rules or policies. We devote several pages in Chandler’s parent-student handbook to what students can and can’t do at school, and we are guided by the core values of the Chandler Code, the Six Pillars of Character and Chandler’s Mission.
In their 2009 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, Cass R. Sunstein and Richard Thaler write about ‘choice architecture’. Choice architecture describes the way in which decisions are influenced by how choices are presented. People can be "nudged" by arranging the choice architecture in a certain way without taking away the individual's freedom of choice. A simple example of a nudge would be placing healthy foods in a cafeteria at eye level while putting less-healthy junk food in harder-to-reach places. Individuals are not prevented from eating whatever they want, but arranging the food choices that way causes people to eat less junk food and more healthy food.
Second graders are too young to exercise the freedom of choice between playing cards in the courtyard and suffering the consequences of delaying their ride home or joining an afterschool Pokémon club as the seventh graders suggested. Until an Afterschool Pokémon club is established, if the cards become a distraction, we will temporarily separate them from the players. That won’t be in the handbook, but it will help Chandler’s teaching assistant.