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Why do we ban so many items from the classroom?

The list of things getting banned from the classroom seems to be forever increasing. One of my current favourites is the removal of marking work in the ever-feared red pen, which according to some sources can be ‘confrontational’ and ‘threatening’ towards students. Another favourite is, well, the banning of best friends because they get too cliquey. The latest item on the black list are rubbers…

A visiting lecturer at King’s College London was recently quoted as saying that the rubber is “an instrument of the devil” and should be banned from the classroom. Professor Guy Claxton says that using rubbers creates “a culture of shame about error. It’s a way of lying to the world, which says ‘I didn’t make a mistake. I got it right first time.’”

What?! Whilst I understand that in some situations tools like rubbers and calculators must not be used, surely it is extreme to say that they should be banned all together? As John Coe, a spokesman for the National Association for Primary Education (NAPE), says, “I think banning erasers is a draconian action. However, I wouldn’t want my pupils to be so overwhelmingly concerned for the correct answer that they didn’t show me any indication – and that includes the wrong answer – as to how they got to the answer they arrived at.”

Telling children at such a young age that using something like a rubber is bad and shouldn’t be used at all isn’t helpful in the long run. Children should be taught when the appropriate tool should be used and when it shouldn’t and the reasoning behind the instruction.

A child psychology expert from the University of Sheffield says that “Even as adults we sweep in and out of accepting our mistakes.” As computing (but not mobile phones!) becomes commonplace in schools he continues “Would you take away the delete key? Can you imagine doing your job, or other people doing theirs, if you took away the delete key? In the real world we are always making minor mistakes, revising, changing.”

Ultimately, instead of banning things which don’t endanger our health (unlike the playground game British Bulldog), perhaps we should explain our decisions to students so they understand when it’s a good time to have a rubber (or a best friend) and then when it’s better to work without them. We shouldn’t underestimate students: we need to empower them, show them different ways of working, and let them find out what works best for them.

Holly Dinsdale

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