On the first day of school, Mrs. Shermann passed out the kid-friendly syllabi to her students and asked, “How many classroom rules do you notice on the whiteboard?”
“Ten!” they all shouted in unison.
“That’s right,” said Mrs. Shermann.
What she was about to teach them was her favorite lesson to teach. And she wondered who, if any, would learn it.
Rules 2-10 were the standard RAISE YOUR HAND BEFORE SPEAKING; BE COURTEOUS TO YOUR CLASSMATES; WRITE YOUR NAME ON ALL ASSIGNMENTS, etc.
But Rule No. 1 was the heart of it all.
It said, “ALWAYS SAY YOU’RE WELCOME.”
She spent probably eight minutes stressing the importance of this rule. A simple rule at best, a curious one for the 21st century at worst.
But the No. 1 rule, nonetheless.
But as the year progressed, it proved to be so much more complicated than it ever needed to be. And many kids had their feelings hurt by it, and others cried, and many were grounded by their parents for bad grades. All because of that dreaded Rule No. 1.
Mindy’s parents went over her assignment with her at least twice before declaring that it was indeed a perfect 100% (a 99 at worst if Mrs. Shermann was counting the missed comma in one of Mindy’s answers). But the 0/100 blotched in red ink at the top was a curious and disdainful score.
Dylan came home crying to his mom for the second time that week because, “Missus Shermunn calls on me and I give her the right answer, but she says I’m wrong. I raise my hand and say the answer is Benjimin Franklin and she says no. Then she called on Lindsy and she says Benjimin Franklin, and Missus Shermunn says she’s right.”
Every year Mrs. Shermann meets with a lot of parents the first couple of weeks of school. But the parents walk out appeased and relieved almost every time.
“It’s come to my attention that most of you think I’m unfair with my grading,” said Mrs. Shermann one Thursday morning before diving into the day’s agenda.
Some of the kids skeptically nod their heads. Others sit stiff upright, as though not wanting to show disloyalty or doubt to the fuhrer.
“A lot of you feel that your answers are correct in your assignments, but you get 0′s. And some of you give the right answer in class, and I say you’re wrong.”
A few more heads nod.
“You can do all the right things, and have all the right answers, but none of that matters if you don’t follow the rules. Especially the most important rule.”
Her gaze directed the others’ toward the whiteboard. Rule No. 1 seemed to be written in a much brighter color that day.
ALWAYS SAY “YOU’RE WELCOME.”
“If you turn in your assignment and I say ‘Thank you,’ and you don’t respond with ‘You’re welcome,’ then what good is it if you have all the answers right? You broke Rule No. 1, so nothing else matters.”
She continued. “If you give the right answer in class and I say ‘Thank you,’ and you ignore me or just nod your head, then I’m going to call on someone else until they obey Rule No. 1, then I’ll tell them they have the right answer.”
“Let’s say you live in a small town and the most important rule is that you must wear a blue shirt all the time. If you don’t wear a blue shirt all the time, but you do a lot of amazing things like save kittens from trees, give money to the poor, be nice to your enemies, none of that matters, because you’re not wearing the color blue. You’re breaking the most important rule. It might not make sense to you, but the rule in this classroom is to say ‘You’re welcome’ when thanked.”
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39
“All have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6