Rules (was: soliloquies)

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Tue Feb 1 11:24:36 EST 2000

Elise, quoting me:

>> Any robot can follow rules.  It takes creativity to break them.
> Have you ever encountered people who say the word "creativity" just as one
> would say the word "leprosy?"

I haven't actually met this in person.  But the attitude is getting
institutionalised - most schools it seems actively discourage children from ever
thinking now.  Even university level courses prefer students who learn things by
rote :-(

>>  But I'm firmly of the belief that unless you know the rules, you won't
>> understand when and why to break them.  Unfortunately it is easy to
>> teach the rules.  It is not easy to teach people to break them creatively
>> and effectively.
> Hear hear!  I think the breaking part - could it need to be taught from the
> first?  By the time I had absorbed all the rules, opinion, styles, forms -
> many times I forgot what I had wanted to learn it all for in the first place
> - the process was so unenjoyable.  So then one has to unlearn all that
> rigidity and hierarchy to get back to the simple happiness of thinking
> something is really interesting to do and think about.

I'm not sure.  I think for the young, and for other learners, the rules _do_
make a framework for the mind to clamber about in.  I remember being set an
exercise when I was about 7:  Write an essay on your best Christmas present
without using the word "and".  This was I think intended to discourage the habit
that many Children have of stringing sentences together with "and" for paragraph
after paragraph.  (Not starting a sentence with "And" - another rule made to be

But I agree that things presented as inviolable rules would often be better
presented as guidelines.

I wonder if one could teach this by asking the pupil (after the event) to
justify breaches of the rules, rather than condemning them outright.  (I would
add I am not a teacher of any sort!)

>> PPS: The classic example of rule-breaking:  One is always taught never to
>> use a mixed metaphor, however great the temptation.  But what un-mixed figure
>> could compare with the power of Shakespeare's phrase "to take arms against
>> a sea of troubles"?
> Good example!  One can see how futile that would be, too - which is one of
> the reasons why I like it.  Mixed metaphors with purpose - worn with a
> difference.

I like your one too.  You can say more in fewer words with a really good phrase
like that.


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