The fifty-five essential rules discussed in Ron Clark's The Essential 55: An Award-winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child might cause a few readers to raise their eyebrows. At first, these basic rules of education, etiquette, social and conversational interaction might seem obvious. After all, what child does not know that he should not bring Doritos into the school building (rule 47)? But, sad as it may seem, some students, indeed sometimes whole student bodies of entire school districts are utterly clueless about the basics of educational social reaction. Children can be marked as having behavioral, psychological or educational issues when they simply don't know the basic facts of etiquette.
One might, of course, ask how it can be possible for American kids to grow up without knowledge of basic common sense and etiquette. Ron Clark does not go into this. But whatever the reason –- poverty, a lack of respect for themselves or their teachers, lack of instruction in etiquette -- many students, particularly those in working class or ethnic school districts, can benefit from Ron Clark's many stints as a teacher in Harlem, New York, and other tough school districts. As a former teaching assistant I can attest that this book is sorely needed, and that Clark, a Disney Teacher of the Year winner, knows whereof he speaks.
In spite of the three small sections in the back of the book entitled "Tips for Dealing with Children," "Tips for Dealing with Parents," and "Tips for Setting Punishments and Rewards," The Essential 55 could easily be read by students. In his introduction, Clark states that "the steps are not sequential; they are explained, practiced, and enforced from day one in the classroom." There is no real suggestion on how often, in what order in what manner to discuss the rules among students. But good teachers will find their own way of passing the information along. The writing is conversational, inspirational and anecdotal without being sentimental. And although it is a tool for teachers who want to give their pupils some basic lessons on how the adult world behaves, the parents of grade-schoolers can use the principles as a guide while those in the higher grades, even college, can learn these rules themselves.
Many of the rules concern school and education. Some of these school-specific maxims –- such as rule #16, "You must complete your homework every day" -- might also transform themselves into good adult work ethics; after all, school is very much like work in many ways. Rule #18 speaks of organization, rule #21 speaks of classroom protocols, rule #41 speaks of knowing how to answer the phone. Yet, although much of what is learned from grade school through high school is forgotten by adulthood, life lessons are never forgotten. The Essential 55 is a treasure trove of life lessons which, hopefully, will become good habits and will teach students the ethics, etiquette and the language of social and educational success. Many unwritten rules such as "Know other teachers' names and greet them in the hall by name" (Rule #23) may seem like sucking-up, but it's a lesson that helps students relate to those in the academic society. Rule # 8 ("Do not show disrespect with gestures"), Rule #19 ("When homework is assigned, do not moan and complain") and Rule #27 ("Do not stare at a student who is being reprimanded") are some of the rules that teach children how to use and understand appropriate facial expressions, body gestures and postures. Many of the rules have corollaries. For instance, The corollary of rule #27 states that if you are being reprimanded, it's best to not fuss at the students who do stare at you.
A book such as this is important because many children are not experts in social situations. They are unpopular among their classmates, their teachers, and their future employers, and yet they are absolutely clueless as to why they are so unpopular. This readable book with clear meaningful advice for them will open their eyes and have them tossing that Doritos bag in the trash at the school entrance. The best thing about The Essential 55 is that it is not overwhelming, and the anecdotes are always interesting and informative. This excellent book is highly recommended for parents, social workers, teachers and those communication workers who work with children or even young adults entering the job world.