Playful Distraction or Forbidden Infraction? The Prohibition of Playing Cards

By: Owen Dunn

The Gilman handbook, in essence, acts as a moral compass to ensure that our school’s identity as an academic institution isn’t compromised. Sometimes, however, it is hard to discern which rules are constructive and which are extraneous. On page 14 of the 2016-2017 Student/Parent Handbook, it explicitly states: “There will be no card playing or gambling of any sort on the school grounds at any time.” As an avid fan of classic card games such as “Go Fish” and “War,” I was both shocked and appalled when I first read this, so I started searching for answers. I found myself sitting across from the man who knows the rules better than anyone: Mr. Boo Smith.

I first asked our Upper School Dean of Students why the rule exists. He responded, “It exists to create an atmosphere within the school that is academic. We want to set a tone for the school and [the rule] obviously makes it easier to accomplish Gilman’s goals.”

I remember playing “War” in the fifth grade at Gilman, and “Go Fish” was a favorite in fourth grade.  So what happens between Lower School and Upper School that the playing of cards goes from playful distraction to forbidden infraction?

To his credit, Mr. Smith sees the harmlessness of a friendly game of cards.

“When I was young I did play a lot of ‘Crazy Eights’,” he admits, “and I could beat my mother at cribbage, which made me very proud.”

Still, he can’t help but make the point that it’s a slippery slope from a single game of cards to idleness overtaking the school. He argued, “If one person were playing cards alone in a corner that might not be harmful, no. But if that one person can play ‘Go Fish,’ why can’t everyone else? And so if you go through the school and see a bunch of card players, that is not conducive to academics and what we want at Gilman...We want to set a tone for the school...Most people realize that it’s a school, not a parlor.”

You can’t attend Gilman, or even apply here, without knowing it’s a school with tremendous academic rigor. However, we spend most of our waking hours at this school, and is it realistic to expect us to always be engaging in books or classes, to constantly be striving for academic greatness? A mindless game of cards would be a refreshing respite from the daily grind.

When should a school re-evaluate its rules?  Sure, it’s a distraction, but isn’t Spikeball a bigger distraction? How about the fidget spinners we see students spinning around school? When the rule was made, maybe cards were the equivalent of texting or talking on the phone, but today it’s really just an old-fashioned, innocent way to pass the time.  I understand why gambling is prohibited, but to lump in all card games into the prohibition is overkill.

There is one notable exception, however, to this outdated and trivial rule: card games are allowed on campus if they are associated with a club. So, Mr. Smith, Administration, if you do not change this rule, I will be forced to take the matter into my own hands by making a card club and ending the prohibition of playing cards once and for all.