Friday, April 6, 2012

Lunchroom insanity continues

The war on lunchroom noise at our elementary school continues. Yesterday, the principal told the kids that if they were not totally silent during the last few minutes of lunch every day for the next week, they would have to sit at the tables in the order in which they come into the lunchroom – that is, that their seats would be assigned, and that they could not sit with their friends from other classrooms. But if they are sufficiently silent, they will be allowed to have music played during their Friday lunch – an offer that seems strangely inconsistent with the idea that the lunchroom is too noisy.

The principal also explained that the gym classes that are scheduled in that same room could not start on time if the kids took too long to become quiet – because the kids can’t possibly be dismissed if they are not first utterly silent, even though that was never required in previous years.

Despite three years of PBIS and a year-long campaign of haranguing the kids on a daily basis to be quieter, the school apparently still thinks the kids aren’t quiet enough. Some people might take that as a reason to reconsider whether the lunchroom expectations are reasonable or necessary, especially since the older kids can remember when lunch didn’t involve having their “voice levels” constantly policed, and lunch was a much more pleasant (though still short) experience.

It should be obvious – and apparently was obvious to previous Hoover administrations – that a large group of kids eating lunch is necessarily going to make some noise, and that there is nothing to be gained from setting unrealistic expectations and then constantly harassing the children for failure to meet them.

I sent an email last night asking why the school has turned lunch into such a negative, adversarial experience, and why it is so important that there be utter silence while the lunchroom is being dismissed. Stay tuned.


SCF said...

Shame on the principal! You and other parents need to get together and do an to goodness protest action. Take your kids out for lunch everyday. It ain't a monastery!
You can expect these sorts of nightmares when a program is held up as the authority. People will do all sorts of cruelties when they feel they are under orders from an authority and not responsible for their own actions, as the Milgram experiments and Stanford Prison experiment show.
The music on Friday makes it clear, it's not noise reduction but punishment they're after.

FedUpMom said...

Chris, good for you.

The demand for quiet and compliance used to be called the "hidden curriculum", but, as your post shows, we should call it the "overt curriculum". Really, what else does this school care about teaching?

Chris said...

Thanks, SCF and FedUpMom. The fact is, the problem is not the teachers at the school, and I get the sense that at least some of them would happily dispense with the school's overemphasis on behavior. But the administration (prompted, in part, by the district) insists on this schoolwide focus on behavior and discipline, and it's not accompanied by any comparable effort to help the kids learn to think for themselves about how to act and how to treat other people.

Judging from the persistence of the lunchroom noise "problem," either the lunchroom expectations aren't realistic, or the school's approach to improving behavior is a total failure. Or both. Maybe someday they'll try cultivating a spirit cooperation, alliance, and mutual respect among the school’s staff and students, instead of relying on bribes, threats, and escalated punishments.

Anita said...

Hey Chris-

I just found your blog when doing some research about PBIS for my Drake Educational Leadership class. I work in Behavior Intervention at South East Junior High and have read a few of your back posts. While I am not at Hoover and do not know what goes on there, I do spend quite a bit of time working with kids to correct behaviors in our lunchroom. I would REALLY like to encourage you to take some time out of your day and GO VISIT Hoover's lunchroom. I think that's the "in context" part. Although we all want to believe exactly what our darlings tell us (I have kids too!), I have learned as a parent that direct observation sometimes gives me a different perspective through adult eyes. I have found with working with parents at South East, once they come into the building and observe situations that are reportedly problematic for their child, we can usually come to a workable solution through face to face dialogue. And they have an increased understanding of what the actual problem may be.

I know you are a lawyer from the info on your blog. Can you imagine trying a legal case via email? I have to tell you I am chuckling a little bit about your need to get something down in writing via email. Most lawyers I know would advise a client to be careful about that.

My personal teaching philosophy for issues: In person communication with parents is always the best way, when possible. If your schedule, allows, my best encouragement is to make that happen.


Chris said...

Anita – Thanks for the comment. Again, I’m not against a visit to the lunchroom, and now that my semester is winding down, I should be able to make a visit. What I don’t understand is why I can’t get answers to simple questions from public officials without first jumping hoops. I suppose one reason I haven’t rushed over there to eat lunch is that I’m not sure what it’s supposed to prove. Will the adults who run the lunchroom act as if I am not there? If I come away with all the same concerns, will someone like you (who has also not visited the Hoover lunchroom) suddenly be convinced there’s a problem?

I don’t presume that the kids’ reports are inherently less credible than those of adults, especially when those reports are numerous and consistent, and when the district itself has had nothing at all to say on the matter. But, for what it’s worth, it’s not just kids who are complaining. Adults who have eaten lunch with their kids there have complained on this blog and in person to me and to the school. Last week’s school newsletter said, “Many of the students continue to talk throughout the 2 minute silent time during exiting procedures [in the lunchroom]. Please, speak with your child about these expectations.” – so it’s not as if I’m fabricating the practices I’m complaining about. This week (and this is a very positive development, thought it should have happened much sooner), the classroom teachers had the kids take a survey on the lunchroom atmosphere, which was reportedly the result of a staff meeting at which the teachers identified the lunchroom atmosphere as an ongoing problem. Finally, nothing I have said about the lunchroom on this blog has been factually contradicted by anyone, at all. In the face of all that, I hope I can be forgiven for not just assuming that the kids are whiners.

As for PBIS, if you’ve read through the site, you must be aware that my objections to it have nothing whatsoever to do with whether the kids are well- or poorly-behaved. But again, for what it’s worth, a parent who sat through all the grades’ lunches just last week said that the kids were not poorly behaved and just seemed like ordinary kids. That same parent has had face-to-face “meetings” with the principal about the issue that have led to no positive change whatsoever.

Finally, you’re not seriously suggesting that lawyers should advise public officials not to publicly explain the reasons for their policies, are you? Seriously?

Chris said...

You know, I just want to reflect on that for a little while: a school district employee at a public school, paid with taxpayer money, is “chuckling” at the idea that someone might ask the superintendent to publicly explain why the district is doing what it’s doing.