I ate lunch with my son last year for his birthday and what was more appalling to me than the 15 minute lunch was the fact that in the middle of winter his class filed in the lunch room in full winter gear, boots, snow pants, and coats zipped with their hats and gloves shoved down the inside. We were told that there was no time to get dressed for recess so they had to sit and not only eat very quickly but do so while roasting. It still upsets me to think about.
Why is this happening in Iowa City public schools? Because, as our superintendent explained, school administrators are under tremendous pressure, under the No Child Left Behind Act, to raise standardized test scores. If they fail to meet the ever-escalating testing benchmarks, they could eventually lose their jobs. That pressure leads them to try to maximize instructional minutes at the expense of lunch and recess.
I don’t believe that there is any administrator in the world who could think that the scene described in the above comment is good for the children. The only explanation for it is that administrators can no longer do what’s best for the kids without putting their jobs at risk. No one should be surprised. The whole purpose of No Child Left Behind is to use federal funds to coerce school officials into doing things to the kids that they would not otherwise be willing to do.
At what point will our district say no?
Try this thought experiment: Imagine that the federal government decides to cut off school funding to any state that doesn’t institute corporal punishment in its public schools. Suppose the state of Iowa, to ensure the continued flow of federal dollars, then passes a statute requiring local school districts to use corporal punishment. Suppose districts that refuse to comply would incur penalties, such as administrators getting fired, funds getting cut off, and accreditation being withheld.
What would our school board, our superintendent, and our local school administrators do in response? Would they take a stand against beating kids as a form of punishment? Would they refuse to engage in practices that hurt the kids, even if that meant risking state and federal penalties?
Or would they convince themselves that the loss of federal money would do more harm to the kids than the occasional beating? Would they imagine themselves, as they execute the new policy, to actually be protecting the kids by not beating them as badly or as frequently as they’re supposed to? Would they start using words like “spanking” and “paddling” instead of “beating,” or phrases like “behavioral consequences” instead of “corporal punishment”? Would they begin to cite research showing that beating the kids leads to higher short-term compliance with rules? Would they remind themselves that the kids can just behave better if they don’t want to get beaten? Would they start to think that some kids actually deserve a good whupping now and then?
Would they say they were only following orders?
On second thought, let’s not do that thought experiment.