Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hunger games

Now, in one of the lunch periods at our elementary school, some of the kids have been enlisted to help patrol the lunchroom and to write up their classmates who are not complying with “voice level expectations.” Stranger still, it is the same child (who gets to choose a friend to help) every day.

That pitting the kids against each other in this way might teach the kids some bad lessons about the use of authority, or might create (or worsen) an adversarial school environment, or might needlessly make what is already a very short lunch break just a little more unpleasant, has apparently not occurred to the adults in charge of the lunchroom.


Juli said...

You know, it makes me wonder...these kids have probably heard all about the dangers of peer pressure. Wonder what they think of it being used by the adults against them?

At my kids' school in Georgia, there is an unsettling focus on obedience and compliance. They don't use PBIS at the K-5 school, but they started it at the middle and high schools this year. The elementary uses "Raise Responsibility" system, supposedly. My 10 yr old son feels insulted at how they are being treated by the teachers and administrators. They talk a big talk about the students being "leaders" and pushing "leadership skills", and students that follow the rules without being reminded are rewarded by having their name put in the "Book of Honor."

Juli said...

Thought I should elaborate a bit more.

The push for "no talking" is huge in my kids' elementary school. Lunch monitors are watching them like hawks, waiting for someone to be "too loud" or sit at the wrong place. They have about 25 minutes for lunch.

They have to be silent in the hallways as well. Oh, and while waiting in the gym for car-rider pickup. They won't let them leave to get in their cars unless there is total silence. If they talk to each other, they move them.

My son asked his teacher what kind of "leaders" are never allowed to speak. Her answer was "you guys." Unbelieveable.

Chris said...

Juli -- Thanks for the comments! Wow. But of course, to create leaders, it's necessary to train kids to be quiet, docile, and obedient. Also, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

Your son feels insulted because he *is* being insulted. But his feelings -- his natural reactions to how he's being treated -- aren't part of anyone's calculations.

Doris said...

As you often say, where to begin . . . ! I'll pick one thing: I don't know if the "choosing a friend" business goes on in other schools, but when my kids were at Hoover our whole family viewed the way they used that practice as a huge problem. For example, in some classrooms children would have their names drawn from a bucket and then could "pick three friends" to eat lunch in the classroom with them.

Honestly, how would the teachers like it if they were herded into a group every day and one of them had his or her name drawn and was told to pick three other teachers to go eat lunch with. Might that not result in some social tensions?

Then they act surprised when the children start nursing resentments and forming rigid cliques and enforcing hierarchies or "tiers."

TeacHer said...

Wow, there's so much to say about this post - I'll try to keep it brief! First, I find the focus on not talking at some schools really baffling. When I tell my students to quiet down, it's because they're literally being too loud - as in, shouting to each other when they're sitting right next to each other. I'm not sure why, but a lot of my students have this habit. I remind them not to shout, but would never expect them to be completely silent, or even quiet, necessarily.

Also, who in the world would try to turn kids against each other?! That seems just downright unethical to me. It really disheartens me that so many teachers will connive to get students to comply with their demands (not requests).

Chris said...

TeacHer -- Thanks for the comment. I don't think it's a coincidence that the aspect of school that has most obviously been affected by the behavior management craze is the lunchroom -- the one place where the classroom teachers play virtually no role. I think the classroom teachers, who are with the kids all day, are much more likely to see them as individual human beings and to treat them humanely. In the lunchroom, though, there is no similar buffer between the administration and the kids -- and it shows.

Doris said...

But the fact that teachers start feeling the need to look for ways to "humanize" the behavior management system can itself create new problems. E.g., if the lunchroom environment weren't so dismal, maybe it never would have occurred to some teachers to offer children the opportunity to eat lunch in the classroom with friends as a form of reward.

Chris said...

Doris – I agree, and I wish teachers would resist the temptation to use reward systems in that way. But ultimately I think those practices are largely attributable to the pressure on teachers from above; I think we’d see less of them in system in which teachers had more say over the policies. More here.

It’s funny – the kind of reward systems (the behavior star charts, earn-a-party schemes, etc.) that seem so ubiquitous now were, at least as far I can remember, totally absent from school when I was a kid. Am I alone in that memory? It’s just anecdotal evidence of course, but it does at least show that what now seems unthinkable to so many people was in fact quite possible, maybe even common, and the sky didn’t fall.