Yeah, often the students give up, too. If you don’t know the answer, your school may resemble a prison.
Gary Stager’s post with jarring comparisons is here, at District Administration’s Pulse! blog.
When the elder Fillmore’s Bathtub son attended intermediate school, he complained of the discipline. So did a lot of other good kids. We got a call from a parent asking if we’d join in a meeting with the new principal, and hoping to learn things were really hunky dory and offer assurances to our son, we went.
Texas was in the new throes of adjusting to the old TAAS (an acronym for words I’ve misplaced — Texas Academic Acheivement Stressproducer or something like that). The principal opened the meeting explaining she was unhappy with our kids’ behaviors.
Now, let’s pause for a moment. Our son had taken the TAAS twice to that point, and gotten perfect scores both times. The previous year he’d participated in a winning Odyssey of the Mind team, each of whose members had a parent at this “discipline” meeting. I think each child was also in the gifted and talented program. Looking back, almost all of them graduated in the top 10% of the class, there were a couple of Eagle Scouts and Girl Scout Gold Award winners in the bunch — these were kids who were self-disciplined to get education.
The principal talked about problems the school was having with noise. Talking had been suspended in the cafeteria, to help keep noise down. Kids were instructed not to talk while passing between classes, at their lockers, and not to close lockers noisily. Several kids had been disciplined for closing their lockers with too much gusto to please the noise storm troopers.
She then explained that her hope was the school could win the state’s highest level of recognition for achievement on the state standardized tests. Consequently, she was instructing all teachers to help work toward that goal. Physical education classes were being employed for test drill, which meant literally the kids didn’t get exercise, but instead were seated on the floor of the gymnasium doing test drills. Our son had already complained about how stupid that was.
But the principal chirpily explained that recesses had been suspended (these were fourth, fifth and sixth graders) to allow more time for drill.
When she announced that, after she had seen this done at a private school, the kids would be instructed to put their hands behind their backs when walking through the halls, silently, I asked her if she were familiar with the Texas prison system, and what crimes she thought our kids had committed.
“Crimes? They haven’t committed any crimes. What are you driving at?” she demanded.
So, I explained that on death row in Texas, the most grisly murderer had more free time than our kids, a right to recess and outdoor exercise, and more opportunity to socialize — and that lawyers argued even they were being driven mad by not enough time for communicating with other humans, etc.
The principal took great offense. I think she expected an apology from me. I had taken great offense by that point, too, that she was treating my kid like a criminal.
We took him out of that school, and enrolled him at an “academy” our district had set up to emphasize arts and science. He scored perfectly on the TAAS for his old school, and he complained a bit about missing some of his friends. But his performance rose, and his happiness rose markedly, when he got recess and wasn’t treated as a criminal from the start.
Occasionally, I wish we had pursued the issue through legal channels. There are schools in Texas that still suspend recess and PE for test drills, and where talking and socializing, and play, are frowned upon or outright forbidden — the things that kids need to stay sane and develop into top notch students.
What’s the difference between a school and a prison? There is little difference, really, except the methods of teaching. If your instructional methods and policies approach those used in prisons, perhaps you should change the sign on the front of your building. It’s the most slippery of slopes: When legislatures, school boards and administrators cut art and music programs, reduce extracurricular activities, clamp down on social interaction, and make other moves that erase the lines between “school” and “prison,” teachers become the last line of defense, the edge of the cliff before the abyss.
See Mr. Stager’s column. It’s a wake-up call, for anyone not deaf and blind.