Worse Than Frozen Recess – Cruel and Unusual Punishment

As this “winter of our discontent” rages on with heaps of snow alternating with plunging temps, school children in my community continue to suffer. My post Meltdown Over Frozen Recess apparently underestimated the problem. Teachers’ nerves may be frayed over countless indoor recess days, but they are the adults in the room. If they can’t control their tempers over squirrely kids who talk at lunch or make noise in the halls or won’t sit still for 6 ½ hours, what do they expect from children?

Cartoon by Marcia Liss

Cartoon by Marcia Liss

Apparently, a lot. On a Facebook page for our school district, parents have raised great questions. Here is my top 10 list:

  1. Why is talking in the halls (not shouting, not running - just conversation) such a huge offense?
  2. Why is loss of recess an appropriate punishment for kids who are acting out because they have no opportunity to move?
  3. Why are kids with impulse control issues and other special needs punished for this by taking away their chance for active play?
  4. Why are the times available for kids to socialize (an undeniably important skill) – lunch and indoor recess – declared “no talking” zones?
  5. Why are kids punished by having to sit at their desks with their heads down rather than having recess?
  6. Why can’t kids play on the snow when they do go out?
  7. Why is indoor recess mostly passive playing of card and board games, drawing, or playing tightly controlled games with almost no movement? What’s the harm of a bit of chaos and noise?
  8. Why do kids whose shoes are in their lockers have to sit out gym rather than sending them to get their shoes?
  9. Why must a whole class be punished when the “offense” was committed by a few kids?
  10. Why are “lunch teachers” permitted to impose harsh disciplinary tactics on kids when these cafeteria workers have no background in education?

All excellent questions. After reading comment after comment, I’ve concluded our elementary schools feel more like prison camps than places of learning this winter. The overriding theme is a total lack of respect for children and their needs.

Nothing in over 30 years as an educator, starting in high school and ending as a preschool executive director, has provided me with an answer to these questions. Watching my grandchildren’s spirits crushed by the insanity of teaching to standardized tests, racing to the top, and shoving the common core curriculum down the throats of every child wounds me at my core.

What can I say to a 7-year-old who complains about how hard it is to make real friends when she has no time to play or even talk to her classmates? How do I reassure a 4-year-old that kindergarten won’t be mostly seatwork and punishment for any infractions? What do I tell a 10-year-old with special needs who was yelled at by a “lunch teacher” for talking to her friend (one of her IEP goals)?

I wish teachers and administrators would read Jessica Lahey’s New York Times post, “Students Who Lose Recess Are the Ones Who Need It Most.”

But if they don’t have time to read (too many tests to grade?), just look at the photo of a first grader crying over a homework assignment. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to read that post as well.

My daughter’s Facebook comment is spot on:

“Taking away the only chance for social development and unstructured time is depriving children of essential educational experiences. The kids are desperate to socialize because they have almost no chance to do so. It's sad.”

Bravo parents for telling our school system you actually want your children to have time to laugh and talk and play and create and make friends. Is anyone out there listening?

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