Letter: ‘Nonsensical rules’ in schools
October 8, 2014
'Nonsensical rules' in schools
Your recent article on Aspen Elementary's silent lunch policy highlights the troubling proliferation of strict and, at times, nonsensical rules in today's primary educational institutions. Aspen Elementary's "1-inch voice" may seem like a trivial ask of elementary schoolers when viewed individually, however when viewed together with the abundance of other conduct codes also imposed on young children, it is clear this policy is another manifestation of a uniquely modern movement to pathologize childhood behavior.
In today's elementary school, you can be expelled for chewing a Pop-Tart into a shape resembling a gun or for playing cops and robbers on the playground with your fingers as the firearm. The number of children dosed with psychoactive medications has never been higher. As the scope for acceptable school behavior narrows through policies like silent lunch, sociologists have shown that young boys, ethnic minorities, and those with learning or social impairments bear the disproportionate bulk of the consequences for failing to meet conduct expectations. Subsequently, these groups invariably fall behind on major indicators of scholastic progress and academic achievement.
Without a doubt, the acoustics of 105 loud children could certainly be overwhelming, but perhaps an important question that remains here is: Whose values are being advanced in a silent lunch policy? In the adult world, an individual with something to say at the dinner table is described as "lively," "animated," or "passionate." Many people and cultures hold the dining table to be more than a place of eating but also a thriving open forum and nexus of shared ideas. Principal Goldyn's somewhat bold assertion that a quiet table is a "proper" table veers toward the ethnocentric and is a prime example of why vulnerable groups like minority individuals from louder or more communal cultures are among the first to run afoul of this flavor of discipline.
Is a decrease of a few decibels in a reverberant room worth the inevitable sequelae of branding childhood behavior as wrong? Is it worth the increased ADHD/Conduct Disorder diagnoses, the heightened incidence of disciplinary actions, and the disproportionately large number of boys, minorities, and special needs kids failing to thrive in increasingly hostile educational environments? This will be a conversation for Aspen Elementary School parents, I suppose, preferably with a 1-inch labial aperture and no more than 10 degree vocal azimuth.
For a great book on all this, try "School Rules: Obedience, Discipline, and Elusive Democracy" by Rebecca Raby.
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