Saturday, October 29, 2011

This school almost made me cry

I came across an interesting blog today called Autodizactic.

The post that grabbed my attention is titled This school almost made me cry:
The students are lined up outside the school doors. In matching navy blue sweat suits, sleepiness hangs over them like a morning haze. I attribute their silence to the same tiredness I remember my own students wearing as they entered my eighth grade classroom.
The door to the school opens and the flood of students I remember witnessing as a teacher and experiencing as a student doesn’t happen. The students remain in a single-file line. The groggy morning murmurs have ceased. The line has moved from quiet to silent. Just over the threshold, the principal meets each student and asks them to lift their pant legs so she can see their socks. The few students wearing blue jeans are asked to lift their shirts so the principal can see their belts. 
The students file down the hall - still silent - and sit in “community circle” and wait to be dismissed to their classrooms. The teacher overseeing community circle this morning is the only voice to be heard in the room, “I’m sorry eighth grade. Seventh grade is so quiet, I’m going to have to dismiss them first.” 
Without a word, the seventh graders gather their backpacks and lunch boxes and file past me back down the hallway. One of my host teachers says, “Don’t be surprised when they don’t speak to your or acknowledge your presence. They’re on silent.” If a student were to turn to look at me or say “hello,” she explains, the student would receive a demerit. I later learn the principal’s spot checking of socks and belts also held the potential of demerits. Anything other than plain white socks or jeans without a belt are grounds for a demerit. “They are symbols of status,” the host teacher explains. 
I bite my tongue at this. I am a guest, and it is not my place to point out the school’s treatment of its students is a constant reminder of status.
The last paragraph of this post should hit us all like a double-decker bus.

Alfie Kohn puts it this way:
All that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent.


  1. Absolutely horrifying, and yet how many schools with the advent of PBIS don't look like this?

  2. What an amazingly accurate description of a youth detention facility. That is what they get for being convicted for being poor.

  3. OMG! I had to go check the date on that post. My junior high did belt and sock checks on the boys as they left the lunchroom, but it was in the late 1960s! I can't believe schools are doing that now. However, nothing should surprise me anymore. Just this morning, a friend told me about an elementary school that requires silence during lunch. Lunch is for learning to socialize, which is a very important social skill. Do the teachers get to talk during their lunch break?

  4. Frightening, and just in time for Halloween I guess. On a happier note, I'm now planning on using this example to create discussion with my students next week.

  5. Sounds like something out of an Orwell novel...

  6. Shocking. Like Sue, I had to check the date- I kept waiting (and hoping) for you to say this was an example from a school 50 years ago.

    This story reminded me of the head teacher at a former school who demanded absolute silence from the pupils in the library during lunch. They were not even allowed to discuss books or homework. When a young girl in the library saw me return from my lunch break, she leapt up to tell me about an amazing book she had just discovered on the shelf. The head shouted at the girl for speaking and ordered her to return to her seat. I couldn't help thinking that in a private school, parents on a school tour would have been thrilled by the girl's enthusiasm. In fact the administration might even stage an encounter like that to impress parents with their thriving library.

    I have since left that school, but still feel guilty for not doing more to change circumstances. You're absolutely right that educators need to speak up when they see injustices like this.


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