Thursday, May 18, 2006

Get Out Of The Classroom
Does recess need rescuing? 

Lonely playstructures of the world, unite!

Citing recent studies showing that 13% of sixth graders now have no recess whatsoever, CNN reports today on Rescuing Recess, a new Cartoon Network-slash-National PTA program designed to address the growing trend towards replacing recess with classroom time.

Certainly, there is still immense value in getting kids out of the structured environments. But its important to make the right case for recess. And by picking not one but two seriously silly arguments to focus on, CNN fails to provide real ammunition to those, like myself, who would advocate for recess to remain.

First, and more easily dealt with, CNN loses points for pagespace bemoaning the slow dwindling of Physical Education classes as part of their case for why recess is important.

The dwindling of the PE curriculum happens at our middle school, too -- our kids have an hour of gym 2 days out of every six, for only half the year. But the goals of Phys Ed are to provide bodytraining and exercise as part of healthy development, and it is the structure of the PE curriculum which makes this possible -- a fact that has and should have nothing to do with the loose runaround (or sitaround) possibilities of recess.

It's a serious issue, but one which doesn't belong here. To reiterate: PE is about activity; recess is about play; the two often coincide, but not inherently, and not in the parallel way that lets us consider one as an argument for addressing the other. The complications this nonetheless significant loss to the modern curriculum bring to the case for recess are absolutely distracting from the issue at hand.

More significantly disturbing, however, is the second hidden assumption of CNN's article, as show primarily through the words of parents like this one:
"The reason I get riled up -- and that most parents do -- is we see recess as an opportunity for children to play," said Diane Larson, a mother of four in Tacoma, Washington. "It's a time for children to be imaginative, to show innovation on the playground. And it's one of the times when kids actually get to interact with their friends."

Once upon a time, students really did need a break in the day for socialization and play. These days, however, our primary modes of classroom management lean increasingly on project-based collaborative learning, which in most schools involves significant time playing and peer-sharing in structured imaginative environments.

Look, unlike most teachers, my semi-metateacher's vocation allows me to spend time in other classrooms as a matter of course; in a given year, I end up observing part or all of numerous classes from almost every teacher in a given building, and I can assure you, it is an exceptionally rare day when student butts are in student seats for more than, say, two hours total. The modern classroom is characterized by exactly the kinds of peer interaction

Here's another parent that doesn't get it -- in this case, a PTA president in Virginia:
"The kids study all day, and they need some time for social activities," [PTA President Wendy] Logan said. "And those kids who struggle sitting the whole day -- they're the ones who need it the most."

Sitting all day? I've taught in schools public and private, from city to country, from kindergarten to high school, and I've yet to see "kids who struggle with sitting all day" -- because I've never, ever seen a school where kids sit more than half of their class hours.

And kids neither need nor always use recess time for social activities. The school of the millenium is a thousand times more social than the schools we grew up with. And, to be fair, recess is social in a way that reinforces cliques and allows for kids like I was to play solo, anti-socially, where class is much more about deliberately mixed socialization, under structure.

Either CNN -- and their PTA presidents and parents -- have never seen the inside of their kids' classrooms, or their schools are about twenty years behind the time. Sad, either way.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:43 AM |

I would miss recess. I have recess duty once a week with the first to thirds. Two times a week I have a second grade knitting club (different kids each day).

This comment turned into a blog, so I am writing about it over at my own place.
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