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August 21, 2003 12:53 PM   Subscribe

For students in one Iowa school district this year, it's "sit down, shut up and eat your lunch." The principal says it curbs the noise level and makes sure kids eat all of their meal. Because if there's one thing this country (not to mention the rest of the world) needs, it's more fat kids.
posted by emelenjr (53 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I've taught, and school lunch time can about as close to a riot as one would care to get. I see nothing wrong at all with mandating a quiet lunch time. Fifteen minutes to shut up and eat up, and then get outside and run about and make all the noise you want.

It's called being civilized at the dinner table.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:03 PM on August 21, 2003


Last I checked, the school cafeteria wasn't the dinner table.
posted by UnReality at 1:04 PM on August 21, 2003


FFF is a facist!

What's wrong with talking while you eat? Most people talk at the dinner table too.
posted by delmoi at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2003


Oh no! The noise level! Watch out or the noise level will get you!

Don't they know all that noise will go somewhere, whether it be classroom or lunchroom?
posted by jon_kill at 1:14 PM on August 21, 2003


I remember back in grade school the lunch lady would hold us from recess if we were too loud or rowdy. This however seems a bit drastic. I guess at least this gives the kids an opportunity to learn some sign language.
posted by gyc at 1:19 PM on August 21, 2003


The noise level is a red herring. They can't come right out and say, "This will allow us to have total control over the children during lunch, thus making our jobs easier," so they claim it's the "noise level." I'm sure there are some relatively inexpensive acoustic tiles that could help with the noise level, but I doubt they'd be interested.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:23 PM on August 21, 2003


I've taught

This sounds like you might have stopped. If so, why?
posted by scarabic at 1:25 PM on August 21, 2003


scarabic: What a silly question. Because of the noise level, of course.
posted by Eloquence at 1:28 PM on August 21, 2003


Wow, just what elementary-aged kids need: more time to sit down and shut up. Next recommendation from the school: more Ritalin prescriptions!
posted by marzenie99 at 1:43 PM on August 21, 2003


"Our goal is to get kids to eat and not say things."

Just what every parent should be thrilled to learn about their child's school.
posted by ook at 1:44 PM on August 21, 2003


I think some of you are under the impression that elementary school kids deserve freedom. In all seriousness I would question this. They pretty clearly are allowed tomake as much noise as they like once they get outside, I actually think it's good practice for kids to be able to suppress their desire to be little monsters for 15 minutes.

Remember that kids are required to repeat a pledge of alliegance in the morning. In my mind this is much more creepy than expecting decorum at lunch hour.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:49 PM on August 21, 2003


not to mention the rest of the world) needs, it's more fat kids.

Were talking about a meal time, not snack time, tv time, munching out to just eat. Skipping meals may make one fat too. Notice when you eat a breakfast it will start your body running and burns more calories in the day.
Also this is the principal with the idea, seems that's their job, spoil children's fun time.
Ps, if the principal prints my comment out on paper, hear it will make good ear plugs for him during lunch time.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:53 PM on August 21, 2003


When I was in elementary school (this was in the late 70's), I had a principal that did this. She was a little sadistic by nature anyway. And I didn't like it then either. We also had to clean up after ourselves.

The length of the lunch period is not mentioned in the article. I would guess that it's not very long - it seems like lunch times have gotten a little shorter in elementary school since I was a kid. I have a neice who has problems with eating her lunch (she's in 1st grade) - she just wants to talk to her friends, and she forgets to eat.

Having children with food in their stomachs for the rest of the school day is more important than allowing them the freedoms they want during lunch. They still have recess, I assume.
posted by dammitjim at 1:57 PM on August 21, 2003


I am a teacher, and I can't support this kind of policy. It'd be easier on adults if kids were quiet at lunchtime, sure. But 'easier' does not equate to 'better for the kids.' Like pardonyou? said, it's an issue of control.

I feel like some adults are not satisfied until all traces of childlike behavior are relentlessly stamped out, and all activities are structured and guided with adult supervision. Kids need the space to figure out things on their own. They need supervision and limits, to be sure. But they also need some degree of freedom. Space Coyote, they're asked not to be 'little monsters' for over five hours of a six hour school day. And in what other setting is complete quiet at mealtime demanded? In college dining halls? No family talk at the dinner table?

What problem is this really going to solve, I wonder? If the problem is rowdiness, they need more people supervising lunch, and need to discipline kids who are roughhousing or throwing food. If the problem is kids not eating lunch, they need to come up with solutions for that. (At my school there's a problem with some kids throwing most of their lunch away because they're too anxious to get out onto the playground. At some grade levels, therefore, lunch is after recess.) There are solutions to these types of problems which don't demand turning children into obedient robots.
posted by Chanther at 1:58 PM on August 21, 2003


scarabic: The pay and respect is the shits for the endless amount of work and responsibility. I love teaching, but I will not martyr myself for it.

others: I don't believe for a moment that this decision was made lightly. The chaos must have been exceptional for this sort of action to be required. Given the choice between an animal act and sensible quiet, I'll choose the SQ, Alex. No food fights. No screaming. No racing around the classroom.

Sit down, eat like a human being, and then go outside and play.

I suspect most of you haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about, having never spent time as an adult in a classroom.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:59 PM on August 21, 2003


When i was in grade school, we had a mock-up of a traffic light in the cafeteria.

When the light was green, you could talk as you pleased.

When it was yellow, you were to whisper.

When it was red, no talking was allowed at all.

If it got too noisy, they switched it to yellow. If the noise level did not go down substantially after switching to yellow, they switched it to red, and disciplined anyone who was caught talking.

After a couple of minutes of silence to get the noise under control, they would change back to yellow. I presume the theory would be to switch back to green if the crowd behaved and stayed subdued under yellow, but that rarely happened, if ever.

Usually it went Green, Yellow, Red, Yellow, Red, Yellow, Red, etc... It was quite effective at keeping the noise level from spiraling out of control (due to everyone talking louder to over-talk the noise level).

I think total silence is counter-productive to the process of education. If you don't let the kids quench their need to talk during lunch, then they'll just do it during class when they should be paying attention to the lesson.
posted by joquarky at 2:00 PM on August 21, 2003


Isn't it odd for school to be started already? Up here, it starts after Labour Day, which is the first Monday in September. And what's with the "Kum and Go" ad at the bottom of that article? It's a little creepy, that.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:01 PM on August 21, 2003


joquarky: we had a mock-up of a traffic light in the cafeteria.

We had one of these in our lunchroom too! But when it turned red, we all had to put our heads on the lunch table to be quiet.

Our school was quite small; the red light was a very rare thing. But whenever it did turn red, one would be amazed at the number of kids that abruptly developed a loud cough.
posted by rhapsodie at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2003


It won't remain with total silence for very long, joquarky. The principal is quite clear that everything is very flexible at this point, as they try to figure out how to achieve the goal of kids eating their lunch instead of getting so rowdy they neglect to eat.

The traffic light idea is really cool. Lunch after play is, too. Might even make for more efficient digestion; if you play hard after eating, the food just sits like a lump 'cause your bloodflow is being diverted to your muscles.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2003


5FF, don't get me wrong, I mean, respect to all teachers, past, present, and future. I have spent time in the classroom as an adult, and I know what you mean about the drawbacks of the profession. It's a shame.

But the only current teacher I see in this thread is against the policy. Seems to me that working with children means working with noise. Pooh-poohing kids for being a little loud seems like an aimless uphill battle.

From my research into the career, one of the worst drawbacks of all is that a lot of the people in teaching would rather be elsewhere. No one should be there for the pay, the status, or the hours, as you point out. So be there for the kids. What does this do for the kids?

And yes, school should ALWAYS start after Burning Man.
posted by scarabic at 2:19 PM on August 21, 2003


I'm sure there are some relatively inexpensive acoustic tiles that could help with the noise level

You need to drop by your local public elementary school at lunch. Call the principal up and let 'em know why you wanna so they don't think you're there to pick up chicks. Once they finish laughing they'll invite you right over. It isn't just noise; acoustic tiles might make your home studio better, but they won't drive the madness of a couple hundred little kids out of your head.
posted by yerfatma at 2:26 PM on August 21, 2003


five fresh fish, We've had Kum and Go "convenience stores" (gas stations) here in Iowa for as many years as I can remember. And yes, we all laugh at the name too.
posted by ducktape at 2:31 PM on August 21, 2003


You need to drop by your local public elementary school at lunch ... It isn't just noise; acoustic tiles might make your home studio better, but they won't drive the madness of a couple hundred little kids out of your head.

That was actually my point ... that it isn't just the noise (even though that's their claim). I was being somewhat facetious about the acoustic tiles. And I have been in the elementary school lunchroom several times last year, and it's exceptionally loud and unruly. But isn't socialization a huge part of the elementary school experience? And aren't kids pretty much limited in their ability to socialize except during recess and lunch? I could probably get behind the "stop light" idea -- at least then kids are free to talk and they get the added benefit of learning that there's an acceptable volume level.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:35 PM on August 21, 2003


Two points: First, this school is *not* unique in doing this. I know of at least two others with the same policy. And second, it may not be correct in assuming that children, or people for that matter, eat more when they pay attention to their food without distraction.

In France, for years there has been a polite silence at the table, and people seem to eat less as a result. They are taken aback by Americans doing things, talking, walking, watching television, etc. while eating! Seriously, how can you enjoy what you eat that way?
posted by kablam at 2:40 PM on August 21, 2003


We had the traffic light. It was called "Big Brother". You've got to love that.
posted by mblandi at 2:44 PM on August 21, 2003


expounding on the traffic light post above, some school cafeterias have noise meters in them that sound an alarm when a certain decibel level is reached. If it rings no outside recess or some other form of punishment.
posted by outsider at 2:56 PM on August 21, 2003


I taught elementary (got out because of the pay, and do miss it) and know first hand how the lunchroom can get out of control. Lunch is good for socalizing, but kids don't know how to keep it under control. They get louder and louder trying to make each other heard - it's a crazy feedback loop.

My son has sensitive ears and can be brought to tears if the noise level. I appreciate that his school tries to keep things under control (traffic lights, etc). It sounds like this school is doing the same thing - looking for ways to bring sanity to lunch.
posted by jazon at 3:00 PM on August 21, 2003


ducktape: We've had Kum and Go "convenience stores" (gas stations) here in Iowa for as many years as I can remember. And yes, we all laugh at the name too.

Yeah, they recently took over all the QuikTrips in Iowa City. No one that I know actually calls them "Kum and Go." It's kind of a running gag, who can come up with the most hilarious replacements. Examples: "Sperm and Split." or "Ejaculate and Evacuate."

Anyway. I'm getting way too tangential.

When I think back to Junior High, I don't think we had recess. The only thing that kept me from putting a bullet into either my own head or the head of some other asshole kid was the fact that during lunch, I could talk and joke and laugh with my friends.

I wonder if we'll see a substantive rise in school violence in des moines this year.
posted by keef at 3:09 PM on August 21, 2003


But isn't socialization a huge part of the elementary school experience?

I think I can safely say that kids are not being socialized by being allowed to behave as they please.
posted by kindall at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2003


Isn't it odd for school to be started already?
Yes, and when was this rule change made, when school started or before school started. Meaning, is this a result of loud noise from today, the current kids, or last years kids. Seems the current kids are hearing the punishment, silence.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:39 PM on August 21, 2003


It is not a given that this school actually has a traditional go outside and run around recess.

If this school has instituted a vow of lunchtime silence *and* has no recess, that is absolutely unconscionable. Frankly, just looking through previous comments shows that there are much less restrictive ways to solve the "too noisy" problem. As a song I hate says "Did you really think about it before you made the rules?"

But anybody who actually survives this will be a great cubicle dweller.
posted by ilsa at 3:42 PM on August 21, 2003


Sure, kindall, because God knows kids never socialize each other. Socialization only happens under carefully controlled conditions under the direct supervision of adults.
posted by Chanther at 3:59 PM on August 21, 2003


My favourite part of socializing was having someone douse my lunch with my milk when they saw the supervising teacher wasn't looking. The closest parallel I can think of to elementary school socialization is being in prison.

I'm sure a 'whisper only' compromise will be reached soon enough, and the traffic light idea seems like a good one.

I also don't think very many kids became fat because they finished their milk and their sandwich before the end of lunch break, so that's a bit of a red herring.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:18 PM on August 21, 2003


didn't you read Lord of the Flies, chanther? children without adult supervision are frightening.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:28 PM on August 21, 2003


Whu? Unless the American school system is truly weird, these kids are not being denied making noise during the lunch hour: they are being kept quiet during the fifteen-odd minutes it takes to scarf down their lunch.

I'm pretty sure that your elementary schools are rather like ours: free time before school starts at about 8:30/9:00AM, a recess break mid-morning, a full hour for lunch (only a few minutes of which are used for eating), and then free time after school at about 2:30/3:00PM until such time as they are picked up/bussed home/etc.

The school wants civilized behaviour from its population during the time that lunches are being eaten. Once the kids are done their lunch they can go outside and act like orangutans to their hearts' content.

This isn't a full-day lockdown. It's fifteen minutes of civilized eating behaviour.

Sheesh.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:49 PM on August 21, 2003


Mars: TRIO recently broadcast a couple BBC shows, Girls Alone and Boys Alone, in which groups of ten 11-year-old were videotaped while living alone in a house for five days, with no contact with adults (except, I suppose, camera guys). It was fascinating to watch their behavior--kind of scary, but also kind of touching, in a way; with both the girls and the boys, the house was a disaster by the end of the week.
posted by troybob at 4:55 PM on August 21, 2003


I remember learning a few years back, living in Georgia, that in some elementary schools kids were eating lunch as early as 10:30 a.m. to be able to cycle all the students through a lunch period. Is this common in other places?
posted by troybob at 5:02 PM on August 21, 2003


I think I can safely say that kids are not being socialized by being allowed to behave as they please.

Surely there are already many restrictions on what they can and cannot do. This is just a noise policy.
posted by scarabic at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2003


I always ate lunch outside, on a lawn. I think anywhere on the school grounds was OK. Sounds like part of the problem is packing all the kids into one room. Why's that necessary? Sounds like a pressure cooker.
posted by scarabic at 5:26 PM on August 21, 2003


troybob -- I am sure that's possible. My school only has one lunch period, but it still starts at 10:54. But then, you get hungry by then when school starts at 7:25.
posted by puffin at 5:26 PM on August 21, 2003


Sure, kindall, because God knows kids never socialize each other. Socialization only happens under carefully controlled conditions under the direct supervision of adults.

I suppose it's technically true that kids do socialize each other, but it's not in a way you'd actually want. The difference between a child and an adult is the level of self-discipline he or she posseses.
posted by kindall at 5:34 PM on August 21, 2003


chanther, mars, it's helpful to remember that children are just little humans, and humans as a bunch can be unfair, mean, greedy, and generally fucked up. As a society we depend heavily on what our ancestors and parents figured out through trial and error - why should we not pass this on to our kids? A decibel level meter and corresponding instructions (traffic light style or otherwise) seem like a reasonable solution if lunchrooms are really that crazy.

Children would probably prefer to not to have to endure such uncontrollable levels of noise, but they have trouble recognizing the spiral upwards that they get stuck in (to avoid being drowned out by one another) and so don't see the solution, which is for everyone to agree to speak at lower levels, and sometimes to listen instead of talk... Also, I think I remember reading that child psychologists don't think most children actively start listening until they're around 7.
posted by mdn at 5:49 PM on August 21, 2003


I hated it in school when (to use an example from this thread) the light would turn from green to yellow, and the room would erupt in a deafening hiss of people (usually girls) going "SSSHHHH!!!!!"
posted by scarabic at 5:52 PM on August 21, 2003


When I was in grade school, there was this crabby old woman named Mrs. Wiltenberger who was our lunchroom lady. She didn't hold any other job that I knew of; her only purpose was to stand up at the front of the cafeteria at the microphone and tell us to be quiet. Occasionally, she'd address someone by name: "Lyle Marcotullio, less talking, more eating! John Naguszewski, eyes forward!" (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

What killed me is during class, the teacher would silence us and say "save it for lunch time", or some such, apparently oblivious to the fact that we weren't allowed to freely converse in the cafeteria.
posted by Oriole Adams at 5:59 PM on August 21, 2003


keef: Also, "Jizz 'n' Jet."
posted by hal incandenza at 6:14 PM on August 21, 2003


Fuck'n'flight? Blow'n'swallow? The possibilities are surely endless.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:02 PM on August 21, 2003


I'm pretty sure that your elementary schools are rather like ours: free time before school starts at about 8:30/9:00AM, a recess break mid-morning, a full hour for lunch (only a few minutes of which are used for eating), and then free time after school at about 2:30/3:00PM ...

my kid gets one 15 minute recess, one 15 minute structured P.E. period, plus whatever time is leftover after his half-hour lunch. His school day is from 7:45-2:45. So, it is pretty damned structured. A whole hour for lunch seems like such a luxury!

... in some elementary schools kids were eating lunch as early as 10:30 a.m. to be able to cycle all the students through a lunch period. Is this common in other places?

Around here (Austin, TX), kindergartners usually eat lunch at 10:50 a.m.
posted by whatnot at 7:04 PM on August 21, 2003


Do they still bitch if you sleep in study hall?
(Do they still have study hall?)
posted by HTuttle at 9:27 PM on August 21, 2003


Fifteen minutes for PE? That's not even remotely enough time for a workout. No wonder Americans are more fat than fit. And with a half-hour lunch, little wonder American schools have so many burnt-out teachers.

Gahd. Talk about training y'all for the penal system at a young age.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:30 PM on August 21, 2003


kids were eating lunch as early as 10:30 a.m.

That's nothing new. 20 years ago in high school I had the 10:30 lunch for 2 years.

My elementary school had a principal named Mr. Stone, who was probably not as tall as I remember, but was a big guy nevertheless, and there was this unwritten rule that whenever he came into the lunch room, there was NO TALKING. So he'd come in, and stand there, and the silence would spread as kids noticed him and poked each other, and then he'd stand there in the silence looking at us all (50-75 kids), and then he'd say, "Good. Let's keep it this way." And then he'd leave the cafeteria, and the noise would start up again. I'm sure he must have gotten the biggest laugh out of doing that.
posted by JanetLand at 6:29 AM on August 22, 2003


I hate to derail, but all of this Kum 'n' Go discussion is bush-league next to the power of the Pump 'n' Munch chain of convenience stores to be found in southern Minnesota.
posted by COBRA! at 7:00 AM on August 22, 2003


According to the local (Des Moines) news, this whole plan was trashed after about one day due to parent complaints.

Yes, everyone but the school administrators thought it was ridiculous.
posted by mikeh at 7:29 AM on August 22, 2003


Mikeh beat me to it, as I just found out about it today, but here's the story.
posted by emelenjr at 10:19 AM on August 23, 2003


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