Do we need lunch periods, or even cafeterias?
A flood of emails Monday resisting my suggestion of longer school days to raise achievement leads me to wonder if parts of the regular school day could be put to better use. Is the typical raucous high school lunch period, in an overcrowded and sometimes dangerous cafeteria, really necessary? My colleague Jenna Johnson wrote last week of imaginative principals letting students avoid the cafeteria in favor of staying in classrooms to catch up with work or having club meetings. Can lunch become a time for stress-free learning, rather than Lord of the Flies with tile floors?
Okay, I confess I have long considered lunch a waste of time. I avoided the cafeteria during high school. My favorite lunch was eating a sandwich in a classroom while convening the student court, of which I was chief justice, so we could sanction some miscreant for stealing corn nuts from the vending machine. (I heard a radio ad for that classmate's business when I was home recently---he has become a successful attorney.) At the office these days I stay in my cubicle and have crackers and fruit juice, maybe a cookie if somebody has brought them from home.
But a non-cafeteria lunch could also be good for students who aren't total dorks like me. Johnson cites the work of Carole Goodman, the creative principal of James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring. "For more than eight years," Johnson reports, "Blake students have been allowed to eat anywhere, meet with clubs, catch up on work, retake tests and even skateboard in the parking lots." Principal Jay Pearson does the same at Marshall High School in Fairfax County.
The extra time for clubs is what grabs me. Check out the latest thinking on instilling 21st century skills in our restless youth. I am doing a series of Friday columns on the need for more thinking in class, and more practice collaborating with others, a skill crucial in the modern workplace. Surveys of people looking back on their high school years revealed that --duh--clubs and sports were where they learned the most about that.
So if we encouraged more club activities, with time during lunch, with inspirational advisors and maybe even with free pizza, our nation would not in 30 years become a Third World country begging for tips from rich Chinese tourists.
I am not sure we can get rid of school cafeterias altogether, but it might be worth trying. In some schools that midday gathering can be toxic. I have seen principals forced to marshall faculty and staff to drag kids out of the room and back to class.
And there is the health issue, but maybe that's just my problem. My wife is the senior editor at USA Today in charge of the newspaper's current investigative series, "Trouble on the Tray." I have heard many things from her about school lunches that I did not want to know. I can, however, think of better uses of the midday hour than sitting in a large room trying to hear one's self think, and inspecting the tortured piece of animal tissue on my plate to determine what it might do to me.
Anybody else down on the midday school cafeteria madness? Share your thoughts.
Follow Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/
For all the Post's Education coverage, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education
| December 8, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: 21st century skills, Carole Goodman, Jay Pearson, learning collaboration, school cafeterias, school clubs, school lunch period
Save & Share: Previous: Anguish in the library for kids without computers
Next: We're tied for no. 14! We're tied for no. 14!
Posted by: Wyrm1 | December 8, 2009 7:00 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: trace1 | December 8, 2009 7:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bkmny | December 8, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: pstohrhu | December 8, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: allenm1 | December 8, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bubba777 | December 8, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: murshap | December 8, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: LoveIB | December 8, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rochl | December 8, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: pink1 | December 8, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: techiechick | December 8, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 8, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: enrique_perez1989 | December 8, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gary4books | December 8, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: asteines | December 8, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: pittypatt | December 8, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: goodjuli20031 | December 8, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 8, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: StevePeha | December 8, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.