The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. "...  ...Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Commentary of the Day - March 16, 2009:  Where are all Those Kids Marching to Lunch and Recess With Their Arms Folded Across Their Chests?

Recently, the IP came across an article written by Herbert Kohl entitled "The Educational Panopticon."  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word panopticon, according to Wikipedia "The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in 1785.  The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched..."

Kohl is a former teacher and radical (at least in the IP's view) educational theorist.  The gist of his article is that our public schools aided and abetted by No Child Left Behind are more like prisons than schools.  Criticism of NCLB has come from across a wide range of the political spectrum, and the IP finds much not to like about NCLB.  However, the IP also believes along with the late, great Senator Moynihan that arguments should be based on facts, and there were two paragraphs in Kohl's piece that assert facts that the IP has been unable to verify.  Kohl states:

....Recently a friend and I visited a middle school in the Bay Area.  It was lunchtime and the students were lined up outside of the cafeteria.  I noticed that they all had their arms folded over their chests with their hands clutching their shoulders. My friend got really upset and suggested we leave immediately.  I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that the lunch line was identical to lunch lines she observed when she visited prisons.  The inmates were required to hold their arms that way to prevent them from touching each other or carrying anything into the dining hall.  Later I asked a teacher at the school about the rationale for having the students line up in that way, and he gave me the same reason.  According to him, the students, all of whom were either black or Latino, had to be kept from touching each other or fooling around on the lunch line and besides, he commented, "it's also good education for their future."

I observed a similar phenomenon in an elementary school a few weeks ago, only this time it was a class of second graders required to walk to the playground with their arms folded across their chests. The rationale I was given by an administrator was the same though without the cynical aside. In both instances the official reason for the policy was that it was part of the school’s zero tolerance policy....

The IP has searched the Internet, asked his friends on Facebook, and has asked some other education writers that he knows if they ever have observed school children marching to lunch or to recess with "their arms folded across their chests clutching their shoulders."  Not a one has seen this behavior.  The IP, on a few occasions, has seen a student or two standing in the Quad at Cal State Fullerton with arms folded across his or her chest with hands clasping the shoulders.  But, this usually was a student who wasn't dressed appropriately for the weather and was just trying to keep warm.  (Spring days in southern California can be deceptively sunny though cool.)  And, the arms-folded position sometimes is a sign of defiance by individual school kids.  But, the IP has never seen or heard of middle school students being required to stand in lunch lines or marching to recess with their arms folded across their chests with their hands clutching their shoulders.  In fact, he's never heard of a prison in the United States where the prisoners march to meals this way.

So, the IP is asking his readers, many of whom are or were K-12 teachers, if they ever have observed such behavior.  If you have, please supply the IP with the details (just hit the comments button below).  Please include the name of the school (or prison), the location, the time frame, and the names of any teachers or administrators who can be contacted so that the IP can follow up on this story.

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