recess and anarchy and flies…oh my.


I knew getting recess for Texas wouldn’t be easy. With bullying and aggressive behaviors on the rise in schools, recess time has been pegged as the number one place for this to happen. I understand that this is a valid concern. I don’t want my child subjected to bullying anymore than the next kid. Aside from schools saying they need the time to teach, the next hurdle to clear is the misconception that “unstructured and undirected” means “unsupervised”.

Unstructured and undirected does not mean that teachers will send students outside alone to fend for themselves. Nor does it mean that a teacher may not intervene if children are not playing nice or bullying one another. David Bornstein, from The New York Times recently wrote a two-part article about the need for recess. Reader comments from his article, Hard Times for School Recess, were split down the middle. Those that said children need unstructured time, and those that said recess was opening the floodgate for chaos. One commenter, from Houston (sigh), wrote:

Recess, or play time as it’s called in the UK, is the worst place for bullying, teasing and more. We desperately need the ground rules for recess to protect kids. British studies have found that teachers encourage bullies to keep the other students in line. Unstructured time with not enough adults paying attention is not about social development when, like unstructured P.E. classes, it becomes more like Lord of the Flies.

My first thought was, “Lord of the Flies? Where the hell are these kids going to school?”  If memory serves me correct, Lord of the Flies, is more of an allegorical work of fiction, not so much about the scientific findings of recess. Jack, Simon, Piggy, Ralph and the “littluns” were stranded on a deserted island to fend for themselves without any adults..much less “enough” of them. They also created their own *ahem…structured* ground rules, albeit unsuccessful. Things didn’t really start going ape shit for them until a few chapters in…much longer than any 20 minute recess here in Texas could afford.

My second thought, “Why on earth would an unstructured recess at school equate to a lack of ground rules?” How hard would it be for a school to have playground rules?  Rules have been established for the rest of the school. They tell children to be quite in libraries, not to throw food in the cafeteria, and stay in a single file line while walking down the hallway. Is it that hard to tell them not to throw rocks and punch each other on the playground, too?  Why would all logic get tossed out the door once kids go outdoors? While I’m not familiar with teachers in the UK, I am confident my son’s teacher doesn’t use a bully to keep her class in line. She’s a professional educator…inside and outside.

With established ground rules, recess is way to practice social skills and peer interaction. A teacher supervising (not to be confused with directing with them on the what to play), has an opportunity to support anti-bullying policies. Common sense should dictate this wouldn’t be a time to ignore anti-bullying policies.

On Monday, The Dallas Morning News published a letter I had written to the editor. One reader said:

“unstructured and undirected activities for children”
This means the children get to do whatever they want without having to stand in lines, listen to teachers or administrators, or follow any rules. Those things are all structure and direction. I would call this anarchy class. It would be a great help preparing our children for the collapse of our government.

Again, I found myself thinking…“Ahhhhh! What the heck?” But then it occurs to me that 1) maybe he’s just trying to be funny and 2) he is also confused about unstructured time and unsupervised time.

You see, an anarchy class that prepares children for the collapse of government is still a class. Kind of like a government class, but with a different curriculum. Any successful curriculum needs structure.

HB3770 doesn’t say children can do whatever they want without listening to teachers or following rules. Read the actual text here.



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