Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Education Opinions Part 1

My mom once asked me about the first steps I would hypothetically take to make a "better school." I don't claim to be an education expert, but I do have personal opinions about the ideal school--one I'd like to go to. Among many other things, I said that I would change school starting times, improve cafeteria lunches, and bring back recess. These would be good first steps because they help a lot of students a little bit. Given, they do touch the surface, but they can have wide-reaching impacts.

"Small" Measures: Starting Times, Recess, and Lunches
Starting Times
Studies have repeatedly shown that everyone, but children with developing brains in particular, need a good amount of high-quality sleep. It's difficult to get when you have to worry about waking up at 7 in the morning to go to school. Not everyone is a morning lark, and by starting school so early, not only students but also educators have to stave off yawns throughout the day.

I was at a conference where a well-respected doctor who'd studied sleep habits for many years shared information (which I've roughly paraphrased) that adolescent sleep cycles tend to begin at 3 AM and end at 11 AM. Yet we're starting school at 7 or 7:30 AM. While I wouldn't quite change school start times to 11 AM (since we have to consider parents who have to go to work), I think it would be reasonable to move them to 8:45 AM or after. Then hypothetically a teenager could go to bed at 12 AM (as many often do), wake up at 8, shower and eat breakfast, and go to school with 8 rather than 5 or 6 hours of sleep.

Another step: make cafeteria lunches better. There would be a cap on the amount of sodium, fat, and calorie content allowed in each lunch. Nonfat or 1-2% milk (and in smaller containers--who really drinks that much milk?) instead of whole, no chocolate milk, no soft drinks, and no vending machines with unhealthy items. A certain percentage of food served would have to be organic and/or local. Have smaller portions to help minimize cost (we all know how much food gets dumped out). Have the school's foods classes, and maybe the entire student body, help make lunch on certain days.

This might be controversial among students, but I think it would be a good idea to have randomly assigned seating during lunch. The social division that occurs when students simply pick out where they want to sit can be hurtful and exclusive to students new to the school or children with difficulty making friends. Also, I think that teachers rarely eat lunch and converse with the students. I've learned a lot from being able to have conversations with adults. So, teachers would be required to eat lunch with the students--at least on certain days--(and really, if they really can't stand students to the extent that they can't eat with them, should they be teaching?) I don't want to sound too uptight, but it might be useful to have lunchtime (or at least part of it) double as a class in good manners and etiquette--particularly helpful for students who don't often have the ability to experience fine dining. Not to mention it might cut down on food fight incidents.

Making nutritious school lunches would be an excellent way to begin combating child obesity; another way would be to bring back recess, at all grade levels. In middle and high school you might have a somewhat more organized approach (as in, now we're going to be playing Capture the Flag), depending on students, because I could envision people simply standing around and talking to each other instead of exercising.

Perhaps instead of a dreaded required class one semester of junior high, physical education could become a fun, daily fifteen-minute vigorous game-playing time? A lot has been said about boys being kinesthenic learners, and I'm sure it wouldn't hurt anyone to move around more.


In my second part, Education Opinions Part 2 (the "big" changes), I'll be talking about changing the age-based grade system, authority hierarchy in school, and online learning.


  1. I definitely agree with changing school lunches. :)

  2. Great ideas, Adora! I definitely agree with you on the starting times - actually, I get up at 6 am most mornings, and last year (when I was taking an extra class), I got up at 5:30. I know students in my class who live farther away and some have to get up as early as 4:30 in the morning.

  3. Anonymous2:59 PM

    I definitely agree with everything, especially the school lunches. I had to buy my lunch everyday and usually ended up with pizza. At first it was fun, but eventually I decided it was too much and there should be healthier foods. By that point, I didn't want pizza, but that was all I could eat most days. I think they should only have healthy foods to prevent kids from going for the junky stuff, and have a wide selection for the picky eaters. :)

  4. I agree, you're so smart!

  5. I'd like to see that study--I can't imagine that the natural sleep cycle for adolescents begins at 3 AM.

    On lunches, although it is arguably a suggestion towards ideal change, I don't think it's viable. If students pay for their own lunches, they'll have to pay substantially more for these healthier foods. Alternatively, if schools pay for the lunches, then schools would have to reduce their funding elsewhere. Unfortunately as it stands, healthy foods are generally more expensive than the less healthier alternatives. And I know you've suggested ways of tackling this, but reducing portion sizes is good for some students but not good for others; and having the entire student body assisting with making the lunches I can imagine being quite a burden on the cafeteria staff (and other problems potentially could follow). My high school's food classes were responsible everyday for the cafeteria, though. Well, we had a class called "Cafeteria" I believe that was separate from the regular food classes.

    On forcing students and teachers to eat together and your jab at certain teachers, I don't think it's fair to use that argument. Some teachers love their students, but after spending many hours of their morning, and knowing that many hours in the afternoon will be spent with them, they simply might just want a break. No matter how much you love ice cream, if you eat too much of it, you're likely to want a break.

    And I think that sitting students together randomly could be an issue--what if you partner a bullied student with a bully? Imagine that bullied student dreading lunch everyday, fearing that result?

    Personally, I would be more likely to participate in a food fight if I was being forced to learn fine dining etiquette during lunch. Sure, I don't usually experience fine dining, but ultimately, do I really want to?

    My high school's lunch time doubled as recess. However, whereas some students would use the time to engage in sports or other forms of physical activity, most people would use the time to sit down and socialize (which is also, in addition to physical activity, an important aspect of education).

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone!
    Tyler, to find the study, search for James Mass 3 AM in Google. The first link, the Cornell University news article, includes the study summary. (Dr. Mass is a highly respected professor whose lectures regularly attract 1500+ students).

    I'm not sure from your blog if you're from Canada, but if so, I wanted to add that your K-12 education system is ahead of the US's in many ways.

    RE lunch, I would suspect that having a large contingent of teachers sitting nearby might frighten bullies a little more, don't you think? And, if the bully was sitting at a table full of strangers as opposed to his/her friends (with whom they might naturally sit) they wouldn't have support and thus might be less likely to pick on someone.
    To pay for healthy food: have small starter portions: students could grab more if they wanted. Raise taxes locally, perhaps on things like sugary soft drinks (or maybe get rid of tax breaks for the richest percent of Americans). Cut some of the money that goes into school competitive sports, perhaps by making some sports co-ed.
    Finally, regarding etiquette, it wouldn't need to be everyday, but my rationale lies in all the kids who rarely use forks because all they eat is hamburgers, pizza, fries or chicken nuggets. Even for kids who do eat regular family dinners and know their silverware, basic manners and the rationale behind them is good knowledge for anyone to have--yet probably not enough to donate a whole classroom to.

    So, there's my opinion.

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  8. Sorry, it's James Maas, not Mass

  9. Hey Adora,

    Thanks for the response and letting me know you responded--apparently Blogger doesn't have a comment subscription function, unfortunately :(

    Mmhmm, but I can't find a scientific or psychological study citing that idea. I'd rather look at the literature than go off somebody's reputation--especially when the idea seems so off...

    I am from Canada--I'm a student at the University of British Columbia. And our K-12 education system might be more advanced than yours in some respects, but I'm sure we envy different aspects of yours.

    On teachers and bullies, potentially, but would there be enough teachers to have one close enough to everyone? Because the bullied don't usually stand up for themselves...

    That's true about the support--it is a common motivating factor in bullying. However, I don't think it's the only factor. If there's regular conflict between the two students, I'm sure that the mere habit of bullying would kick in at some point.

    Grabbing more as needed is a good suggestion :)

    Raising taxes (and making some sports co-ed) is a touchy subject. It would be difficult to do such a thing since not everybody would support it. And also, if the government is going to get more money, the probability of them putting that extra funding source purely into education seems to me to be quite low.

    And if it's simply using a fork, then sure, I agree that's a useful skill. Sorry--I assumed you meant more along the lines of "this is how cutlery is arranged", "this is a soup spoon; that is a dessert spoon", etc. type of deal ;)

  10. Loved your article. BRAVO!! I can not say it enough it was Amazing & great insight as well as hitting the nail on the head about education today in the US & how it is lacking for the students. Daughter does K12 as well she is 9. I agree 100% on everything said. Congratulations for Huffington Post. Now lets see who actually reads, pays attention & starts doing something about it. Brilliant!! 10 Stars Plus!!

  11. Hi Adora! You raise a number of important issues regarding what changes would be best for students. I wonder how students themselves would feel about healthier food items or organized lunchtime or organized recess. As a middle school teacher, I think there is something to be said for respecting student autonomy and choice when it comes to the unorganized free time of lunch and recess. I'm not sure if I would feel entirely comfortable mandating some of these changes (even though I would love for school to be at 8:45)as students would perceive it as another way in which adults are trying to constrain and control them. So I wonder if there is some way in which we could build in healthier options and discuss healthy decision-making choices. Thank you for your insights and I look forward to reading more of them!

  12. I an the teacher librarian in a newly-organized 5th/6th grade building with about 600 students. I have been assigned the (not) enviable position of Recess Duty every day. This is not a good experience - for students at this age. Our Principal, Dean of Students, Guidance Counselor, and BD teaching staff all agree: Not having a noon recess would eliminate 85% of the student behavior referrals. While I agree that students need to move during the day, unstructured recess time is not the answer. Structured activity time IS an answer. Instead of replacing scheduled PE classes with recess, we might think about replacing recess with more scheduled PE times.

  13. Anonymous10:25 PM

    As a parent, I wish school started later so my kids can get enough sleep, ease into their school day, and be alert to learn. Instead, we rush and stress each morning to get to school by 8am and I'm not sure there is a good reason to start so early.

    Healthier school lunches should be a right for every student. Some schools have made it happen. [] Good idea to have students make lunches on some days. It would help fulfill Jamie Oliver's wish to teach every child about healthy foods. []

    Thanks, Adora, for your education opinions. Any thoughts on how to get more young people to share what they think about education? I wonder how many of your peers feel the way you do.

  14. Ray Anon5:28 PM

    Why didn't I look for your blog before? You have a great writing style and share your exciting thoughts on interesting issues. Many thanks for this gift to us!

    Starting Times:
    I always wondered why we started so early. I completely understand it when it comes to university courses; sometimes the schedule is so full that lectures end at 21:50, which means that every hour of the day must be used. But why in school?

    School Lunch:
    I agree with your ideas here, too. In my university, we get the normal portion but can specifically ask for a large portion when we feel exceptionally hungry - without having to pay more! Isn't it amazing how simple measures can make a great difference?

    Randomly assigned seats? I have never heard of such an idea. Which makes me wonder, because I think it is brilliant! :) Kind of reminds me of Speed Dating though ^^

    Great, you taught me a new word ^^ I don't have thoughts on this. In my school in Germany, we had a 5-minute-break between every lesson, and after the second and fourth lesson a 15-minute-break each. During the long breaks we had to leave class, but apart from that it was up to us how to use that time. We had no lunch time though - either our parents prepared our food or we grabbed a healthy snack at the canteen.

    By the way, I sometimes took workshops at university which went over hours and hours, leaving you exhausted midway. In such workshops it is not unusual to play games that involve physical activity and concentration. The participants may be a bit shy at first, but I have never experienced someone refusing to take part in it. Lecturers regularly underestimate the disposition of university students (age 19 to 30) to engage in "childish" activities :)

    And while I don't know about working people at age 30 and above, but I wouldn't be surprised if they highly appreciated a short relief from a tedious meeting. Afterwards, they would show much more motivation and concentration.