Where Did Recess Go?

Or better yet, when did it go away? I find this story disturbing. I’ve written here before about the importance of unstructured free/play time to the development of a child’s well-being. I knew schools were doing other asinine things, like cutting music and arts education. But no recess? I mean, what the hell is wrong with our education system? Where are the parents? Does no one give a damn? Talk about the Eaters of Childhood. From Slate:

Every schoolchild who’s ever squirmed in his seat, anxious for recess to arrive, can sympathize with students in Chicago. This year, many public schools in that city are scheduled to have recess for the first time in three decades. Chicago’s long recess drought isn’t unusual. Even before No Child Left Behind, recess was an endangered species. Since NCLB, every minute of the school day has been scrutinized for its instructional value—and recess, a break from instruction, often didn’t survive the scrutiny. It was, by definition, a waste of time.

Am I an ignorant buffoon? I had no idea there were school districts that had ended recess, and thirty years ago. No recess? Really? What are we doing sending our children to these institutions? Here’s the attitude of the people in charge of developing your child’s intellectual character:

The arguments against recess are simple and no-nonsense, especially for these schools: What—you want the kids to play kickball when they’re failing math? When the Atlanta public schools got rid of recess, its superintendent famously said, “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t do that by having kids hanging on the monkey bars.”

This individual should be kept far away from any child, let alone being in charge of a school. What a failure. How many generations were we able to improve academic performance without ending recess? Want a few stats to make your day? Since 1970, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial, the public school workforce has nearly doubled, growing almost 11 times faster than the rate of enrollment. We’re spending twice the amount of money on education, for smaller teacher-to-student ratios, all for lousy test scores, as we all know.

Now, there’s a lot of factors affecting student performance, including the teaching profession and bureaucracy, our communities, and our families that play a role in poor student performance. My only criticism of teachers – my wife is one and she knows my feelings – is that they belong to, and give authority to, an entrenched unionized system that is resistant to change. Except when it comes to ending recess (and music and the arts).

And I’ll tell you, even where the schools are reintroducing recess, they are getting it wrong:

That’s the twist in this rebirth-of-recess narrative: In part because of these fears (recess=chaos), recess in many schools is now a very different beast. It’s more structured and sports-focused, less dreamy and aimless. Whether it leads to the same cognitive and social benefits is an open question.

I just want to grab these people by their collective lapels and shake them and shout “if you want to be an educator in charge of educating, try keeping up with the science on education, including the significance of unstructured play time in cognitive development!” Dear God, do these people not read, or possess common sense?

OK, remember a few days ago, when I wrote my mea culpa about my writing style? This is one of those instances where maybe I’m getting a little carried away. But I’m sorry, I’m right on this. From the Slate article:

The new science of recess says that recess isn’t a waste of time at all. “Having recess is much, much, much better than not having recess,” says Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota who’s written extensively on the subject. “That’s unequivocal, I feel. That’s a no-brainer.” That’s good news for children in Chicago squirming in their seats. But what does recess look like when no schoolchild has ever had it before?

Thank goodness someone gets it. And Mr. Pellegrini, I promise to remember you and your research the next time I consider university professors to be wasting time on research rather than teaching classes. And to all of you, trust your child’s development to no one. You know better.



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