Lunchtime Part 2: Silence is Golden

Oh, hello. For some reason I wandered away from this lovable trainwreck. Let’s do something about that.

Today we visit the impossible feat that is the imposition of Silent Lunch. I am unhappy to report that West Heritage was not the only one to try pulling such unnecessary policing of the lunchroom– other schools here and there have since attempted a Silent Lunch policy, often resulting in immense backlash from students and parents alike. Even today there are still reports of schools trying (and failing miserably) at mashing the mute button in the lunchroom. An elementary school in Iowa City is but one example of bizarre behavioral micromanagement as part of its PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports). You should read the rest of that blog, too, as it’s a sobering look into the continued stripping of any kind of joy and dignity from school.

Anyway…

When I went to West Heritage, upon entering the first grade we were shuffled into “general population” for lunch time. Our cafeteria doubled as the indoor stage, and we had these huge white fold-out benches. It was kind of a lop-sided arrangement since on one-side of the room the benches were looooooong, but the other side’s were much shorter and probably a more reasonable length. And for some reason, it was decided not only to isolate everyone according to grade level, but also INDIVIDUAL CLASSES.

Well, shit. You might as well have just gone to assigned seating at that rate. Partitioning by grade level I can SORT OF understand (preventing inter-grade aggression, but at the same time disallows siblings from eating together… though I would imagine at the time it was considered uncool to eat with your siblings), but by class? What if you had a friend that was in another class? Too bad for you. Don’t even try to turn around and talk to the table behind you, the LUNCH POLICE (“proctors”) wouldn’t have any of it. If you were a lonely nobody and just wanted some space from your annoying classmates, the proctors would side-eye the hell out of you.

Oh man, the proctors. The PROCTORS. See, in a reasonable lunchroom, their role would be simply to be on standby for assisting with opening milk/juice carts and other packaging and to, you know, perform SOME moderation… and by that I mean “keep the kids from murdering each other.”

Ours… well, we called them the Lunch Police for a reason. And police they DID. They went way beyond blocking lunch trading, they went as far as to DICTATE THE ORDER IN WHICH YOU ATE YOUR FOOD.

What.
WHAT.
It’s my lunch, it’s all going to end up in the same place anyhow, what the hell is your business telling me I have to eat my sandwich first? If this were a five-star restaurant, MAYBE you’d have an argument there, but this is a freaking elementary school lunchroom. It is not your place to impose what you consider to be “proper order of food consumption.”

ARGH.

And then, of course, the constant, CONSTANT demand for silence. Oh man, that was a losing battle from the start. Every day, between shaming kids for choosing to eat their chips ahead of the sandwich (and funny, I only recall the brown-baggers getting policed this heavily, they generally left the hot-lunch’d kids alone), we were all being admonished for TALKING TOO DARNED MUCH. The best parts was when… I think her name was “Mary?” She was this middle-aged woman with thick sunglasses and short, graying curly hair and perpetual resting frowny-face. A truly joyless person! I swear she existed solely to suck the fun out of everything and to shame children for existing. She would lecture us for “having no respect for our elders” just because we wanted to chatter during lunch. The cafeteria wasn’t even that loud, it only felt that way because it was rather tiny and all these kids crammed so close together gave the impression of being excessively loud.

Still, the proctors felt like it was their moral duty to shut everyone up, and they would go through all these bizarre and futile efforts accomplish their mission. Turn the lights off? The kids would scream in panic. They’d try to block kids from leaving for recess because their class’s table was too noisy. (Ah, the failure of “collective punishment” at work…) Their excuse for trying to mute lunch was that the noise level was too much for the kids in the classrooms next door. And to that, I say “blame the contractor,” because only an idiot would design things so that the cafeteria doors opened up to route all the noise point-blank at the adjacent classroom. Also, blame the fool teacher who kept her classroom door open during lunch hour. No one to blame but yourself, there!

SIGH.

You cannot impose silent lunch, especially at the elementary school level. It’s not going to happen. When the teacher demands silence and obedience in the classroom, and recess is shrinking to the point of being nonexistent in some places, that leaves only lunch as the only sanctioned time for free socializing. And it’s not exactly “free” if you’re arbitrarily partitioning kids off by grade level and even class. (I would really like to hear the rationale behind assigned seating at lunchtime. Please tell me it’s something other than “preventing hurt feelings.”)

Oddly enough, the attempts to mandate silent lunch fell apart at the end of fifth grade, as more and more often we were being forced outside while the cafeteria was being converted for usage for end-of-year events. I imagine the proctors could have pulled an excuse out of their butts if they wanted, to, though. West Heritage was surrounded by houses. The proctors could have argued that silent lunch would prevent noise complaints… which was rubbish since odds are, the adults who lived in those houses would be off at work.

Still, I wonder if the West Heritage that exists now has learned anything from its origins? Does it still try to impose a silent lunch policy? Does it still send its proctors in to police food consumption down to the potato chip? I would hope not, but in the recent trend of schools punting “learning by play/socialization” in favor of “MUST RAISE TEST SCORES OVER 9000” and “ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE,” I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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