Lunch In The DPRK

2005-02-12 18:24:21

I dined with my son (3rd grade) and my daughter (4th grade) at their school cafeteria yesterday, and I found the lunchroom situation appalling: the one lunchroom monitor lady, I don't know her name so let's call her Kim Jong Il, had apparently terrified the kids into something called a "silent lunch". It was unnatural and creepy, like if David Cronenberg had directed the orphanage scene in Oliver!1. I mean, Ms. Kim was barking orders like "no talking, when you're done put your head down on the table until it's time to go". This is to a table of 2nd graders. How would you react to eating lunch under these conditions?2

I expressed my concerns to Ms. Kim. She informed me that this was necessary to keep the kids controlled and to help in their "socialization", especially since they came from many different "SES"es, or "Socio-Economic Statuses". However, I am not sure how stalking up and down the aisles between tables like Otto Preminger in Stalag 17 and shouting "No talking, or there will be no Valentine's Day party on Monday!" aids in the socialization of a child, regardless of their background. Perhaps I had a privileged upbringing.

I can understand the need to keep order and control: you don't want kids fighting, throwing food, and so forth. But on the other hand, they're elementary school children. Especially on a rain-ish day like yesterday, they're going to need a chance to bleed off a little energy by talking with their friends. I suspect that this leads to a somewhat higher level of background noise than a lot of adults are happy with. I also suspect that enduring this is like getting wet if you're a lobster fisherman, or having papparazzi take unflattering photographs of you if you're Joan Rivers: it's just part of the job.

Also: it's my understanding that the entire 4th grade was sentenced to "silent lunch" because two kids screamed during lunch sometime last week. I don't know the details, but punishing the entire 4th grade for the bad behavior of two kids? Is my daughter in the 4th grade or boot camp?

If you're reading this thinking "Christ, hasn't this guy got anything better to do with his time?", well, I can kind of understand where you're coming from. But being a parent changes your priorities, and I don't like my kids being treated like this. And, I've come to find, a lot of other adults are also unhappy with these "silent lunch" and "punish the barrel for the actions of the bad apple" policies.
1 But at least in the Cronenberg version it'd be okay because there'd be a good chance the silent kids all had terrible psychic powers and it was only a matter of minutes before Ms. Kim was telekinetically run through a HobartTM meat slicer.

2 One of the more thought-provoking things I've read recently was a footnote to Paul Graham's essay What You'll Wish You'd Known. The essay itself didn't impress me, but I loved the footnote:

"[10] Your teachers are always telling you to behave like adults. I wonder if they'd like it if you did. You may be loud and disorganized, but you're very docile compared to adults. If you actually started acting like adults, it would be just as if a bunch of adults had been transposed into your bodies. Imagine the reaction of an FBI agent or taxi driver or reporter to being told they had to ask permission to go the bathroom, and only one person could go at a time. To say nothing of the things you're taught. If a bunch of actual adults suddenly found themselves trapped in high school, the first thing they'd do is form a union and renegotiate all the rules with the administration."

That's if the administration is lucky -- I think it's more likely they'd get sued into oblivion.