07 January 2014

Why Must Children be Quiet at School?

Dialogue, debate and excitement in the classroom should obviously be the goals of all educators. “Once I was about to visit a principal,” Ms. Fariña said, “who told me, ‘You’re going to love coming here because you can hear a pin drop.’ I said, ‘I better not come because that isn’t going to make me happy.’ ”    
                                                                 Carmen Fariña as quoted in The New York Times

This quote reminds me of the year my oldest son started kindergarten.  I'll never forget that day seven years ago when I walked him to school for the first day.  I had found someone to teach my first period high school English class, so I could arrive late to the school where I taught after taking my own child to school.  The administrators guided us into the gymnasium where all the students were sitting cross-legged on the floor one behind the next with their backpacks and lunch boxes on their tiny laps.  You could have heard a pin drop in that gymnasium.  They only let parents stay a few minutes before ushering us out.  I couldn't help but ask what would happen next.  The kind lady informed me that the children would sit queitly like this every morning from the time we dropped them off until the time their teacher picked them up and walked them to the classroom (approximately 30 minutes each day since I had to drop him off in time to get to my own school on time on other days).  I asked what they were supposed to do while they were sitting their quietly.  "Can they interact with one another?"
  "No, you can imagine how loud it would get if they were all talking."

Coming from a high school background, I was appalled at the reply.  I cried on my way to school that day, and I probably would have cried anyway since my first born child was going to kindergarten, but
happy & playful boys
I couldn't stop thinking about how these young children were not allowed to engage with one another each morning.  They couldn't play or explore.  They couldn't do anything but sit quietly and wait for school to start each day.

For years I've asked if quietness must be the goal in elementary schools, and I've always felt like I just didn't know better since I come from a secondary background.  Kindergarten teacher, Pernille Ripp who teaches in Wisconsin, has been asking some of these same questions as evidenced in her blog post What Is Our Obsession With Quiet Kids?  Ripp's commentary encapsulates much of my thinking about quietness and nosiness in school.  There's a time and a place for both, but we should certainly let children have conversations with one another.  This week I'm encouraged to know from another highly regarded veteran educator, quietness in a school doesn't have to be our top goal.