Education: Playing Games with Recess

Education in America will make you crazy. There is hardly a part of it that is not corrupted by ideology and contaminated by sophistical thinking.

What could be simpler to understand than recess? When you’re talking about little children, you’re talking about puppies. They need to run around until they fall down laughing on the grass. Exertion to the point of exhaustion -- that may be the most important thing they do each day.

Well, if you know anything about our Education Establishment, you know they schemed to get rid of recess. Oh yes. That’s the way their minds work. (Recess would calm the kids down, take away their anxiety and ADHD. They might want to study; and maybe they wouldn’t need all that Ritalin and Title I intervention. Apparently, some powerful people didn't want those results.)

Consider, there are public schools that have not had a recess in three decades. That’s pathetic. But here’s where it gets really twisted. What was the reasoning behind this ban?

According to Slate, “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.”

When the Atlanta public schools got rid of recess, their superintendent famously and foolishly said, “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don't do that by having kids hanging on the monkey bars.”

Atlanta, of course, is Ground Zero for one of the country’s biggest cheating scandals. There’s surely a connection. You have ideological commissars pursuing secret agendas that don’t value academic achievement.

The arguments against recess came down to this: What, you want the kids to play kickball when they’re failing math? 

Yes, that is exactly what an intelligent school wants.

Research indicates that children “learn more efficiently  when information is spaced out -- when it is distributed over time…. High performing East Asian schools have famously long school days -- but much of the extra time is taken up by recess, not instruction.”  

Repeated studies have shown that when recess is delayed, children pay less and less attention. They are more focused on days when they have recess. A major study in Pediatrics found that children with more than 15 minutes of recess a day were far better behaved in class than children who had shorter recess breaks or none at all.”

Who could have guessed?

Besides, all they’re doing in most public schools is wasting time. They pretend to teach arithmetic with “Reform Math”, which doesn’t work. They pretend to teach reading with Whole Language, which doesn’t work. They pretend to teach knowledge with Constructivism, which doesn’t work. So you have schools that are dedicated to wasting time, hours and hours of time every day. If officials ordered a 15- or 30-minute recess, they might have a blemish on their record of totally wasted days.

But that was the thinking for several decades. According to a 2000 newspaper article, "Nearly forty percent of the nation's 16,000 school districts have either modified, deleted, or are considering deleting recess… School districts in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, New Jersey, and Connecticut are opting to eliminate recess, even to the point of building new schools in their districts without playgrounds.”

Slate recently reported: “Numerous surveys have found recess time declining… The numbers show a clear trend: The more minority students a school has, and the lower the income level of their parents, the less time allotted for recess -- nearly half of poor children go all day without it. They don’t even have anywhere to have it: In Chicago, nearly 100 elementary and middle schools have no playgrounds at all…”

Isn’t that a clear case of ganging up on the people who can least defend themselves? Next, the Education Establishment will claim these kids are doing badly because of low budgets!

So, does anyone believe that our Education Establishment really thought that recess is unnecessary. Rather, isn’t it more logical to suspect that getting rid of recess was just another component in the overall strategy of dumbing down the schools, much like getting rid of phonics and multiplication tables? In any case, dumbing-down is what the policy accomplished. 

Finally, saner minds started to notice and there is now a reaction. And our Education Establishment is now boldly, if somewhat fatuously, rediscovering the obvious.

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.”

The American Association of Pediatrics recently issued an impassioned statement on the “play deprivation” experienced by children in poverty.

That’s good news for children squirming in their seats. 

As a final note, Montessori schools and classical academies tend to incorporate physical movement into their routine pedagogy. One of the most successful phonics programs has children jumping up to sing songs.

Keep their brains active. Keep their bodies active. The need for all this has never been in question. The question is why we have so many people trying to subvert the most effective approaches. 

Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on his site

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