Tuesday, July 13, 2010

School Bells are Undemocratic

I wrote this post for the Cooperative Catalyst.

While teaching my grade 8 students, I wanted to discuss the idea of distractions, so I read them an excerpt from Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson that discusses how interruption is the enemy of productivity:
Interruptions break your workday into a series of work moments. Forty-Five minutes and then you have a call. Fifteen minutes and then you have lunch. An hour later, you have an afternoon meeting. Before you know it, it’s five o’clock, and you’ve only had a couple uninterrupted hours to get your work done. You can’t get meaningful things done when your constantly going start, stop, start, stop…

And go all the way with it. A successful alone-time period means letting go of communication addiction. During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings… Your day is under seige by interruptions. It’s on you to fight back.

My class proceeded to have a very interesting conversation about all of the distractions they have in the day. Many of them could relate to the ‘communication addiction’ that the excerpt referred to. We all admitted that sometimes we are the annoyed (the person who would like to tell others to ‘screw off’) and the annoying (the person who should be told to ‘screw off’).

It didn’t take long for some of my students to identifying other kinds of distractions that they were not responsible for. Ethan, a grade 8 student of mine, blogged his thoughts for me. Here’s Ethan’s take on how undemocratic school bells are:
School bells, the most ridiculous invention on earth. Some people want to spend a certain amount of time on certain subjects, for example; if I prefer math more than social, shouldn’t I have the right to stay as long as I like at math, and as long as I learn something and don’t screw off? No, instead, a inanimate, ringing tin can have the right to tell me what to do, where to go, and make decisions for me. A piece of metal has more authority than a living human being! Truthfully, this thought makes me feel small, and without any say. I think students should have the right to learn what they want, when they want, wherever they want and however they want to do it! If I could take health and science classes all day I would. Why? Because I am facinated about how things work, especially the human body. As for social, i don’t especially want to know what happened all those years ago. I’m also not saying that social is pointless either, many people find the past very interesting, just not me. School’s purpose in my eyes is to prepare you for the future, so why not be able to tune your studies to what you would like to become?

Ethan’s point is well taken. He’s begging for the opportunity to be given more rights and responsibilities than the archaic school bell schedule can ever give him. He’s searching for a more democratic version of schooling. It’s time we took students like Ethan seriously.


  1. I read that people are most creative in the shower as there are no distractions. It is also recommended that people close their cell phones. The mere anticipation of calls interferes with attention and creativity.

    School Bells- a lot depends on the kind of classroom we are dealing with and the existence of multidisciplinary learning.

    a teacher in the UK
    'We try to empower students to be responsible for their own time; there are no school bells or teacher's desks and there's no shouting at the kids. We don't have a staffroom, either. And tutor groups are "vertical" – which means they contain several pupils from each year. All this creates a sense of ownership and partnership. With that framework goes successful education, and we offer a wide variety of learning opportunities. During a recent fire drill at 4.45pm – an hour after school closes – there were 350 pupils still around, involved in one activity or another.'

    Imho a class discussion on bells should consider the pluses, minuses , interesting points and try come up with a solution that is flexible enough to provide structure without limiting learning and creativity.

  2. Joe ,
    Maybe the bell went off , and you had no time to edit


  3. Blogger is rearranging my paragraphs upon publishing. I apologize for the jumbled mess this post was until I got home to fix it.

    It should make sense now.

  4. Another interesting point Joe. In my understanding schools were originally created to 'control' the students behaviours and create like minded individuals, perpetuate gender stereotypes and encourage entering into the military. If you really 'rip' the institution apart and look at how it is designed to achieve these wanted behaviours it closely resembles a prison.

    I must also say that I was most impressed by your student's insight and personal reflections. However, is it really feasible to have students study what they want for as long as they want and still cover the Alberta curriculum requirements?

    Don't get me wrong, I think change is definitely warranted upon how our schools are designed and run. The original blueprint of our school system is obsolete and in need of redesign. But thanks for keeping me and others thinking!

  5. Hannah, a teacher who says they cover everything in the curriculum is either lying or correct, but not in the way they would like to believe.

    The best teachers on-the-record are bullyied into saying they teach the entire curriculum. Over a beer, that same teacher will tell you that's bullshit. You can't cover everything. For example, a grade 7 student in Alberta has like 1,200 outcomes to cover.

    The worst teachers are those that do in fact cover everything and uncover nothing. Howard Gardner once said that coverage is the greatest enemy to real learning.

  6. your student sounds like he's been reading Alfie Kohn, coluld do worse. Do you ever think that sometimes our students ape our philosophy or did he come up with that on his own? I will give you credit and write my own blog on Ethan's words, thanks for your good work


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