I generally don’t complain about kids running in the halls, because I get no sympathy. I think most TLGVs agree that running in the halls is, in the grand scheme of things, the least of our worries. I think most Georgians have no idea that an alternative exists, and regard my complaining about kids running in the halls as the manifestation of some sort of neurological deficiency, as if I were complaining that the sky is blue or water is wet.
I’ve been asked to explain what experiences I’ve had in life that turned me into the sort of person who could complain about such a thing as kids just being kids. So here goes.
In my elementary school – that is, the school that kids went to from around age five to around age eleven, or roughly the ages that TLGVs teach – kids were never allowed to be unsupervised. Our parents brought us to a staging area in the morning, where we would line up with our classmates. There would be teachers and school staff (sometimes the principal) supervising this process, and we weren’t allowed to go into the school building until we had achieved a certain level of order. After all, you couldn’t have disorderly kids just running around inside the school building – that sort of behavior was only allowed outside. Even from the very beginning of the day, the mentality of my little school in Queens was diametrically opposed to the mentality of a Georgian school.
Once inside the building, we would be led by a teacher to our classrooms. We’d line up outside the door in two perfect parallel lines, and then one line would go in, then the other. Once we were in class, we were not allowed to leave class without either a teacher, or a hall pass. If a school official caught a student in the hall without a hall pass, it would be off to the principal’s office.
During the day, students were always – always – supervised by an adult. There was a chain of custody. During lunch, we sat at tables according to our grade, and couldn’t leave the lunchroom until we had finished our lunch and deposited our lunch trays in the proper place. Then we were allowed outside for recess. We could run around, but there were adults making sure there were no fights. Once in the schoolyard we couldn’t leave until lunch was over – couldn’t enter the building, couldn’t leave the school grounds.
After lunch and recess, we lined back up with our classes and waited to be allowed back in, just like in the morning.
Does this seem overly regimented? To me, it seems normal, perhaps even a little lax. Kids still found plenty of time to misbehave. I grew up reading stories from a time when school was even more strict – stories of English boarding schools where kids wore uniforms, stories of Catholic schools in America where the teachers were nuns who would slap your hands with a metal ruler if you broke the class rules.
I think my elementary school experience was based on the following two ideas:
1. Children need structure
2. Children need safety
The two go hand-in-hand, it turns out. In theory, children couldn’t get hurt or go missing because they were always under adult supervision. In theory, children had designated times for play and activity and designated times for study, and these times were divided by the ritual of lining up, which could take as long as it needed to take for the kids to calm down and come to order. Some days, the lining up was super fast. Some days we stood for minutes while the teachers yelled at the kids who weren’t behaving.
In practice, kids found ways to pick on each other. Kids found ways to pass notes, make paper planes, and throw spitballs behind the teachers’ backs. This was much more pronounced in some classes than others, certainly, but a certain baseline level was unavoidable.
The structure not only helped to teach kids about when to behave solemnly and when to go wild, it not only helped kids switch gears on command, it also made sure class time wasn’t wasted. Classes tended to start on time.
In Georgian schools, children run around completely unsupervised between classes. Adults may or may not be present in the halls, but they do not break up the fights that regularly occur. Kids play-fight, play floor-hockey with bottle caps, or run footraces down the hallways, which inevitably leads to them barreling into whoever happens to get in their way. Some kids, as I said, get into real fights. Some kids race to the cafeteria for snacks, which inevitably causes them to be late to return to class.
Classes break about every 40-45 minutes at my school. That means every 40 minutes, the kids get riled up, play sports, race, fight, eat, and generally psych themselves out of the mindset they need to be in for school. Then they come back to class – usually a minute or two after the bell, sometimes more – and continue their conversations, their yelling, their playing, until the teacher brings them to order, which can take at least another minute or two. I would say that 5 out of every 45 minutes of teaching time are completely wasted by the process of reining kids in after their hallway escapades. That’s over 11% of students’ class time.
The safety issues are obvious – fighting, running on the stairs, wrestling, and whatever else kids get up to in the complete absence of adult supervision. The educational issues are also apparent, at least to me. I think a lot of the issues we TLG volunteers have in schools would be alleviated if Georgians gave their schoolchildren a little more structure.
What’s less obvious is that I think there are also social issues at stake. When I look at how kids behave in the halls in schools, I see analogues all across Georgian society – from the custom of shoving your way to the front of a line rather than waiting at the back, to the chaotic driving and the resultant traffic mortality rate (which, in a typically Georgian blend of East and West, is low for Asia but higher than that in the US and Europe), to the rowdiness that regularly breaks out anywhere, anytime, to the very high tolerance for disorder and inconvenience. I think that safety and quality of life would improve in Georgia a great deal if Georgian children got used to behaving in an orderly fashion at an early age.
A Georgian friend told me that the reason Georgian schools let children run wild in the halls is that it is natural for children to want to run around. Well, it’s also natural for children not to want to go to school. That’s not the point. Schools don’t exist to give children what they want, they exist to give children what they need. Children don’t know what they need when they’re eight years old, which is why adults are supposed to make the decisions and not just let kids do whatever they want.
It’s not that hard to institute some structure in the day-to-day routine of a school. If every adult – every teacher, security guard, resource officer, and director all pitched in just a little bit, they’d find that it would soon become effortless. The entire school environment would change. School would stop being a giant indoor jungle gym and start being a genuine learning environment.
Trust me – I’ve been there.