Friday, November 16, 2007

A Mixed-Up Idea?

From the wide world of education comes another "new idea" that's either extremely creative or yet another half-baked attempt at social engineering in the schools. You decide:
Ask anyone to think back to their days in the school lunch room, and thoughts of cliques and being excluded are often among the memories that pop up.

Jackson Middle School in Champlin [Minnesota] is trying to shake up the time tested formula of lunchroom popularity politics, by pushing students outside their comfort zone.

"We did a survey in the homeroom classes, and most of the kids said yes, the lunchroom is a place where social boundaries are drawn," explained Assistant Principal Jill Alton.

[...]Today was 'Mix it up at Lunch Day', a national event sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law center with the aim of allowing young people to cross the line of division, meet new people, and make friends. School leaders and students at Jackson Middle School came up with their own plan to throw out the social norms of the lunchroom, at least for one day.

Before they entered the lunchroom, 7th and 8th grade students were stopped and a letter was drawn on their hand. After filling their plate, they were asked to sit at the table with the corresponding letter, and start a conversation with someone they didn't know well.

"It's good to meet new people, and it teaches communicating skills," remarked student organizer Mary Page, "and I think we should do it 'every' year, personally."
Read the whole thing and then weigh in with your own thoughts: Good idea? Bad Idea? And did your kids do this at school this week?

Over at, Lileks links the story and his commenters weigh in. I think one of them has a good point: "For those of us who were (and still are) introverts by nature, sitting with people you don't know would be a nightmare. It was bad enough making conversation with people you were sort of comfortable with." (Yup, that sounds like middle school for me.) But another one probably sums it up best: "Can't they just let kids be kids and find their own friends? Isn't that what we do in real life?" before closing with the great Pink Floyd quote: "Hey teachers, leave those kids alone!!"

And then there were the kids that "mixed it up" too much: Parents of a student who was given detention for hugging her friends goodbye for the weekend have talked over the situation with school officials and resolved their differences. (This story was mentioned in passing here, and I've discussed this subject here on a few previous occasions.)

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