Stay in line

Overheard at a preschool I visited yesterday:

Good job! I like the way you all are staying in line. You’re so good at this!

The socialization to be a cog in the machine begins early. Woe be it if you don’t stay in line.

30 Responses to “Stay in line”

  1. Ah! You could take that perspective–that teaching preschoolers to ‘stay in line’ is negative. But why? Have you ever taught a group of preschoolers–or entrusted your preschooler to a school? There is a time and a place for staying in line (maybe so no one gets lost or left behind?). I don’t see the “woe” in this, just courtesy, common sense, and safety. Of course, if preschoolers are expected to always toe the line, are never permitted independent thought or creativity, that’s an entirely different matter. Sorry, but I’m not into preschoolers gone wild, nor am I supporting the opposite extreme of preschoolers as programmed “cogs.”

  2. I keep thinking about how much damage we do with little comments. Read Mindset yet?- one of many things I’ve been reading that has me thinking about how even praise is an issue.

  3. With a 4 year old son in pre-school, learning how to control himself and stand in place for a few moments is an amazing victory. I see nothing wrong with praise for that!

    Think about situations where we as adults need patience and praise for standing in lines well. Been to an airport or DMV lately?

  4. Do you have anything positive to say about anything Scott?

  5. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments so far…

    @Cathy Barr: I have 3 elementary-age children, including one in kindergarten, and have spent lots of time in early childhood and elementary settings. I get what you’re saying about them not running wild. I think that’s different from putting them all in lines like ducks or soldiers or prisoners. Do they have to be in a line to move through the hall without causing trouble? Could they maybe move in an orderly clump instead and at least preserve some individual autonomy over their own bodies? Do older students have to sit in rows and columns to behave? I’m just not convinced that they do, but these are our predominant models. It’s an imposition of external behavioral controls rather than instilling internal responsibility (and I know this is both developmental and individual). This permeates our society – thus the phrase “you’re out of line!” for folks who deviate too far from the accepted norm. It just doesn’t feel quite right to me.

    @Wendy James: Great point about little comments and the negative behavioral impacts of praise.

    @Barry: I know that we want our kids to be able to responsibly control their bodies and behavior. But I also know that the number of people who enjoy standing in lines in airports or DMVs is extremely low. When’s the last time you looked forward to standing in line somewhere (even for a great movie)? What if your workplace required you to only walk in a line on one side of the hallway? Wouldn’t you feel at least a little diminished?

    @Jeff: I try to. I really do. Sorry if you think I’m coming across as negative too often. I think it’s important to highlight disconnects between current practices and desired outcomes. For example, I know that valued employees rarely are the ones that stand in lines, stay in boxes, etc. They’re the ones that think outside the lines and outside the boxes in order to create value and create innovative solutions that benefit their organization. This doesn’t mean that they’re hedonistic rule breakers, just that they’re don’t feel bound by institutional constraints that get in the way of effective relationships and/or progress. Most organizations would benefit a great deal from having fewer line-walkers. We need more autonomous thinkers, not compliant cogs in the machine. Also, if it helps you any, I’m tough on me too. =)

  6. Cathy pretty much said everything I wanted to say.

    In the end, behavioral directions are either constricting or positive *depending on the situation*.

    Walking quietly in line in preschool is a good thing because it shows *consideration* for the other classes you are walking by. Running around and making noises disrupts those classes – and their learning opportunities. You can’t use classroom 2.0 technology if your students can’t hear your answers when they need help….or if someone broke your equipment by running into it.

    You could say that the teacher should explain WHY being quiet is good in the hallways, but trust me – she did, about 20 times already.

    In the end, I’ve found that the most inspiring and thought-provoking reflections I ever read are SELF-reflections.

    @Wendy – I love that book! It says some thing that are hard to hear, though, and I still make that mistake SO often. I need to work on praising effort and behavior (like, good for staying in line) instead of BEING “smart” or “good”.

  7. I’m with you Scott. Mindless compliance is a problem. To be clear, it’s not the compliance that I have the largest objection to. There are times where compliance makes sense. Yes, there are times when standing in line makes sense.

    The part I take huge issue with is compliance of the mindless variety. Too often teachers and parents provide little to no opportunity for children to think or have a say in the things that are done to them.

    If we only occassionally asked for mindless compliance from children, but most of the time encouraged them to be active participants in their learning, I would be lot more satisfied.

    Unfortunately this is not the case because our default tends to be a)make rules for kids b) expect compliance and c) do things to kids (reward & punishment) to make them comply.

    Kids don’t learn to understand by following instructions nor will they learn to make good choices by simply doing what they are told.

  8. I can only assume, Scott, that next time you go to the movies or the grocery store, you’ll stand randomly by a check stand and hope someday it will be your turn. A queue is not necessarily a means to transform us into lemmings.

  9. This is the shortest and inversely complicated blog post I have seen in a while. It raises a few deep questions. Should students be required to stay in line? Is a “line” a metaphor for conformist or “flock of sheep” type thinking? Does staying in line shape elementary students and possibly cause them to not be as innovative a thinker as students who are not required to stay in line? Should students be complimented for standing in line “properly?” The last question, in conjunction with blog comments, asks “is Scott always negative?” I am not going to answer that question.

    I just want to say that “I have done it.” I have complimented students for standing in line nicely, not talking and and sitting at your seat without fidgeting. All of which, in some way or another, could be seen as stifling a students ability to be creative or collaborate. How often do you work independently and without bouncing ideas off of colleagues while at work? So often teachers try to get students to “find their voice,” especially in writing class, but most of the students’ school career talking is their biggest disciplinary offense. I think it all comes down to the David Warlick Quote. Something like “Schools are doing a great job of preparing students for the 20th century.” Sitting in lines of desks, standing in lines to go from class to class and asking students to be quiet and work are all good things when preparing students for non-existent factory jobs. I am not saying that schools are not making the transition to a new economy. I think they are but I am sure many people will agree that change in education is slow.

  10. Serious question to everyone in this comment thread. Do you think that “learning” or “practicing” standing in line actually helps you stand in line later? (referring to Barry’s comment). Or, put another way, do you think some mythical student who had never been told to “stay in line” would be unable to stay in line when necessary as an adult?

    Again, seriously asking the question, not trying to make a point.

  11. More thoughtful comments. Thanks, everyone.

    @Lib: This was at the end of the day. Nothing to disrupt. Also, no one’s arguing for kids being able to be disruptive… (at least I’m not!)

    @Joe Bower: I think you and I are on the same page. There’s so much emphasis on COMPLIANCE and OBEYING and DISCIPLINE and SELF-SUBJUGATION in school. And, as noted here, it starts really early. That’s what bothers me.

    @Brian Bridges: FYI, it was a walk from the classroom to the car/bus pickup area at the end of the day. No queue involved.

    @Karl Fisch: Good question!

  12. @Karl Fisch: I’m a school psych in IA. There’s been plenty of research that suggests that skills are more likely to generalize when practiced in different settings and with multiple individuals. As far as your “mythical student” example–it depends on how reinforcing staying in line is to that particular individual. However, my perspective is taken from purely a behavioral standpoint.
    I’d rather that teachers praise appropriate behavior than constantly point out what students are doing wrong any day.

  13. Wow, have you opened a can of worms!! I see your point about drilling conformity into our students from such a young age. And I understand your resistance. But what happens in a school/classroom where students are not required to OBEY the rules? In the scenario you mentioned, a trip from the classroom to the car/bus area, what if they were running ahead, because they had no incentive to obey the rules? One of the problems teachers face today is a lack of discipline and respect from their students. Too many people are telling them that they DON’T have to listen to authority.

  14. Sometimes it’s about safety. We drive in lines, not clumps. Conformity for the sake of someone else wielding their power is a problem. Conformity for the sake of everyone’s well being is a good thing.

  15. I teach high school Career Choices, trying to get them ready to launch into the world to succeed in a extraordinarily competitive global workplace. I will tell you that the ones who are least afraid, the ones who will be most successful, are the ones who “get out of line”. If we MUST keep them in line at 4, then we must UNTEACH at some further point.

  16. @Mizz Ed: Yes, that’s what I’m trying to say! You said it much better than I did. Thanks.

    @Laura Pilker: See comments from Joe Bower and Mizz Ed above. Also, I’m not sure they need to be in a line (again, like ducks or prisoners or soldiers) to accomplish the goal of teaching young kids to be respectful of others.

    @teachin’: Good point, although I’m not sure there’s much unsafe here if kids didn’t walk down the hall single-file.

  17. Elizabeth Hoag Carhart Reply January 14, 2010 at 5:52 am

    I loved this post!

    At the moment, living in Germany has re-opened my eyes to the magnitude of this problem at home. My kids went from waiting motionless in the morning outside their Virginia elementary school in line, then walking in line all day (on the third square of tile, if you must know), then waiting in line outside after school TO going to another public elementary school here where there are no lines at all. Although some present lines and chaos as dichotomous in the comments above, there is no mass disorder at the German school, the kids are polite, well-behaved, and courteous, perhaps more so than at home. I have seen both the principal and a teacher or two give gentle reminders to individual students who were too loud (quiet and private, whispered in ear) which allowed the student to “save face”.

    Two observations:
    Firstly, they attribute much more responsibility to grade-school kids here (age 6-10). The adults are also much better at allowing kids to be independent – perhaps going too far in that direction.

    Secondly, they only give very infrequent praise and find it strange how frequently Americans praise their kids for doing things they consider general expectations (walking quietly, raising a hand, standing still, etc) and find American “teacher-talk” ridiculous. They generally believe it is the role of the teacher to present the information, scaffold the learning offering help where needed, and stay out of the way so the students can finish their work.

    Thirdly, the school day is three or four hours with two breaks for outside play (15 min each) and one break for eating mid-morning snack (10 min). No doubt this makes “classroom management” easier.

    I hope you do not find such a long post annoying – just wanted to second the cultural implications of starting these neural changes so early. Thanks again for your post.

  18. @Scott this posting amused and irritated me. Amusing because I am entertained by the purpose of the post. Were you trying to see who would jump to your assumption and agree that the socialization of children starts as early pre-school. If so, are you in need that badly of people agreeing to this post and why? Or… are you trying to see who will disagree with this post and create a Larry King talk show blog environment. Irritating because of the same reasons that amuse. I know a blog is sometimes just to throw ideas out there and see where they go. I have read and commented on many such blogs posted by you, Scott ,and enjoy every part of the discussion. This posting is not one. Over hearing a response in passing without knowing any of the contextual conversations or situations is not worthy of you. Then to post it and make assumptions that lead to the thought that the teacher is socializing (indoctrinating) her young students by complimenting them for staying in line, is not even applicable. I am hoping that you really don’t assume that is how creativity is squelched in a young child. I wonder what would cause you to jump to that assumption from a single overheard conversation. There are many more valuable discussions on the socialization of students than the one posted (pre-school children praised for staying in line) Use your creativity and give us one.

  19. @Tina: Wow. Not quite sure how to respond to your comment. I’ve articulated my thinking further in comments above. This wasn’t just a post meant to thoughtlessly provoke. Sorry this one didn’t sit well with you. Hopefully future posts will. Thanks.

  20. Sometimes you can measure the quality of a blog post by how much it makes people uncomfortable.

    Apparently this one is a winner. 🙂

  21. I see a lot of value in both ends of this spectrum, and given the situation, I could agree (or disagree) with almost all of the comments on each response. The part that has my concern level is not the standing in line, the conformity, the constraint of independent thinking, or the chaos potentially created by lack of structure. My concern is that we DON’T know the background enough to make that judgment. Circumstances create the need to adjust one direction or another. This assumption based on an overheard comment (possibly taken out of context) has created good discussion, but I wouldn’t want to use it for any evaluation or determination of any kind.

    I see a lot of similarities to my job as a HS BB coach. One of my focuses both on offense and defense is to create a structure of expectations and “rules” that all of the players must follow. By doing this, there is a web of understanding created that allows and optimizes effective interaction. In other words, everyone is able to be on the same page. Random running, dribbling, and passing does not allow that to happen – even if all five team members believe they are individually doing the best thing at the time. Defensively we all have to have the same philosophy in mind or we create holes that allow the opponent an advantage. Two people playing a 2-3 zone while 3 play man to man doesn’t really work well. Now (all of) that said, I also encourage some level of interpretation given the circumstances. The offensive player that finds himself one on one with a weaker defender should be looking to score or calling for the ball. The defensive player that sees an opportunity for a steal should make the attempt and recover if unsuccessful. If a teammate gets beaten on a drive, the philosophy has to allow another player to help and expect that another teammate will in turn rotate to cover that vacated assignment. In basketball, like life, we have to have some level of mutual expectation in order to be successful and yet allow some flexibility to make decisions on our own. Many times I have told my athletes that we are better off to have everyone doing the “wrong” thing together than a variety of players doing different “right” things.

  22. After a month or so after the beginning of the year, after we have lined up consistently for everything, I ask my 2nd graders if they think they can handle NOT being in a line while still being respectful of others as we make our way through the halls. Of course they can, and do, for the most part, just like when they are in line.

    It seems to me the impetus for having them line up should be about locus of control; kids need to line up NOT because lining up is a virtue, but the effects of lining up–order, quiet, accountability–are a virtue. Once kids know the expectations included in lining up, and those expectations have been internalized, they don’t have to line up, and they know why!

    Make sense? I wrote this during my 3-minute bathroom break.

  23. Teaching students not to think for themselves is a problem. That is why the unwritten curriculum (or sometimes the written one) of all schools is critical thinking (or higher order thinking or whatever buzz words they are using today).

    That said, rarely do people get praise for doing the socially considerate thing, and I think that the teacher did something wonderful there.

    Knowing several preschool teachers very well, I know that these kiddos have had the reasons for lining up: consideration for nearby classes, easy sharing of space, etc., explained to them and are doing this either because the teacher said to and they like complying or because they espouse the consideration they are showing. The difference is purely in how self-reflective the students are able to be.

    I teach high schoolers and they are at an age where they have to be reminded that it is okay to be considerate, even though it looks like mindless compliance. I often explain to my students that the reason we adults “follow the rules” is out of consideration for others, not just as mindless followers, and that they cannot judge a motivation by the way it looks to their suspicious minds.

    I’m not saying that you did judge a motivation by the way it looks/sounds to your suspicious mind … but I’m wondering what would have happened if you had asked a question rather than assuming an answer.

  24. There are more good comments on this topic over at The Core Knowledge Blog:

    Nancy Flanagan’s comment over there resonated the most with me:

    “Oh, come on.

    You know where Scott was going with that one: his post was not about respect, community, safety or order.

    It was about the things we often take for granted: students must educated in groups, doing the same things at the same time, following rules (whether they’re good rules or bad rules) for the purposes of inculcating compliance, power for those in authority in the school and later, the workplace.

    In the 70s, people pulled their kids out of schools because they saw them as factories, built on the wrong values– mindless deference to/fear of authority, numbing sameness, reproduction of social class. Homeschoolers are still looking for the flexibility, attention to personalized learning, time to pursue individual passions rather than lockstep scheduling, and so on.

    I taught for 30 years in a school known for excellent discipline. Our middle schoolers lined up to go to lunch and for assemblies. Kids who transferred in from other schools frequently commented on how our school was even more prison-like than their previous school (smiling). Did I like this vibe? You bet. It certainly facilitated instruction of 65 13-year olds with musical instruments.

    But when we’re suggesting that straight hallway lines have a causal relationship with higher test scores–and that high test scores are our most worthy educational goal–we’ve crossed a very different line. Do we praise students for following their own interests? Choosing their own goals? Developing and testing ideas and theories? Experimenting, building networks, identifying problems, pushing back against conventional wisdom? If not, why not?”

  25. Although I think she misses the fact that Scott occasionally (frequently to some) pokes the proverbial stick of emotion to encite reaction (and hopefully thought), Nancy may have asked some of the right questions:

    “Do we praise students for following their own interests? Choosing their own goals? Developing and testing ideas and theories? Experimenting, building networks, identifying problems, pushing back against conventional wisdom? If not, why not?”

    I think we do these things with students as good educators…sometimes while they are standing in lines being responsible citizens.

  26. @Scott Not the discussion but the way it was posted bothered me. Teachers are overrun with assumptions on what is going on in a classroom. How many times do we as teachers have someone come in and observe and discuss what is happening in the classrrom for more than an hour. Almost never…Taking conversations out of context without discussing it with the people involved or observing the situation is not professional even if it engages people in a blog discussion. The posting that you have called ” Knowing the parts of a Neuron isn’t that important” is considerably better as a blog discussion. You met the teacher, discussed the details, and explained your thoughts on the topic. You did not hear a conversation while passing the door. See what I mean?
    @J I agree when you said …but I’m wondering what would have happened if you had asked a question rather than assuming an answer. thankyou!

  27. @Tina: You and I are going to have to respectfully disagree on whether posting an observation of mine is ‘professional’ or not. The people who have labeled me as unprofessional are few and far between. I do not feel an obligation to sit down and talk with someone before I write about something I see or hear and how I feel about it. Every day I read stories in the news and in the edublogsphere about things that people do. Am I required to call those folks up and talk to them and get their side before I write about them or else I’m unprofessional? I don’t think I have to do that. If you do, then I guess your list of bloggers whom you would consider ‘professional’ – who consult with people before they write about what they see/hear/read – is going to be fairly short.

  28. Keishla Ceaser-Jones Reply January 16, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Why does it have to be an either or. Foster CREATIVITY or CONFORMITY. There need to be measures of both in life. The comment that adults don’t like to stand in line doesn’t negate the fact that we do it. And a child needs to learn it. It sounds like the teacher positively reinforced the behavior she expected at that moment in time. You may have equally heard her say in class, “thank you for all of the wonderful ideas you came up with, or artwork you created.”

    I teach high schoolers, and in order to make sure that my class runs as is necessary to accomplish the objectives set, I need to have routines and expectations. Every workplace has them. In some they are more than others. Rules are not a bad thing. Just as fostering creativity isn’t. But you can’t have one without the other.

  29. We, teachers, are NOT trying to teach a child to stand in line with comments like that. We are trying to create an environment where small children can be safe. I’ve seen small children walk right into a wall because they weren’t paying attention when following the class. Now imagine an emergency like a fire. We train children (with compliments) to follow procedures because leading or herding 18 four-year-old children is harder than herding sheep. They need to be quiet to hear my directions. If there were only a few, I could hold their hands and chat with them as we went down the hall. It’s not about squelching their creativity; it’s about making a safe environment for all.

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