I think it is pretty safe to say that most educators would agree that one of the greatest challenges in schools today is that our kids lack social skills. With the millennial generation starting to enter the mainstream workforce, a lack of social skills is becoming an epidemic in our society. The purpose of school is to teach kids the academic and social skills required to be productive citizens. In order to accomplish this, schools need structure because structure is necessary for teaching. My question is “When can kids talk?”. A number of schools have adopted PBIS and CHAMPS which do a great job of providing the structure for appropriate student behavior. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the experience of implementing PBIS and CHAMPS. Teaching and guiding students about how to conduct themselves in the various environments that exist within a school is vital. Kids know, when they are in the hallways, it is level or zone 0 which is silence and they know when they are outside, it is level or zone 3 which is “outside voice”. This structure makes sense but I still always have one question, “When can kids actually talk?”.
I have spent the majority of my ten-year career in schools serving PK through sixth-grade students and this is how these schools generally operate. When kids arrive at school, it’s level or zone 0 so they cannot talk. Most of the time, they are encouraged to read a book. Then, when school actually begins and kids are walking in the hallways, they must be in a line and must be at level or zone 0 so they cannot talk. In class, they can occasionally talk, usually level or zone 1 which is whispering, but only at the teacher’s discretion and about the task at hand. Then they go to lunch, so surely they can talk in the cafeteria, right? Well, not exactly. They can talk some but usually at level 1 which is whispering because we all know that kids really do not know how to whisper. Eventually, they get too loud and are placed on silent lunch which is level or zone 0, absolutely no talking. They can talk at recess though so they have at least 15 to 30 minutes, to finally freely talk unless of course, they lost their recess privileges. If that is the case, then they are standing on the wall or sitting on the sidewalk and aren’t allowed to talk, watching everyone else play and, that’s right, talk. So, the question remains, when can they talk?
When you really think about it, the answer is rarely or in some cases, never. Now, before you accuse me of being one of these liberal tree hugging let the kids run the school people, hear me out. First, I was guilty of not letting kids talk. As a teacher, I was one of the culprits who used loss of recess as a punishment until my district said we couldn’t. And when it came to kids in the hallway, I made sure my sixth graders were in a completely straight line and definitely not talking. I have always been in favor of kids talking in the mornings and during lunch because that’s just what makes sense. In fact, I think kids should be able to have recess in the morning before school but that’s just me. That’s how it was when I was a kid.
Speaking of when I was a kid, let’s delve into that time a little more. I’m currently 35, at least for a few more days, so I was in grade school in the 80s and 90s. I guess I was weird because I actually looked forward to going to school. So much so that I had perfect attendance for a couple of years. Why did I like school? Because that’s where all of my friends were. I was an only child and my parents were very selective about who they would let me hang out with in my neighborhood and even more selective about whose house I could go play. So when I was home, I only had a small rotation of about four to five friends that I could hang out with but at school I had around 20 to 25. I wanted to go to school early every morning just so I could play football, basketball or, the infamous, wall ball. That 30 to 45 minutes before school was when legends were made, friendships were fostered and social skills were learned. I grew up in South Mississippi so we had structure and strict rules but I remember still being able to be a kid at school. We walked in lines in the hallway but we could talk and I never recall not being able to talk during lunch. Recess was a free for all and it seemed like it lasted an eternity. When we were in class, we learned. This is evident because of how many of my classmates, including myself, are quality citizens today making solid contributions to society.
The problem with kids today is that not only that they can’t socialize at school, but that they don’t at home either. They suffer from the gift and curse of social media. Because of social media, we are more connected than we have ever been before but, in the same breath, we are less personally connected than ever before. A lot of kids today really do not know how to communicate without their thumbs. Thinking back to when I was a kid again, my parents may have only let me hang out with about five kids outside of school, but we socialized and taught each other valuable life lessons. I recall almost everyday in the summer, we would hang out at somebody’s house. Usually it was the person with the basketball goal in their yard, the one with enough room to play football or baseball in their yard, or, most importantly, the kid with the Nintendo or Sega Genesis. I’m sure you all remember the time when having a video game system was special. Playing all day and dealing with the various personalities taught us valuable lessons in social skills. You argued, you fought and you made up. And if you chose not to make up, then you could find yourself friendless and with nobody to play with. These were valuable life lessons that kids just are not learning today.
This article is not a case to completely get rid of or change PBIS and CHAMPS because they do serve a great purpose. It’s not even intended to challenge the way that it is being implemented. I simply want people to recognize why kids lack the social skills we all know they need to develop to be successful adults.