Opinion: The Problem With Desks

Ms. Talia Loiter

The ultimate truth is that kids don’t want to go to school just to sit inside in a dark classroom all day. Most American schools follow the same model where the day is split into blocks of class, with a small break for lunch, and bells telling students when it’s time to move on. This is an incredibly outdated system left over from the Industrial Revolution when rapidly growing factories needed a way to control the large amount of workers moving through their facilities. Most class schedules are designed without regard to the multifaceted needs of a student today.

Image courtesy of Talia Loiter

Students need a schedule and a space to learn that helps maintain a healthy lifestyle and mindset. A large part of this is getting outside and moving around. An experiment by the Department of Hygiene and Public Health at the Nippon Medical School found that students who were sent into the forest for two nights (know as forest bathing or “Shinrinyoku” in Japan) had lower levels of cortisol (a stress marking hormone) than those who spent two nights in the city. The constant buffer of our dark classrooms is stressing students much more than needed.

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Editorial: The Desk Problem, American Schools Need to Move Beyond the Industrial Revolution Menatlity

Ms. Talia Loiter

The ultimate truth is that kids don’t want to go to school just to sit inside in a dark classroom all day. Most American schools follow the same model where the day is split into blocks of class, with a small break for lunch, and bells telling students when it’s time to move on. This is an incredibly outdated system left over from the Industrial Revolution when rapidly growing factories needed a way to control the large amount of workers moving through their facilities. Most class schedules are designed without regard to the multifaceted needs of a student today.

Students need a schedule and a space to learn that helps maintain a healthy lifestyle and mindset. A large part of this is getting outside and moving around. An experiment by the Department of Hygiene and Public Health at the Nippon Medical School found that students who were sent into the forest for two nights (know as forest bathing or “Shinrinyoku” in Japan) had lower levels of cortisol (a stress marking hormone) than those who spent two nights in the city. The constant buffer of our dark classrooms is stressing students much more than needed.

If everyone was given a break to spend an hour outside every day, we would all be much less stressed as the research shows. The time allows kids to have a mental and physical break from the blocked out back-to-back schedule. Instead of going from one class to the next, never giving their brain a chance to rest, they would be able to have a moment to simply breathe. Healthguide.org asserts that exercise decreases depression, anxiety, and stress. It would also allow students to get up and move their bodies which could reduce fidgeting in classrooms.

For many kids at CVU, coming back after the summer break is hard. Many of them spend their free days enjoying the warm Vermont weather outside. During break, kids are free to move about to their hearts’ content because of all the extra time they have. Students can spend time getting exercise, being outside, seeing friends and family, exploring new places, and learning about things that interest them.

The big thing is that this is all possible even with a persistent schedule. For example, I had a job this summer. I was able to stick to my daily schedule at work and then have free time to do what I wanted for the rest of the day. I was also able to pick a job that I enjoyed. I worked outside because that is what is important to me. The stress of school life doesn’t allow for people to make these types of choices.

However, one way our school is addressing this issue is the new RISE program. For the two week, end of school period, students can choose to take classes in many different subjects that interest them or do an independent study. It allows kids to have a well deserved break from stress while still learning.

Although this is a good step forward, RISE doesn’t fix the fact that we are cooped up inside all winter and fall, having our energy drained by fluorescent lights and plastic chairs. Whether it’s the incorporation of a green space, an extended lunch/recess, or the elimination of homework to give more personal time, there’s no doubt that there needs to be a way to let our brains and bodies rest throughout our busy school days to come.