Thursday, April 14, 2011

Segregated school lunch, or Children Hate Change

Jackson, Missouri Middle School, which segregated lunchtime by gender this year, has been getting a lot of attention. It seems that some people on the internet are critical of the policy. Some people have worried that gender segregation will harm the children's development of social skills. The principal claims that the children's behavior has improved since the change.

What do you all think?

I think I'm a little skeptical about the level of cause-and-effect here. I believe it's possible that having girls eat lunch with girls and boys eat lunch with boys is not inherently behavior-changing. Rather, it's change for change's sake that causes the kids to behave better.

Kids hate drastic change. If you tell the kids that the change is their fault, they often take it to heart. If you tell them that you're controlling who they eat lunch with because their behavior has been poor, and you hope that the new structure will inspire them to behave better, they just might. Especially in middle school, where they're just starting to learn how to grow up and are afraid of getting it wrong.

The kids didn't realize that they had so much influence on their world, and now that the routine has been changed so dramatically, they want to stop and take stock before they inadvertently change the world again.

The effect may be reduced by the fact that only the sixth grade eats lunch under the gender separation policy, so they're new to the school already. And the policy was implemented at the beginning of the year, so the kids weren't forcibly ripped from their pre-established social circles in the middle of the year. Therefore, my hypothesis only works if merely telling the kids about the change is enough to get them thinking self-consciously.

Here's something interesting: the students want to keep the gender-segregated lunches. That kind of supports my hypothesis. Kids hate change, want to avoid it, vote against it.

I'm really skeptical of the idea that not socializing with kids of the opposite sex for an hour a day for one year will set kids behind socially. The kids who are at high risk of falling behind in their opposite-gender social skills are going to fall behind with or without opportunity.

(Take ALL opportunity away, and then you've got a problem.)

1 comment:

  1. My feeling is that as a child myself, i dont view time with the opposite gender as "time with the opposite gender" as I I see it as spending time with my friends. I dont know what I would do without them. Because of massive conditioning at birth, boys are supposed to act masculine or risk looking gay (even as I live in one of the few states that allows gay marriage and a school that protects against gender and sexual orientation discrimination) and girls can do whatever they want, but to be popular you probably should be feminine. Gender segregation is stopping a general breakdown in sex segregation and differentiation, and it also is no help to transgendered children as well. This would also probably be a huge problem in the school that I go to in that there is only enough time to do things by grade, not grade and gender.