24 October 2019

Assigned seating for school lunch

An NPR article looks at student life at the University School of Milwaukee, where students sit in assigned seats while having lunch:
The students are randomly assigned to eight-person circular tables, which rotate depending on that day's schedule. Each has a mix of kids from different grades, with one teacher whose job is to get the table talking. Kylie says it doesn't always go as planned.

"Sometimes it gets super awkward at tables," she explained. "Like the conversation goes, 'OK, what did you just come out of?' 'Math.' 'OK.' And that was really kind of where it ends."

But administrators say a little awkwardness is worth the trouble. Dean of Students Charlie Housiaux says forcing students to get out of their social comfort zones builds relationships that improve the school culture...

"A meal is the venue over which adults get to know one another and develop their social skills. But we treat that utterly cavalierly in most schools," Rice said. "I would urge schools to investigate what's going on in your own lunchroom... On top of that, we see students aren't rushing through the lunch line, they're not having anxiety about who they're going to sit with."..

"The lunch system is more kind of a relief from [the cliques,]" Burger said. "It doesn't reduce it in any way, from my experience. But it definitely, like, gives you a break."

Burger said there are times she would rather sit with her friends. But she thinks it's a good thing that at this school, no one sits alone. 
When I went to school in the 1960s, this was how our lunches were conducted - about seven students at a table with a teacher.  I don't remember whether grades were mixed, or how often the seating assignments were rotated, but it did serve a positive function in developing social skills.


  1. My grade school cafeteria had long tables and we sat on either side. Imagine the Hogwarts Great Hall, but covered with linoleum. You sat next to whomever you stood in line next to when getting food, so that's how friends clustered together.
    My third grade teacher made us sit "girl-boy-girl-boy" when we'd been disruptive. Most of the girls in my class were as much my friends as the boys, and it bothered me that making a boy sit next to a girl and vice versa was her idea of punishment.
    I envy the kids at the University School of Milwaukee.

  2. in grammar school, i sat by myself or with my brother - we went home for lunch. in high school, i usually sat with my friends.


  3. On the one hand, I can see this being useful for breaking up clique culture. On the other hand, it's yet another symptom of the totalitarian level of control in our feeble excuse for an 'educational' system, and it also seems to me that this sort of thing just serves the stereotype that there's something 'wrong' with introverts.

    I generally sat by myself at lunch, and I liked it that way. No one bothering me, trying to talk to me, just a chance for me to get a little peace and quiet and recharge my mental batteries, while getting to eat and recharge my physical ones.

    Maybe it's just me, but this kind of regimental structure seems antithetical to the idea of individual freedom. And yes, I feel the same way about uniforms for much the same reasons.

  4. Yeah, at my grade school, we sat in the order we went through the line, to make sure every seat was used, and there wasn't room to wander. My school was grades 1-12 (later K-12), and we weren't allowed to eat in the cafeteria after 6th grade.


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