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Middle school segregation

When I was in middle school, kids still enjoyed a before-school and after-lunch recess. Two recesses in a single day is uncommon at any school nowadays.

Recess at the middle school level is virtually unheard of in today’s world.

That’s because the world has turned stupid in so many ways. Somewhere along the way, free play in kindergarten was replaced with an obscene fixation on test scores. Recess was eliminated in an effort to extend instructional time in the classroom. Lunch periods were shortened to allow students to solve an additional equation or find one or two more main ideas.

Opportunities for socialization, physical activity, and free play have been minimized in an attempt to squeeze more academics into every day.

It’s all very stupid.

But my childhood wasn’t so perfect either.

Get this:

A.F. Maloney Middle School (formerly my father’s high school and now the site of the town’s library) featured a hardtop playground behind the ancient, brick building that was divided by a thick white line, segregating girls from boys.

Can you imagine? Boys and girls weren’t permitted to play together.

We could stand on opposite sides of the line to chat, but no intermingling of boys and girls was allowed.

In addition, a large strip of grass and dirt running the length of the hardtop  was reserved for the boys as well, since the boys theoretically needed more room for football, soccer, and other such athletic endeavors. This additional space made the boy’s playground more than twice as large as the girl’s and also gave us access to a stream running along the edge of the playground, around which we were also allowed to play.

Children playing in a stream at recess? Can you even imagine such a thing these day? My students aren’t allowed to ascend the mounds of snow made by snowplows in fear that they might fall off and Humpty-Dumpty themselves.

But separating girls and boys at recess? It’s a miracle I was ever able to ask out a girl in high school.

I like to think that I’m still pretty young, but this scenario sounds as if it comes from a different century. Doesn’t it?

I remember thinking as a kid that even the boys and girls on Little House on the Prairie were allowed to play together. Why could Laura Ingalls and Willie Oleson play together, but I had to be separated from every girl in my class?

Still, at least we were allowed to play. We spent time outdoors. We skinned our knees. Played dodgeball against the brick wall. Argued over the rules of football.

Our middle school teachers may have stupidly separated boys from girls on the playground by a thick, white line, but at least there was a playground.

At least there was free play.

At least there were opportunities to run and laugh and learn many hard, important lessons.