The School Bell: My Love-Hate Relationship

I have written about how old-school school is these days. I am not the biggest fan of the school bell. But I actually am growing to have a little bit of love for it. My initial love for the bell goes back to my football playing days. When I was in university, if there was a team meeting at 7:00 a.m. and you showed up at 6:59 a.m., you were late. Door was locked. Give a gentle tap on the door or knock like the cops, no one is answering it. You were late, point-blank period. As a freshman, I once showed up for a 4 p.m. meeting at…4 p.m. I never did that again. This is, of course, an extreme example but it did teach me the value of time, expectations, and following through on your word. I still get upset when friends tell me they are coming over on a Friday night at 6 p.m. in the evening and don’t show up until 9:30 p.m. Do I lock the door on them? Of course not, I want to have a good time with my people. But it definitely irks me when it occurs.


But back to this school bell thing. Every 40 or 70 minutes the bell rings, students pick up their stuff, and scurry on to their next class. And while that teaches students to indeed value time and manage expectations, I often think about the disservice in learning that it also instills in their young minds. I know that students ought to learn how to manage their priorities and balance their workload, but when a student moves from math class to gym class and then to French and caps off her day with some geography, how much holistic learning has that student completed throughout the day, other than an agenda with a stacked to-do list?


On top of that, what are we teaching our students when we abruptly tell them to halt their thinking and continue with their thoughts and ideas tomorrow? When we insinuate that effort, passion and a topic is solely contingent on a marked time, we are basically teaching them to half-ass it until that bell rings. I mean, at the end of the day, it is time for a completely different subject so it is time to stop thinking about the subject they just had, right?


I could complicate this idea in all different types of directions for at least 2000 words, but there are other things you probably plan on getting to tonight. So I will break it down like this: when we rely on bells in schools, what we are doing is mind-fucking our students. I mean, if school were prison it would make sense. When you want to institutionalize people you regulate their days, that is the most basic form of mind control. But in schools, there really is no place for bells anymore. These days, you can name more than a handful of kids that come to school without either a watch or a cell phone. On top of that, there is still a clock in every room! After about the second week of September, students know what time school starts and when it ends. In between is where we start to manipulate. And we overdo the manipulation with these damn bells. Take a second to think about it…pardon the pun.


With everything that a child experiences with their peers, parents and teachers, the upmost majority of them are going to stay on track every day. But Matthew, you are forgetting that we are preparing them for real life, for working at a job one day. Silly rabbits. What job has bells at work? That “preparing for life” part for the sake of bells at school loses every ounce of credence once you ask my prior question. There will be no “bells” in their future. So what is the school bell really “teaching” them? What are we training them for?


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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