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Work to rule in middle school

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 16 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

From the Brickbats column for the most recent issue of Reason (June 2008, p. 11):

When officials at New Jersey’s Readington Middle School cut the lunch period to 30 minutes, students got upset. Some of them showed their displeasure by paying the $2 cost of their lunches in pennies. Twenty-nine kids received detention for their payments.

From The Star-Ledger:

Twenty-nine eighth graders at a Hunterdon County school received two days detention after they paid for their $2 lunches with pennies, officials said.

The 8th graders at Readington Middle School were protesting having only 30 minutes for lunch each day. They received detentions for slowing the cafeteria line and disrespecting lunch aides, who had to count the 5,800 copper-plated coins, said Superintendent Jorden Schiff.

There were approximately 200 students in the cafeteria during Thursday’s lunch period, Schiff said. The detentions called for spending an hour of silence in a classroom after school.

Most reasonable people understand that the school needed to respond to this, he said.

Schiff said school officials would work to harness the organizational power and desire of the students and channel it towards something that could impact the greater good.

— John Holl, The Star-Ledger (2008-02-29):

I pause here to note that, in the view of Superintendent Jorden Schiff, having enough leisure time for you and your friends to enjoy a meal together, rather than being herded through a line to get a feed-bag slapped on your snout before you’re herded back into class, doesn’t count as part of the greater good. Why, if that were the Greater Good, then why doesn’t it feel so bad?

That said, the good news is that the administration backed down under pressure and rescinded the detentions. (Or, to be more precise, they begged off and had each child’s parents decide whether or not their child should get detention. Which is pretty bogus, still, but the vast majority of parents opted to bust their kids free.)

There’s been a lot of focus on the administration’s retaliation against the students; that’s how the story got into Brickbats, after all. And obviously that kind of stupid, petty authoritarianism is worth commenting on. But on the whole I see a lot to be happy about in this story. Here you have a bunch of eighth graders showing a lot of creativity and organizational intelligence in standing up for themselves against the folding, spindling, and mutilating of the school Authorities; and doing so through a spontaneous revival of the good old Wobbly tactic of Work To Rule. That’s something, in these times, and it’s well worth a shout-out and a cheer.

6 replies to Work to rule in middle school Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Natasha

    I submit that this disproves any notion that young people are in need of extreme regimentation.

    I know that’s the point you’re already making, but it feels good to say the above ( :

    By the way, there is something wrong with the use of the word,childish,in this culture.

  2. Laura J.

    8th graders crack me up. Kudos to the entire lot that took part in the protest, and especially to whichever particular geniuses thought up the scheme in the first place.

  3. Belinsky

    This story actually gives me hope. I’m glad to hear that these kids haven’t had their souls crushed by the system (yet). If only adults would show this kind of courage…

  4. Cole

    I had never heard of “working to rule” before, but there’s something similar for Czechs: !!!@@e2;20ac;2dc;?@c5;a0;vejking’.

  5. Rad Geek


    Aye; after The Good Soldier ?@c5;a0;vejk, right?

    It’s a natural and useful weapon for use against power, especially against a certain kind of bureaucratized and institutionalized hierarchy — like a government school, and like the military. True story: during World War II passive resistance along the lines of ?@c5;a0;vejk was so common in the U.S. conscript military that the military shrinks got together and decided to declare it a clinical disorder, a neurotic type reaction to routine military stress, manifested by helplessness, or inadequate responses, passiveness, obstructionism or aggressive outbursts. And that’s how passive aggressive entered into the psychiatric lexicon. Right next to the scratched-out entry for drapetomania, I guess.

  6. Discussed at studentactivism.net

    Middle School Lunch Activism « studentactivism.net:

    […] New Jersey’s Readington Middle School protested the reduction of lunch hour to thirty minutes by paying for their lunches with pennies. Their principal sentenced twenty-nine of them to detention, but relented under pressure a few days […]

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