Mix It Up at Lunch Day doesn’t mean stirring green beans into the mashed potatoes. Yesterday, at 7,000 schools across the country, geeks lunched with jocks; band kids sat next to skaters. Popular and punk, black, brown and white, they broke down social barriers, made new friends and lived happily ever after. Well, not really. At an Oklahoma high school with Mexican-American, Indian and white students, kids were supposed to sit at tables labeled by their month of birth. Instead, many students skipped lunch, ate outside or defied organizers to sit with friends.
Denise Ramos, a sophomore, put it this way: “I thought it would be like always, and it is like always. They don’t talk to us, and we don’t talk to them. Why would we? Why do I want to go sit next to people who call us Beaners and Spics everyday?”
. . . Bree O’Seland, a junior, chalked it all up to insecurity.
“People just want to hang out with the people they usually do. It has to do with people’s own insecurities.”
O’Seland, who also chose not to sit by birth month, says she is a victim of others’ insecurities every day.
“I’m Pagan, and there is a lot of religious discrimination here. People think I’m a devil worshipper. They say it to my face and behind my back.”
Here’s a mixed report from North Carolina, an organizer’s happy view from Georgia, and reports from Olympia, Washington and Ann Arbor, Michigan. At a New Jersey middle school, everyone knows his or her place in the social order.
At one table, four boys seem to focus so intently on each other they form a protective bulwark. One pretends to smoke a plastic straw and another lines up pizza crusts like race cars.
“We’re the unpopular group,” one says bluntly. “We’re not the sports group and everybody likes sports. People make fun of us.”
“It’s fun to have your own table and be the boss of your own group,” he notes.
A friend adds that he likes the way they keep to themselves. “It’s normal, routine,” he says. “We play it safe.”
Lunch periods, by the way, are 15 minutes. Not much time for making new friends.
Wanting to hang out with your own kind is natural, says radio host Joe Kelly, father of an eighth grader.
In fact, I suggest that pairing up children outside their normal peer group for such a short period of time will likely widen the chasm that exists between them since they’ll only have enough time together to recognize stereotypes, not explore similarities.
Students who get together to do something — play a sport, sing in the choir, act in a play, etc. — tend to make genuine friendships across racial and ethnic lines. Of course, then they’re jocks, choir geeks and theater geeks, so it doesn’t count.
I sympathize with the desire to persuade students to look outside the cliques that formed early in middle school. But can’t they have some unstructured time in the day to be with friends?