Cafeteria Rules LO14779

Michael Gort (
Thu, 28 Aug 1997 09:50:47 -0400

Replying to LO14679 --

Scott Ott wrote on 12 Aug 97 in LO14679 about his encounter with the mind
of a second grader reflecting on Cafeteria Rules.

In military schools and officer training programs, cadets are required to
eat "square meals" in exceptionally short meal periods. A square meal
requires that you sit on the last three inches of your chair, at
attention, back ramrod straight, and eat by precise movements that go
straight up from the plate, horizontal to the mouth, back out to over the
plate and straight down to plate once more. Square meals are only one of
several dozen techniques used to first break down individual will,
sublimating the individual to the group.

Later in training (in my case, pre-flight for 12 weeks was pure hell,
nothing but harassment), the individual piece is brought back, an personal
mastery in its purest form is developed in the cadets. Personal mastery
that extends to physical conditioning, academic excellence, technical
prowess, grooming, and more.

For about 1/3 of the candidates, this process works very well. Quickly
learning to adjust to the hell weeks of pre-flight, we adapted and learned
how to maintain our sense of individual pride notwithstanding the very
creative tactical officers that were working day and night to make us as
miserable as possible. For about another 1/3, the process never really
worked well, but they were able to survive until we graduated from
pre-flight. The last 1/3 could not adapt, and by the time we were
actually introduced to helicopters, most of them were gone.

My point in this soliloquy is that "Cafeteria Rules" is a well-tested,
very effective way of imposing order. However, it is only the first half
of a program that must continue with efforts to build personal mastery,
enhanced decision-making, and generate learning. My concern is that
first, young children are very different from the young adults who are all
volunteers in "cadet" programs. Do children really have a strong enough
sense of self that we wish to tear it down as we do with young men and
women in the Armed Forces to prepare them for advance training? Second,
where, when and how is the second and essential part of the program
implemented. Do we have programs that encourage these now docile,
rule-compliant children, to think critically and out-of-the-box? Do we
offer them coaching and guidance in taking responsibility for their own
lives? Finally, to who would the cafeteria be "a jungle" if the rules are
lifted? Would noise, activity and motion bother the lower school
children? I doubt it, but I bet it would bother the lower school teachers
a whole bunch. So I close with a question: who are the benefactors of
Cafeteria Rules, and do they derive enough benefit to justify the
potential damage to our children (e.g., Scott, your very bright and
personable young friend who has been branded as learning disabled)?


Michael A. Gort (203) 637-9279

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