What’s the Big Deal About Hands?

Who knew that hands free walking would become a hill to fight on.

I suppose when we all begin our chosen profession or vocation we anticipate an idealized version of our work. And if we do anticipate challenges, we know that we are prepared, passionate, and motivated enough to make a difference or to change the course of history by sheer will and determination.

However, as time marches on and the banality of fighting the good fight sets in, we are pestered by all manner of irritations, limitations, and prohibitions imposed by the powers that be, and we realize our efforts have little impact on the status quo. In the case of public schools, an archaic system that divides children into chronological age groups in order to prepare them for work in an industrialized society, shockingly little has changed over time.

In my conversations with a friend who teaches even younger children than I do, I have decided we are outliers. Our greatest frustrations come not from the little people in our classrooms, but by the shocking focus of big people on how classes of students walk across campus or other topics minimally related to student learning or well-being. On both of our campuses, even the youngest students are taught to march silently around the school with hands clasped behind their backs. Incredibly, these are not isolated incidents. Parents have advocated for and against this practice in various locations.

During a recent discussion about student walking without their hands free, I learned that at a school where the practice was enforced, a young student walking with hands behind the back had fallen, lost some teeth, and been badly hurt. In light of events, the parents threatened litigation and the school rethought its hand behind the back policy.

When my teacher friend, who is a trained dancer, explained how human arms are used for balance in dance, I quickly realized I was doing my young students a grave disservice. So, I headed back to school and talked to my students about how we were going to continue to walk safely, quietly, and without bothering anyone around us. We were going to walk hands free to catch us if we stumble.  Simply put, I wanted them to have their arms free to swing and to catch them in the event of a fall.

Freedom Walking Hands Free

One of the first times we made the jaunt across campus with this newfound freedom, hands free, I noticed one of my students moving freely, in a dancelike swagger. Such a little thing, but that option restored a modicum of individuality and freedom with noticeable results.

On any given day, you may now find my students and me flying across campus like airplanes or finding other interesting, yet safe means of moving from point a to point b. It has leant a lighthearted tenor to our cross campus movement that was absent. In an era when teachers compete with high tech graphics and audio, I would much rather my students fly across campus with energy and excitement than to form a silent chain gang drudging from one dull task to another.

Not everyone shares my appreciation of freely swinging appendages. At my friend’s school, a virtual firestorm has resulted from her decision to allow her students to move across campus hands free. The perception is that without hands firmly tucked behind the back, there is no order or safety. One day with hands raised in appreciation of birds flying toward them, my friend’s little students gleefully celebrated the act of flight and remembered an earlier discussion in class about birds. The unfortunate timing of a colleague walking a class across campus at that exact moment ensured that my friend was flown at by a staff member decrying the children’s raised hands instead of celebrating a real world experience practically conjured from a discussion that had taken place inside the four walls of the classroom.

You are asking yourself rightly why this would be worth blogging about. I agree wholeheartedly. This is a non-issue. Real issues would be how to advocate for much needed services and intervention to support these same students who are forced to walk around campus with their hands behind their backs or how we can encourage them to be excited about school, to be happy and successful, and to learn to dream about more than simply having their hands free to walk as they please.