A school bell’s ring can send a surprising array of emotions through students—at 7:55 A.M., for example, Kaiser High School’s students ponder their upcoming classes for the day, hopeful and excited for some classes, preemptively anxious for others. At 12:51, the bell marking the end of lunchtime feels like a departure from friends, food, and freedom. Sometimes, bells signaling the end of class might ignite an impending sense of doom in students rushing to finish a lengthy test. And then there’s the universal dopamine rush which occurs at approximately 2:12 P.M., should the end-of-school bell choose to sound. But Kaiser’s school bell has not rung in many months. Though Kaiser’s loss of a bell system was likely an accident, it has raised some interesting questions about the ideal structure of education.
When the school bell stopped ringing around the 3rd Quarter of last year, its absence certainly brought some chaos and confusion, but in time, students and faculty alike adapted to a life not punctuated by bells. Periods are still defined by the bell schedule; students who arrive after the start of the period are marked tardy, and classes begin and end at their scheduled times. While Kaiser may have lost its bells, we haven’t lost our sense of time.
In some schools across the nation, such as Justin-Siena High School in Napa County, California, bells have been intentionally omitted to grant greater autonomy to students. One year after the decision, the school reported a 30% drop in tardiness. In an interview for the Napa Valley Register, Justin-Siena administrator Emily Dutton noted that school bells as a practice originated from the factory labor models of the 19th century. Removing that aspect of school life allows students to dissociate school from old-fashioned notions of mass production and mindless toil.
Allowing students slightly more control over their education can also prepare them for their work beyond high school. After all, most of life isn’t navigable by hourly bells. A bell-less schedule encourages students early on to be aware of time, which is a crucial habit to have in one’s college, career, and home life.
The bell issue doesn’t just apply to students—teachers especially have become more cognizant of their time. When the bells were active, the passage of time was, ironically, more abstract; everyone continued their present tasks until they were jarred into action by noise. People were far less likely to check how much time was left in a period since they relied on the bells to dictate change.
Removing the bells also allows everyone a chance to transition fluidly from class to class, mindset to mindset. Ideally, the transition to each new period should soften any pains of the last period’s test, presentation, or tedium, and wipe a clean slate for the next. However, Kaiser’s bell rang with a harsh sound: it jolted students out of a focused moment in class and induced an almost palpable sense of disappointment at the end of lunchtime. Removing the bell permanently will give students more autonomy and prepare them for the future by helping them be more cognizant of time. We should set aside traditional ideals of what our school should look and sound like, and instead focus on what will benefit us the most.
Contributed by Tara Mie Morisato
There is no regulation that requires a bell to ring between periods in school. So in today’s cost-cutting environment, why would an organization such as the Hawaii State Department of Education (DOE) choose to keep them? That’s because the DOE knows, as do many education systems around the world, that bells are an essential component of schools for students and faculty alike.
The bell’s jarring sound is intentional: it grabs attention and tells students that their next period begins soon. Without that reminder, students who do not keep constant track of time might be late for class, especially after lunch and recess. When your next period is across campus, the bell takes away the uncertainty of exactly how much time there is before you have to go. Teachers must mark tardy students, and the bell ensures there is no question of when a student is actually late.
Some teachers like to begin right when the period starts, but their students aren’t necessarily in class on time. While most students are present when their teacher begins, the ones who arrive tardy—because they didn’t hear the broken bell—inevitably disrupt learning. Schools in Hawaii already have considerably shorter hours than other states, so increased numbers of tardy students only exacerbate the issue.
If you have a teacher who can’t seem to finish by 2:12 pm, you’ve probably heard them say “the bell doesn’t excuse you, I excuse you.” But why do we have a bell schedule if we don’t follow it? The DOE sets guidelines for instructional time, or the amount of time in a year a school has to arrange for “student learning time”—currently 1140 hours—and the bell schedule is how Kaiser complies with the law. School is in session for exactly as long as our schedule says, and without the physical ringing of the bell, the bell schedule becomes an abstract guideline that the administration has more difficulty enforcing.
Some time will pass before our bells are back in order, as the system itself is antiquated, and the parts required to repair it are no longer in production. The necessary replacement will cost thousands of dollars, to be spent at the discretion of the DOE. “Because it is not considered a safety [violation] or emergency, we’re at the whim of the state,” said Principal Justin Mew.
Without the bell, Kaiser lacks a symbol of authority. Time passes unregulated now, and although the sound itself is not missed, the stability the bell once provided is.
Contributed by Ingus Stegis