A very well established axiom of managing a classroom is that education does not work until behavior succeeds.   That is true – you can’t learn anything when you just let yourself go crazy.

The public school system today has fixed their latest lance on the problem of classroom behavior in the form of the seating chart.  The classroom seating chart puts each student next to another student whose personality is seen as not agitating or exciting the student next to him or her.  It will usually take a little trial and error to finalize a seating chart that is designed to numb each student to each of his or her neighbors.

But should every student be surrounded by numb, boring neighbors?

For example, I am sure that if every scientist had made a determination to partner with only the most boring colleagues – so they would have no excitement working with them – there would have been no partnerships of Nobel Prize winners such as that the DNA co-discoverers James Watson and Francis Crick.

But I am also pretty certain that if we were all to choose to work with the most boring and numbing partners we could find, the work we produced together would be comparably boring and numbing.

The purpose of seating charts in our schools seems to be to create a classroom management structure.  When there is no interest of a student in even talking with the student nest to him or her, the school is believed to have achieved an important operant goal to have nothing competing with the teacher’s voice in the classroom.

Now teaching is my adult second career.  In my first career, as a First Amendment journalist, I was more interested in everyone talking as much as possible, hoping that I could pull some useful grist out of all the chatter.

I was dissuaded from championing this kind of dialogue when one day while I was taking over a class for some high school seniors and an administrator handed me a DVD for the movie “Finding Nemo.”  It was explained to me that “finding Nemo” was a replacement lesson filling in while the regular curriculum was being recharged.

“But these are intelligent 18 year olds,” I said.

Then it was explained to me that playing “Finding Nemo” was designed to keep the students from talking.  “Otherwise they will talk.”

I hadn’t been teaching long at that point, but I had already developed enough savviness to understand that it was useless arguing against the public school attitude of not talking.

It may true that a rigidly applied seating chart will reduce the stray talking in a classroom.  But it has also proven true that as the students gets to better know the stranger at this side, the two students will gradually build the rapport of two friends, setting off another seating re-arrangement.

But is it really destructive to have two friends working out the problems of a classroom together?  Is it any worse say as having two friends in a trench or a foxhole together, working out the problems of a fire fight on a battle-field?  Or is it worse than a husband and wife becoming friends to work out together the challenges of a growing family?                                                                                                                            

I have to admit that I have been driven to the wide of the unorthodox teachers who encourage friendships in their classrooms.

And there are even a few heretics teaching today who are structuring their students to work as partners, so that one partner is always watching the back of the other, and not letting the partner fall adrift during a progressive curriculum, but allowing a rescue crew among the students to be ready to help save the failing classmate.

Let’s call it the “Saving Private Ryan” teaching strategy.

Chris Sharp- Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . Sharp's latest book is an Amazon Kindle collection of his published short stories, Every Kind of Angel . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.