Chris Christie Calls Mandatory Recess Bill “Stupid”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took time out of his busy schedule as a failing Presidential candidate this week to veto a bill that would have mandated 20 minutes of recess for all New Jersey schoolchildren between Kindergarten and 5th grade.  Speaking with Fox News, the Governor said that “part of my job as governor is to veto the stupid bills. That was a stupid bill and I vetoed it.”  He also characterized the bill as “crazy government run amok” and mischaracterized it as requiring outdoor recess regardless of the weather conditions; the actual language of the bill expressed a preference for outdoor recess when possible.  Governor Christie further berated the legislators who passed the bill by saying, “With all the other problems we have to deal with, my Legislature is worried about recess for kids from kindergarten to fifth grade?”

I think we need to clarify some points:

Collaborating with private donors to transform the city of Newark’s school system in an unproven experiment, turning the city schools over to an inept and defensive administrator who planned to close schools that were meeting their improvement goals and sending families across the city whether they wanted to go or not?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

A $108 MILLION contract with the Pearson Corporation to provide an unproven and disruptive state assessment system whose results were thoroughly misrepresented by the state’s highest education appointee?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

Granting a “graduate school of education” that is primarily a collaboration of charter school networks training their own teachers in the “no excuses” methods the sole contract to provide continuing education for teachers in the state’s largest city while increasing the requirements for traditional teacher preparation programs?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

Ramming through a major overhaul of the state’s pension fund, refusing to actually pay the state’s agreed upon contribution, but giving management of those funds to politically connected Wall Street firms who jacked up the fees to over $600 million a YEAR?  That is not “crazy government run amok”.

“Crazy government run amok” is making certain that state education law requires that very young children get a daily chance to play outside while they are in school.


Governor Christie’s mocking of the legislature for spending time on something so frivolous is also sorely misplaced.  Far from being unimportant, the American Academy of Pediatrics has called recess “crucial” and cites tangible benefits of regularly scheduled play for children attending school:

Just as physical education and physical fitness have well-recognized benefits for personal and academic performance, recess offers its own, unique benefits. Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize. After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.

Restrictions or even loss of recess time is a national phenomenon, and the New Jersey law would have protected students from districts who felt the pressure to spend more time on academics and test preparation from stealing that time from recess — and yes, this has happened in New Jersey.  Far from being something that the state’s lawmakers should not have bothered with, protecting children from well-intentioned but ultimately damaging policies is absolutely something that needed to be done.  Mounting evidence suggests that this generation of schoolchildren are being pushed into more and more academic focus at younger and younger ages to their detriment. Even children as young as Pre-Kindergarten are losing play based learning that is developmentally appropriate and actually crucial to their long term social and academic well-being.  Writing in The Atlantic, Erika Chistakis notes:

Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their “work” before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations. More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.

That’s right. The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to—while at the same time obscuring—the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.

This isn’t complicated.  This isn’t disputable.  Children need play.  Very young children cannot learn without opportunities to play.  The only flaw with the New Jersey legislation Governor Christie vetoed is that it doesn’t go far enough to protect our youngest school children from misguided efforts to increase their academic “performance” by denying them what they need to thrive.  Our children need recess.  They also need more play oriented learning premised on discovery and social interaction, and they need far less emphasis on tasks that look “rigorous” to adults but which stifle their development and steal time from genuine learning.

Governor Christie isn’t merely wrong; he is cruelly wrong.  The “stupid” thing is the steady chipping away of what our children need.  Perhaps the Governor could remember that as he is trying to score points with primary voters who are not interested in his candidacy.


Filed under Cami Anderson, child development, Chris Christie, classrooms, Cory Booker, Newark, One Newark, PARCC, Pearson, politics, Testing

17 responses to “Chris Christie Calls Mandatory Recess Bill “Stupid”

  1. jfiordaliso

    amen dan

    Thank you, Joe Fiordaliso 973/809-5631

  2. “…, outside if possible.”
    I suspect that some charter “schools” don’t have an outside.

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    A fine post, as usual.

    My only quibble would be to suggest that you are too kind in referring to the the “good intentions” of the so-called reformers, who have demonstrated for years that they have a very specific economic and political agenda, and that they could not care less about the needs of public school children.

  4. I was not aware recess is not part of elementary education anymore. Recess IS education. Allowing the body and mind to move together freely without a given task is essential for healthy development. Sometimes I think my high school students could benefit from recess.

    • Not having unstructured time is one of the biggest problems in many high schools. If you don’t give them the time, then they will take it. This obsessive philosophy that we must teach bell to bell every minute of every day is absurd.

      • And yet if there isn’t some sort of structure they dissemble the environment with unneeded silliness. I try to provide constructive downtime, a bit of an oxymoron, but it works. An example is a Pixar short and they we discuss it.

      • khomer

        sitting down to watch a Pixar short is not “playtime” – they need the unstructured space that allows them to create and make their own knowledge

  5. Reblogged this on David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education and commented:
    He is a special kind of “stupid”.

  6. CC has repeatedly shown complete disrespect for the entire profession of teaching. He has ridiculed teachers, during speeches & displayed total disregard for teachers concerns about children & students. His pr clouds offspring attend elite, private schools. Therefore, he could care less about the millions of children who attend American public schools. CC is the stupid one. Hopefully, the general public will see this if they watch the news at all.

  7. Patricia Schall

    I will underscore your comments about “increasing the requirements for traditional teacher preparation programs” as “crazy government run amok”. Instituting changes with no solid research to back them up is crazy government running amok.” After adding on many clinical hours and additional course credits, the NJDOE will require all teacher candidates to pass Pearson’s EdTPA as a “performance assessment.” I have to ask the “amokers” what they think student teaching is if not a performance assessment? Students are mentored by college supervisors and cooperating teachers. They are observed and evaluated with reliable and valid instruments roughly every other week or more. They receive feedback on the lessons they teach in conferences. Why is it necessary to add on, at the students’ expense, yet another standardized assessment? If students do not pass the EdTPA, they will not be certified, regardless of their performance in courses and clinical experiences. So one more victory for the “knowledge industry” at the expense of students. I would not be surprised to see a teacher shortage develop in NJ as it has recently in other states.

    • So they want teachers to spend more time and money in college incurring more debt so that they can’t enter a profession that will never pay them enough to pay the debt off…..great plan

  8. Zorba

    Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads and commented:
    Well, as was pointed out in this excellent article, Chris Christie should certainly know something about “government run amok.”
    Looks like the only governmental “amok-running” he’s interested in is whatever he wants to mandate.
    It also looks like Christie could use a lot more, physically busy, “recess” in his own life.

  9. Thank you, Daniel. Spot on.

  10. Awesome article! I’m not familiar with the research on recess, but I’ve been skeptical of the way STEM and specific kinds of learning have monopolized our nation’s classrooms.

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