Please Be Seated in Classroom Comfort
When we opened a new computer lab in a school I worked in, the business teacher wanted padded office-type chairs with wheels for his students. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I had a little extra cash on hand (a very rare occurrence), so I approved his order. After a couple of weeks he was ready to tear his hair out as students zipped over to one another to chat, pushed off their desks to see how far they could go, and raced one another across the tile floors. They weren’t being bad kids; they just couldn’t help themselves. The following year we carpeted the room and that slowed everyone down.
In most schools I’ve worked in (and in most schools in New York State), the workhorse of student chairs is Model 114, known as the “super stacker.” It weighs 15 or so pounds depending on size, and is made of steel, sawdust, and resin that comes in 22 colors and one design. As Ali Salehi, senior vice president for engineering and operations for Columbia Manufacturing, the chair company, says, “They don’t die.”
Well, they usually don’t, but they get wounded and they linger for a while before being interred in some basement storeroom. But their natural life span is very very long. The biggest recurring problem I found is that the gliders on the legs would come off and disappear, leaving the chairs uneven and quick to mark up floor tile. Considering that chairs are necessary school equipment, they’re relatively cheap at $45 to $70 depending on the size according to a spokesman at the New York Education Department.
Now, according to the New York Times, a small group of school people is thinking that students perhaps deserve better – chairs that are more ergonomic. Wes Bradley, the principal of Thomas Nelson High School in Bardstown, Kentucky, purchased 1000 new ergonomic chairs for his schools 40 classrooms last August. The chairs allow students to face front or back or use a handle to move them across the classroom. Bradley says they come in “energizing colors.” In Albuquerque, Michael P. Stanton furnished his progressive academy with similar seats. They’re “popular,” he says. I bet they are. With students. No word from the teachers.
Says David W. Orr, an environmental studies professor at Oberlin College, the old-style stacking seats are “maintained by profit-seeking school suppliers and unimaginative administrators who see no other possible arrangement of the body, or bodies, or any possible downside to the lower back from six hours of enforced sitting.” Ouch.
First of all, no students should be forced to sit in any chair, traditional OR ergonomic, for six hours. Secondly, Dr. Orr, most schools can’t afford the kind of equipment we’d like to have. And finally, it’s easy to talk when you only have to design the chairs and not teach the 25 students rolling about or looking backward as you explain quadratic equations. Still, there’s probably something in-between the super-stacker and the rolling ergonomic chair and it’s probably time to design it.