Tables or Desks

Here’s an interesting take on one of the most practical decisions a school ever makes. I’m surprised by how little thought goes into this question and how little input the teacher typically has. Of course, the question is whether we should use desks or tables. If we have to choose, I would take the table over the desk 95 times out of 100.

 What do you think? What are the advantages of desks? Why are they so ubiquitous? Is it just a power play?

5 Responses

  1. I also disagree with some other things in the article; I just liked that she discussed using tables, which is the opposite of our default to the desk. I think we need to think about what we are doing.

    Leah, you clearly have. I appreciate your thoughts because you’ve captured the benefits of both tables and desks by the arrangement you use. The thing I can’t stand is rank and file seating. It did not arise from the quest to educate children. Even here, of course, there can be occasions for it. Just not many.

    “It is the part of the wise man to ORDER and to judge.” Thomas Aquinas

  2. I found this to be interesting too…

    Andrew, I am not ready to agree that the proper way to look at desks is “efficiency and productivity.” I think that an argument can be made that desks can encourage personal responsibility and a focused work environment. I’m just not at all sure that it is a simple as desk=control and tables =community…

    I have taught in a variety of settings: a school that highly valued desks, a room with tables and a room with couches (ugh, that gets old fast!). All of them have positives and negatives. But basically, I think you are setting up too rigid of a desk environment-they can be moved into different shapes, they can be moved into groups facing each other…and they can allow for time to quietly work on your own. Personally, when I am learning, I need time for community and time to have quiet personal thought. We might even be able to argue that tables can make contemplation harder!

    (And I don’t argee with other things in the article either-I never taught from behind my desk. I always moved out in front of and among the class…Bottom line-I don’t see that desks are necessarily a hinderance to classroom community.)

  3. Kathleen,

    I actually agree with you. As with any tool, in the hands of an unskilled workman, a table can be a disaster. I want tables because I want orderly interaction and a humane setting.

    Desks in rows speak of efficiency and productivity. They cut down interaction significantly. If your goal is control, you want desks.

    But if your goal is a community of people thinking about ideas together, you need the tables or at least the desks ordered in a U shape.

    Simple example: On his CD “A Few Things Well” from this summer’s conference on Rest, Bryan Smith points out that one of the first things they have to teach children is to make eye contact. Putting kids in desks in rows and columns undercuts that. Then we see them in public and they don’t know how to communicate and we wonder how that happened. Gee.

    The most powerful tools demand the most skills from the teacher. I suspect that is why we tend toward desks. Purposeful instruction by the teacher overcomes the disorder and purposelessness of the students.

    Thanks for your feedback!

  4. Oops–take the final period out of that link or it won’t work!

  5. Interesting. I read the article, but I’m not sure I agree with everything stated. I grew up with the individual desks in school, but my oldest son, who was in public school through second grade had tables in that year. It was a horrible experience! Of course, not just because of the tables, but the classroom (compared with his 1st grade classroom) was a mess–completely disorganized and loud. Robert never knew what he was supposed to be doing. Kids were everywhere in the room and there was just no order at all.

    Now, praise God, this was the catalyst for our beginning to homeschool, and this ultimately led to our family’s salvation, so God meant it all for good, but I somehow equate those tables with much of the mess of that 2nd grade classroom!

    In any case, back to the desks vs. tables. I can see that under a skilled teacher the tables could foster more group interaction and less individualism. In the right circumstances, that can be a good thing. In the wrong circumstances, and under a less-skilled teacher, it can be a disaster.

    Here’s a site with some interesting takes on the subject:

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