By Shelley Luedtke
Brrring. Brrring. Brrring
Bells began ringing again in September when schools opened for another year. Yet there were fewer bells this year than last, and I'm not talking about school closures. For more than a decade a concerted move has been observed as more and more schools do away with the bells that mark the structure of the day.
Bells have been brilliant in their sheer simplicity to communicate a message to a large group of people in an efficient manner. The bell rings and people know what to do. But at some schools in Canada and a growing number in the United States and United Kingdom, you won't hear the ringing of bells. It hasn't been easy. In schools that have tackled the issue teachers and administrators debated at length the pros and cons. Bells keep everyone on schedule. Bells take away personal accountability. Bells are crisp and clear. Bells are loud and annoying. On it goes.
It's part of our nature to not like being told what to do, and bells certainly tell us what to do. That, combined with the decibel level at which some are set make it easy to argue against their continued use in our schools. Teachers want to wrap up a lesson at its natural conclusion, not mid-sentence because of the intrusion of a bell. They hope to nurture in students the initiative to be where they need to be not because a bell rings but because they are learning to be self-directed. Those wanting to keep bells say it maintains schedules and is a reminder that each person is part of a bigger community in which they are participating and contributing.
Agitator or organizer? Which is it?
Beyond the classroom bells are part of our lives. They peel from courthouses, places of worship and camps, and are certainly part of our everyday conversation. When we understand something we describe it as clear as a bell. When we look forward to something we say we will be there with bells on. And to warn of potential consequences of all we see and do we are reminded we cannot unring a bell. Bells are joyous, a mark of alertness and a call to action.
But those are just euphemisms. The actual ringing of bells elicit different responses. Church bells that rang for more than 100 years in some communities were forced to cease following noise complaints. In some instances the rulings were overturned while in other places a rather limiting list of exceptions have allowed some bells to be rung again. Of all the sounds heard in the course of a day it is odd that church bells would have been the one taken on. Then again it likely wasn't the bells they objected to as much as what the bells represent--a faith tradition to which they are opposed.
Bells represent different perspectives depending upon who wants to hear them ring--and who wants them silenced. They can be celebratory. Or mournful. Traditional. Authoritarian. Freeing. Constraining. They are objects of religious adherence--or--objects foisting religious practices on those not wanting them. They are joyous and boisterous in their announcement of events--or--they are obnoxious and intrusive in their noise level. It all depends on who is doing the ringing--and who is doing the listening. Schools that have successfully lobbied to have bells removed may feel a sense of accomplishment at not having to listen to them any longer but they are still answering to bells of a different sort. We all do. Most of us need to follow some system of reminders…alarms…or schedules. We respond to bells of some kind, though not all of them are audible. The timing of events. The rotation of the sun. The structure of calendars. Each day we have schedules in motion and routines in common with others.
The beauty of bells in schools, churches and city squares is in their ability to add to the message as they ring out with joy in a celebration or bring a heartbreaking toll to a time of mourning. They announce what is concluding and make us anticipate what might be next. They are unique in their ability to evoke the past while also celebrating the present. Let's be sure the bells keep ringing as the keeper of tradition and instrument of change. That's my outlook.
By Shelley Luedtke