Recess Battles

“Anna Beresin—“recess lady”—has brought her long-term study of the folklore of children in an Elementary School on the “wrong side of the tracks” to a welcome conclusion. The book is that rare offering that provides pleasure and enlightenment in the minute—gem-like scenes of children playing—and more globally. The global issues could not be more timely or pressing. In the interest of protecting and educating them, poor children’s lives in school have been drained of nearly all self-will, spontaneity and peer interaction. The gains—in improved test scores, lowered security costs and a reduction in teacher and parent complaints—may not justify the draconian measures that have been taken. A second issue that is brilliantly illuminated in Beresin’s study is the enactment of gender and ethnicity on the playground. Again, the long-term study reveals profound changes in gender and ethnic identity emerging over the last two decades. She documents, for example, the gradual spread of jump-rope from the exclusive provenance of bussed-in, poor black girls to middle-class black and working-class white girls. Or the transition of unisex (male) games like suicide to coed participation. Recess Battles makes the point forcefully that adults observing recess grossly overestimate and misinterpret the violence and conflict that occur. So the “battles” among children on the playground lead to battles between those who would eliminate or tame recess and the children—who thrive on the opportunities for growth, interaction and sheer joy that only recess can provide.”

— David F. Lancy, author of The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings.

"Recess Battles is a splendid book and an extremely sophisticated treatment of a set of issues that are usually treated only partially and/or superficially. A close descriptive account of recess play at an inner city elementary school, the writing is magisterial--there is an ease in it that conceals the subtlety of what is being said. How sad it is that recess play, especially in schools that are under intense "high stakes testing" accountability pressure, has become an endangered species. Beresin makes a compelling case for the "orderliness" and nonviolence of recess play, for its developmental value for children and its status as prima facie evidence of children's capacities for self discipline and imagination, and for the aesthetic value of recess play as children's performance art. There is in this book a seamless weaving of theory and key concepts from the fields of folklore, child development, and education. There is also a seamless narrative style, moving easily between close descriptive vignettes and specific interview quotes at the "ground level" of reporting and more general commentary and analysis. This book documents aspects of contemporary urban children's play, in word and in body, in a way that nothing else I know of does. It's a gem."

— Frederick Erickson, author of Talk and Social Theory: Ecologies of Speaking and Listening in Everyday Life.


Purchase Recess Battles via The University Press of Mississippi