Monday, July 27, 2009

Media Mondays: underworked, underutilized

This is what happens when people don't take the effort to create a quality product. What will happen in regards to our flimsy schools?

I found this article on school culture on A Passion for Teaching and Learning. Which I'm glad I did, since I don't normally read the The Economist.

When I, and a few select friends, were tossing around the idea of opening our own charter/private school we talked about the very illogical public school day hours. I know of schools that start their days at 7 AM, and are out by 12 noon. There are other schools that don't start until 9:30 and end at 3.

Lunch hour is approximately 30 minutes (which translates to about 20 for the teacher - don't even get me started on this). Recess is ten minutes long, twice a day. Intermediate grades only get it once.

I'm personally cool with having longer school days, with longer breaks. My tennis partner said when she was in school in Vermont, she had a full hour for lunch and two 30-minute recesses. How wonderful is that! What I'm NOT a big fan of is an extended school day with the same amount of recess. Or an extended school day that starts EARLIER. No thanks.

But Americans as a society really don't expect much out of our children. If we did, we wouldn't allow them to watch upwards of 4 hours of TV per day. This kid is an exception, and even he complained to a reporter about the ambivalence towards young achievement. It's great and news worthy when you do get something done. It's fine if you don't. And a lot don't because a) they don't know where or how to get started, and b) they don't have the initiative to find out.

So for that school that exists in my imagination only, we thought of the idea of a 10 AM - 6 PM school day. Mainly because students need to sleep at their natural cycle, and most teenager's sleep cycle is from midnight to 9 AM or so. That's 7 full hours on campus. At least one full hour devoted to lunch and recess, perhaps more. And half days on Saturdays.

Wouldn't that save money on after-school programs too? Or would that have to be spent on before-school programs (which, technically, some schools already have). The absolute value of time spent in school hasn't been extended terribly too much.


Janet said...

I like your idea of longer school hours that start later and end later. I think one of the reasons why we have shorter and earlier school days is because that's when working parents have to be at work. They go to work at around 7:30 or 8:00am in the morning and work until 4:30pm to 5:00pm. Thus to accommodate the working parent schedules, the kids have to go to school around the same time, else the parents have to find their own babysitter or early morning program/before school program.

I guess ideally, it'd be best to tackle both situations at once (the working parent schedules - for them to start later & the student schedules - for them to start later too). How much work that is going to take...seems monumental. Private business would then start complaining about their freedom (and they would win in court based on previous court cases) to set whatever hours they want their employees to work.

I think that the idea of freedom will come up more here in the US than elsewhere because our culture is very tied to that freedom part. If we have long school days, we "take away" the freedom for parents to choose what kind of after school/extracurricular activities the parent can enroll the child into outside of the school system. For example, if we put kids into a school from 10 - 6, then...when will the kid take piano lessons? tennis lessons? swim lessons? martial art lessons? chinese school? choir practices? soccer games? etc. Will the parents then have the choice of taking their kids out of the school for certain classes if they feel like the private sector can offer better classes? (Say, if the school offered tennis classes, but the parent wanted their child to take private tennis lessons, could the parent waive the child's tennis lessons at school and substitute them with other lessons outside of the school?) Will the parent have the freedom to take their children on educational vacations? Or just plain familial vacations? Or to "bring my kid to work" days? How will that all work with current laws that state how many days a child has to be in school, etc?

I guess I'll give the parent the benefit of the doubt and assume that most parents want the best for their children. I don't believe that most parents want their children to be couch potatoes or trouble makers. I do believe that not all parents have the resources to give their children all these other opportunities. I do believe that this is a huge topic...and deep and wide and amazingly complex...and that I know too little to make a good case for anything.

I do miss those days when summer school was "free" and wasn't only for remedial classes though.

I do miss those days I stayed after school to work on a school play or on the school literary magazine.

I do miss those days when we have GATE classes in the morning...and they were actually educational and fun.

I wish California had more money for schools.

Gosh...I think I too am having a very big wish list, huh? =)

Keep writing, bons. I love your posts.

bun2bon said...

Can after school activities become "before school activities?" especially if it's such a late start?

You're right about the parents working times. I guess it would be worthwhile to do a survey of what times parents go to work on a typical day and then adjust the school schedule from there.

Because, apparently, the American school day times were set to account for farmers. Students went to school early in the day so they can help out at home in the afternoons.

bun2bon said...

Also, out of all the developed nations in the world, the US requires the fewest (or is one of the countries that requires the fewest) in-school hours. Nearly all of Europe, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, etc have at least 1.5 times as many school hours.

These countries also have tracking systems that place a child in a course of study which will benefit their chosen future profession. Say, if a kid wants to work in music, then he mainly only takes music courses from high school onward. This is also another solution to the extra-curricular activities thing.

Yeah, the US does has more freedom of choice and flexibility to study whatever you want. Although vocational tracks are good too, especially for students who are really in tune with themselves and know what they want.

Perhaps a hybrid of the two systems?

Janet said...

I think a hybrid would be nice. Steve and I have been talking about it for years, I think. There's always this big push to get kids into college, especially a good university. Most of the time, there's no real emphasis about what you're supposed to do once you get there..other than just be successful. Maybe most parents just equate "university" with success... I mean, I think you see this kind of educational propaganda on TV and on bulletin boards. "Education for the future - college education - is a right". I guess it ought to be a "right" and not just a a sense that we should deny people entrance to a university based on race, color, religion, etc. However, I don't think that we should use those phrases so glibly...people don't realize that there are many paths to success.

I think even most of the famous or notorious people that make a lot of money now didn't go to university. I grant you, there's also not as many of them.

I'm not sure if I completely like the European track...the idea that you "figure out" the kid's good attributes at and early age and then train him up in that profession. What if he/she develops slower/later? What if he really would have become a very good author of some very good books - but his teachers didn't think so when he was a kid...but saw him playing with legos...and thus put him on the engineering track? For life? ('s not funny, I guess...but brain is thinking "poor kid")

Americans really seem to hold freedom very dearly. The freedom to do anything. I think sometimes that freedom goes to our head, and then we do stupid things...all in the name of freedom. I mean, we even insist that we have the freedom to be stupid. Haha.

This comment is very quickly degenerating to an incoherent mess.

Anyways, let me know when you think of a way to balance this "freedom" and "social responsibility". I suppose it's just a war between selfishness and selflessness. Too bad humans are inherently more selfish than selfless.