Besides my beloved Newsweek for keeping up on the latest happenings in the world I generally keep an eye on the headlines on Yahoo‘s front-page. Today I saw an article detailing how Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are considering implementing longer school days/years for K-12 education. I find this to be disturbing on several levels.
First, as someone who isn’t all that far removed from my primary education days (okay, nine years) I can still remember much of my educational experience – and while I learned a lot a large percentage of what I learned was and will never be actually utilized in my lifespan. I think any argument that we need more time to teach children what they need to know to operate successfully in this life is a load of garbage. Rather, we might consider focusing more on what our children will actually utilize while at the same time improving the quality of our teachers and peripheral programs…but I’ll talk more about solutions later.
Secondly, as a youth leader I find Duncan’s desire to see the school become the centerpiece of the community disturbing. The school already is a centerpiece of the community – consuming students days and nights not only with classes but with sports and artistic endeavors. All of these are grand in and of themselves but oftentimes result in over-scheduled, over-worked, and un-available children and teenagers. Family, local, and social relationships all suffer under the already extensive demands of the school system – which by the way, also oftentimes require hours of (unnecessary?) homework each day.
Finally, I find it disturbing that there is so much conviction that schooling will provide the skills or is the best way to provide the skills our children/teens need. Individuals find their callings in life through experimenting with various endeavors outside of a rigorous course of study and oftentimes receive the mentor based training in a vocation they require via hands-on interactions (automotive repair, computer programming, and store management all come to mind as examples).
It does very little good to criticize others ideas without offering your own – so here are my alternatives:
1. Improve the quality of our teachers. I know a lot of our teachers are great – but I’m sure almost everyone can think of at least one teacher they had classes with who just shouldn’t have taught. These teachers ramble about everything but the topic – or are so cranky and mean that they scare kids away from asking for the help they need.
2. Increase the quality of peripheral services. Offer more optional services. e.g. Bulk up the school library, the school’s computing systems, the school’s tutoring services. Work in conjunction with local volunteer agencies and organizations to spread tutoring across communities.
3. Encourage mentoring relationships between students and adults in vocations. Offer incentives to adults to take students under their wing and mentor them in a vocation.
4. Reduce the amount of homework and focus instead on fewer but more intensive projects. Cut the busy work.
5. Increase the utilization (and perhaps supply free) better educational software that kids/teens can use at home to supplement learning.
Okay. I’m outside the educational cycle. Maybe my ideas are way off base – if they are correct me. I just can’t see children/teens spending more time in school – or that being particularly good for them. Sure, for some segments it may be a better option – but there are (or would seem to be) better ways to deal with those who are out on the streets or abandoned by parents then attempting to apply a very wide policy to correct a narrower problem.