Why does America hate that we have two months to ourselves?
It was bound to happen. When the rest of working America ogles in disgust at America’s educators enjoying their two months of freedom, someone had to revive the argument for a longer school year.
What’s amazing is that it was President Obama who was leading the charge.
A few months ago, Obama echoed what Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the rest of the NCLB crowd have been crowing for decades. The summer vacation, they bemoan, is an antiquated relic of an agrarian past with no place in modern America. Students benefit from longer school days and longer school years, allowing them more time to learn and grow. Furthermore, countries like Japan, South Korea and India have succeeded because their students are “better educated”, meaning they have longer school days and years.
One thing is certain: Americans spend less time in school than many of our counterparts. Whereas the average school year in the United States in 180 days, it is even longer in France (185), the United Kingdom (200) and in the said Japan and South Korea (a whopping 245 days—over two months longer!).
It also sure seems that those kids are smarter. Looking at a well-behaved classroom of Asian children in uniforms has at least the semblance of learning. It also triggers weird flashbacks in my WWII vet neighbor who grabs his rusty M1 rifle as if at Guadalcanal. Most kids in Europe speak at least some rudimentary English, along with a working knowledge of world geography. Ask a suburban kid for any Spanish beyond “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” and you get blank stares.
Yet like the departed Charlton Heston clutching his rifle to the grave, I will not give up summer vacation without a fight.
1. Opening longer costs money – In a unionized faculty like in New York City, you know there will be monetary compromises for the longer time. Salaries aren’t the only worries. With a longer year comes higher bills for facilities, classroom materials, breakfast/lunch programs, aides, secretarial staff, etc. Try raising money for that shortfall. It’ll be the only time a bake sale will close early for lack of interest.
2. Quantity does NOT equal Quality – That guy teaching in Japan could be a maniac, for all I know. Students can sit in a classroom all day and all night, if you want. If they are taught by the village idiot or the local psychopath, it does them just as good as 6 hours a day with the same bozos. The length of the day or year matters little if the instruction is of poor quality. What you get is the pre-2008 U.S. auto industry, with all the wonderful side effects that brought.
3. Not Everyone Needs Extra Time – The genius who does his homework Friday night and burns his social life in the library does not need to sit in school all day. Neither does the lazy smartass who refuses to work and could use more at-home instruction with a woodshed and a 2 by 4. Current educational statutes allow for school-based options that mandate extra time for targeted students, i.e. those that can benefit from more time. The genius will get bored and construct a laser to torture the class gerbil. Don’t ask what the smartass will do.
4. Kids, like Adults, experience Burnout – A person’s ability understand and absorb information diminishes with time. I see this all too often: any class I see near the end of the school day requires all my patience and energy, because they are in no condition to learn. Now extend the day by one, two, even three hours. You might—just might—get a “second wind” and actually get through some meaningful material. Yet more often than not, you’ll have a lot of drool all over your desks, as the catatonic mass of your class marks time before dismissal. What a prospect.
5. We Still Can Beat the Others – For this, I go to an expert. CNN correspondent Fareed Zakaria is one of a dying breed of conservatives with a good head on their shoulders. In his columns and books, Zakaria has noticed the upward trend of Asian and European students in scores and achievement. Yet ask them to actually come up with something NEW, and they ask for instruction on a process. Here’s where we still beat the world. Zakaria correctly points out that the nexus of innovation and new ideas is still the United States, by a country mile. Those kids may be in school more, but they’re in school memorizing and reciting. While these skills are important, American education adds the fundamental element of teaching how to think, to argue, to formulate and innovate. No addition of time can recreate that kind of education.
So enough already. Leave the summer vacation alone. If you really want to take it away, however, read tomorrow’s post.