A few days ago, President Obama talked about increasing the length of the school day and school year. Before I even had a chance to fashion a response in my head, I received this piece from K, who has been teaching science at a small independent college for over a decade and has written for this blog before here. She spends her leisure time learning from her three young boys. You can read more of her random thoughts at her blog, raisingthewreckingcrew
A College Teacher’s Response to President Obama’s Idea of Lengthening the School Day
by K, A College Teacher
President Obama advocates increasing the length of the school day and the length of the school year. More School: Obama Would Curtail Summer Vacation.
There are many problems with this.
President Obama seems to be arguing: if something isn’t working, what we really need is more of it. It just plain doesn’t make sense. While some countries provide more learning in more time, there are other nations that make better use of less time and have better student outcomes.
This also assumes that the best learning occur in school? I would argue that children need more common-sense approaches like turning off the computer, television, gameboy, and Wii to be thrown outside. And, we don’t need the government to do this for us… we just have to pull the plug. Explorative play seems the best solution to teaching students to think independently. Children need more opportunities to play free-style with real family time and real outdoor play – free-range style. They also need more emphasis on programs like Tinkering School, scouting, Odyssey of the Mind, Outward Bound, and any number of other creative initiatives that encourage outdoor adventure, problem-solving, and critical thinking. For their physical well being and their mental health, students need fewer worksheets, less time sitting at a desk, and more time actively solving problems and exploring.
What are the costs of all of this extra time? Do taxpayers want to pay more for a program that isn’t achieving to its potential? Who shall pay for all of this extra time? Is this a recipe for faster teacher burnout? Does this lost flexibility make the field of teaching less attractive? When will teachers find the time for the many learning opportunities (continuing education hours) that we expect them to achieve? How shall families carve out family time with their children with less and less flexibility? If we value the family, shouldn’t we protect family time?
Will more time in school have the intended effect? The evidence on this is not clear. I would argue that teachers don’t need more face time with students… they need to be encouraged (and allowed) to have more creative and innovative learning in the time they have. Less emphasis on rote memorization, less emphasis on standardized tests, and a greater ability to reward the truly innovative and encouraging teachers can improve learning far more than “face time”.
Let’s not let “don’t you care about education?” turn into a rallying cry for more school. I care about learning: I have three young sons in school and I am an educator. It is clear to me that learning does not only happen at school. Some of the most salient learning experiences come through exploration and adventure. Rather than making more school, we should advocate making more learning opportunities. And, we should make this idea known to schools, government agencies, and our political representatives.