Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Extending School Days...Not a Good Idea.

In my in box this morning I received an article touting an extended school day. It notes the extended school days are being championed by both the left and the right. Wohoo! Finally something we can agree on, except I don't agree at all. We have President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and even Mr. Bill Gates himself pushing this "wonderful" idea of longer school hours. In a recent interview, Mr. Gates not only sang the praises of longer school days, but also mentioned how wonderful it would be for kids to attend school on Saturday! This from a college drop out! That, however is a whole different ball of wax I won't address here. While I understand the interest in educating children and I may even understand the motivation to want to take underprivileged kids out of an "undesirable" home environment so that they can learn, it just won't work. First the very idea of linking "underprivileged" with "undesirable" is unconscionable. We label and label until we can label no more, but even more than label we inhibit human growth by placing non existent barriers in front of children and their parents. Poverty or lack of privilege does not need to equal a poor education. Benjamin Franklin was not a man of means. Abraham Lincoln was born poor. Helen Keller was blind and deaf. They were certainly underprivileged! Yet, I cannot imagine their lives becoming more or richer by being institutionalized for longer days. Abraham Lincoln didn't even have much of a formal education, yet he managed to become a lawyer and one of the greatest Presidents of our Nation. Thank goodness he wasn't torn from his mother's bosom and placed in a school with long days of academics, no art to speak of and hardly an hour's worth of recess. Surely this is not the way to make our children thrive. No, longer school days are not the answer.

The answer definitely lies in education, but not as it is thought of traditionally. To have well-educated children, we must have well-educated parents. By well-educated, I mean parents that take an interest in learning and improving themselves. Parent who are consciously making decisions that are appropriate for them and their family. Well-educated people choose based on the knowledge they have acquired, not based on the knowledge fed to them by government, media or well intentioned but misguided politicians. So a well-educated parent, no matter how poor, does not allow their child to be placed in programs that will not benefit the child. A well-educated parent will not allow their child to be given medication that causes severe side effect, unless they believe that their child will benefit from the medication, no matter how convenient it would be for the teacher or how profitable it would be for the pharmaceutical company.

This article fails to even regard parents! It also fails to regard that ever important issue of budgeting. We are furloughing teachers, closing schools, cutting programs, but hey let's make school days longer! Shall we have underpaid teachers work for free? Will Mr. Duncan, Mr. Gates and Mr. President work at these schools for an extra hour? That's only three schools, what about the rest of them?

Let's not consider other alternatives or consider why a longer school day is needed. Would cutting class sizes to something reasonable thereby enabling teacher to teach instead of instilling crowd control techniques, eliminate the need for longer school days? Would offering education classes for parents living in undesirable conditions (with the promise not of money or a free service, but rather the enticement of raising self-esteem and leading a decent life) help eliminate the need for longer school days?

A lot of money is being given to districts that come up with innovated ways to improve education. I haven't come across anything innovative yet. I just keep seeing more of the same. If our school systems are failing, and I believe they are, why would I want my child spending even more time there? That is the question we should all be asking.