In America, we are either at work or play or sleep. We never take the time to rest. Time magazine recently published an article that showed that, while American children spend the most amount of time in class compared to the rest of the world’s children, America’s overall classroom performance scores continue to drop.
The poor scoring was attributed to the long summer vacation. Although American adults remember their break fondly, it causes our children to fall behind as they fail to retain much information over the three-month period.
What this article failed to emphasize was that children in more academically “successful” countries spend less time in class. They have more frequent vacations and longer recesses during the school day. They also spend more time in school on things that are not considered part of a necessary curriculum. For instance, Japanese school children spend the first hour of school every week on an all-school assembly, greeting their teachers and discussing their culture. The last half hour of a grade-school day is spent doing origami.
So, aside from the obvious fact that American children are not terribly adept at paper-folding, what is it that could hold us back from enacting the same measures in our own schools? Well, for one there is the fact that it would increase taxes. For another, it’s hard enough to make delinquent children come to school when the weather is horrid, let alone when it is nice outside. But one of the major factors is that convincing the parents would be hard. Most parents in our society are now working, and so are unavailable from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the school year, they have to find after school programs and daycare for every hour that they are working while their children are not in school, or transportation for their children to be taken home. During the summer, however, many parents have been able to leave children with older siblings, grandparents, stay-at-home friends and a variety of less expensive child-care options.
If the school day were to be shortened, and the school year lengthened it would mean rethinking some of the established norms. Increased absences would have to be tolerated, truancy would have to be dealt with more severely and the question of transportation and child costs would have to be reconfigured.
Overall, parents would have to deal with the reality that, for most of the workday, they couldn’t relay on their children being safely tucked away, managed by the system until someone came to collect them.
I’m not saying that this is the best option. However, I will say that the school system currently in place is not working. We talk about whether to give more money to education, and although I am not unsympathetic to the overall plight (my parents are teachers), I have to question the validity of throwing money at a faulty system. It seems that it would be much better to fix the parts of the system that are inoperative, or disband them altogether, rather than to continually give them money for the principle of it.