Sunday, June 14, 2009
When you think of it this way, it is amazing that American kids amount to anything at all. Of course, a flexible social and economic system that manufactures opportunities in huge quantities can make up for a lot of lost ground.
I'd stay in school for an extra 20 days to make it an even 200 days of school. I'd also be WAY happier if the school day started at 9 and ended at 4 or 5. 'Course, where would there be time for sports? Perhaps the French schedule (Normal except for half days on Wednesdays and the morning on Saturday) is better?
But I don't know what this is about only an hour of homework a day. Granted, I've had a different school experience than many people, but I'd often have three or four hours of homework every day, even if I was focused hard. That got less and less as my work became more reading-assignment and lecture-oriented than worksheet-oriented, and so had less "real work" in later years.
Still, as a grade and middle schooler I had a lot of homework. Probably a math worksheet, studying spelling, vocabulary, and a reading assignment, a science lab report or note-taking, and a french assignment, and that was one night's homework. Spelling, vocabulary and reading are three different activities that take up to a minimum of 30 minutes each. Math worksheet takes about 30 minutes to do, because there's extremely long division to do. French is hard for a 3rd grader, matter of fact, I had no idea what was going on in that class until about a week or two in, so let's assume another half hour. Science labs take time because there's a lot of calculating, logic, etc. and you have to learn the concept behind it. 45 minutes. That's 3 hours and 15 minutes. Assuming I start homework right after school lets out at 3:15, I won't be done until dinner time, 6:30.
As a senior in high school, I had to read about 30-50 pages of novel, 2 or 3 pages of intense Middle Eastern History textbook, briefly look over the concept in my math textbook, and do a music worksheet or something in the music textbook, and that's assuming I was industrious enough to do all of that. Reading is easy, though, so 30-50 pages takes an hour, tops. Reading math, physics, and history takes another 30 minutes or so, and since coloring dots and trying to sight read is harder than it looks, we'll say 30 minutes for music. That's 2 hours of homework, easily fit into the 7:30 to 9:30 time slot.
I was amazed (and jealous) reading about the rigorous education Roebling took at RPI in the 19th century. He easily crammed double what I learned in a decent engineering school.
I'd be thrilled if our kids got more out of school. But this obsession with hours, homework, and extracurricular activities is simply displaced anxiety. The Economist article plays on our fears and ramps it up a notch.
Childhood (younger than TT) is something different than little adulthood. Kids need time to play in the woods, make friends, be bored, take an after-school job, develop their own interests - and just be kids.
Why on earth are we loading second graders with homework, except to compensate for an inferior, rulebound school system? By all means, push kids harder while they're in school, but don't hand over more of their life to the bureaucracy.
My kids schooling has been pretty rigorous, so stories like this one apply to some other America than mine. With two kids in college, competing against international students, I think they've been well prepared.
I call BS on this article.
For one thing, painting all US schools with the same brush is utterly wrong. Education practices and details can vary greatly from state to state and even district to district within states. I never ever EVER went to school for only 6.5 hours a day. To try to pass that off as an average sets off my bullshit alarm. 8 to 3:30 was more typical, giving a bare minimum of 7.5 x 5 = 38.5 hours per week. Counting athletics practices and clubs and other extra-curricular activities could raise that to 48.5. Through much of High School, I and my peers were at school longer than our parents were at work. I guess that means our parents were lazy?
There are some other issues. Like Sweden. The article skipped over the fact that Sweden only has mandatory schooling from ages 7-16, for example. Also, the normal Swedish school day is actually *less* than my typical school day was... 8:15 to 3:30. Their academic terms are similar in length (mid-September to late December; mid-January to June; with 3 one week vacations).
Some of the comments at the source page itself do a pretty good job of eviscerating it as well.
The Economist used to be a good publication.
My grandson is getting out of school in a week and his parents could not be happier. The kids pick on him because he can't speak Spanish yet and even the teachers single him out because he stands out in a crowd. The class is taught at the rate of the slowest learner so he got bored with the material months ago. The district gets $13,000 a year for every child and no one checks to see if they are illegal, so the classrooms are full to overflowing and the playgrounds are covered with portables. Just a few generations ago this area was know for it's excellent schools. Not all change is good.
One more semester like this and my daughter is going to start homeschooling.
One problem with loading kids with homework is that it reduces the area of personal initiative. In elementary school, I read voraciously outside of school.School was simply a place to check in and learn math and to write. The great majority of "book learning" I acquired in elementary school I got from reading outside school.
Ultimately, when one gets to university, one needs to OWN what one studies. This is what I want to do, this is what I want to be. To the degree that students become homework doing automatons, they are prevented from exploration on their own that helps them determine that. My choice of major came not from schooling, but from pursuing an outside interest.
Unfortunately, there are many kids who would never pick up a book - neither outside nor inside a school- unless they were forced/encouraged to. Both my parents had graduate degrees, and there were many books in the house (Sorry CC, not all of us from the countryside are yahoos). Simply by example, they showed that learning was valued. Many children do not have such role models. No easy solutions.
Like several other commenters, I have to wonder whether a word of paragraph 2 is true other than "six-and-a-half hours", which, incidentally, is 32.5 hours/wk, not 32. And Swedish kids spend 60 hours a week in school? To quote Wayne Campbell, "and later on, wild monkeys will fly out of my butt".
This one was pretty funny:
"Powerful interest groups, most notably the teachers’ unions, but also the summer-camp industry, have a vested interest in the status quo"
Many politicians rail against the power of the teachers' unions and their (negative) influence on the quality of our schools, but that power pales next to that of the summer camp industry, whose ability to silence criticism rivals that of any totalitarian regime; I have never, once heard a politician call them to account for their pernicious effect on our schools (and live to tell about it).
In response to the previous comment, here is an anecdote. I had a professor who had worked in some capacity for the State of Arkansas during the time that Clinton was governor.
Hillary was involved with some committee involved in looking into changing the length of the school year. Some such organization with a name like the Arkansas Hospitality Association, a lobbying front for hotels etc. in Arkansas,set up a fancy spread of food at a function to present THEIR point of view on the proper length of the school year.
They gave a short presentation. Hillary informed them that given certain parameters, there was no likelihood of the AHA's goals relating to the school year being adapted. The AHA promptly picked up all the food they had set up and left.