565. More

I keep hearing talk on the news about some people’s interest in lengthening the school day and school year. It’s being treated as a way to improve education. I guess the implication is that what happens in school is valuable, and if more of it happened per day and per year, things would be even better. In one way, at least, maybe educators ought to feel complimented. We do try to make children’s time in school as valuable as possible, and we succeed a lot. Maybe some people think we’d succeed even more if children spent more time with us.
But I don’t think more is necessarily better. Children and teachers tend to be most alert at the beginning of the day. If you tour a typical school in the morning, you’re likely to be quite impressed by what you see happening. You’re apt to see energetic teachers relating to energetic children in ways that make you wonder how they can keep it going all day. Much of the time teachers and children spend in school is well-spent. As a volunteer, I don’t like missing mornings in school.
But I go home to have lunch, and then I take a nap. True, multiple sclerosis is a factor; I don’t have as much energy as I used to. But when teachers see me leave at lunchtime, they don’t look as if they’re feeling sorry for me. They look as if they would love to go home, have time to eat lunch (and digest it!), and maybe take a nap. Teaching may not seem, to those who don’t know, like hard work; it doesn’t seem as exhausting as driving spikes into railroad tracks. But it IS hard work – hard both physically and mentally.
And learning, no matter how joyful it is, is also work. For many children, the school day is long, and dismissal comes later than it ought to. I’m not just talking about what some people call “laziness;” some children use up their ability to make good use of time in school before the school day is over. And I don’t think forcing them to spend more time in school would get them to be able to last longer; I think it would highlight their difficulties more, not provide solutions. The mind is not a muscle, to be strengthened simply by use (I don’t think muscles necessarily get strengthened that way, either, but I’m sure minds require more than exercise).
There are probably parents whose reasons for wanting children to spend more time in school don’t really have much to do with improving education. Time away from children and budgetary considerations are real issues, even among parents who dearly love their children. And since school is already funded by the general public, on the surface, it may seem less complicated to increase the school day and year than to fund day care centers and afterschool centers. I do think parents’ needs ought to be a public issue.
But I don’t think having children spend more time in school makes sense, either as a way to improve education or as a way to meet parents’ needs for time or money.

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