Friday, August 22, 2008

Year-Round, or something else entirely?

So I got bored today and decided to be "useful" to the teeming masses by making my presence known on Yahoo! Answers, a fine service dedicated to the highest reaches of human achievement, answering such questions as: What is the song that goes like this:? and I think i want to be jewish?.

The Answers Blog at the top of the page caught my eye today as I was skimming for more places to leave snarky, 5-paragraph answers. It asks: What are your thoughts on year-round education? A lot of the answers came in the form of anecdotes from teens on both sides of the fence, but a few things kept coming up and I wanted to drop a few thoughts of my own.

1. Kids "need" or "deserve" a summer break, it's "tradition", and it's time well spent on things school can't/won't cover. This one was obviously refuted several times over and it was mentioned that summer used to be farming time, and obviously isn't any more. I do appreciate that some kids can spend all summer in pursuit of knowledge and useful skills, and I know that in our world, a high school summer job is an integral part of growing up, not to mention a potential savings fund for that highly expensive college education. However, most kids I know sit on their bottoms all day long in front of a TV or computer monitor, so making good use of the summer is obviously something that either needs more parental involvement *coughhack* or we ought to be letting "those who know better" do something more useful with our kids, like schooling them! And summer jobs are a bit tougher but I think a year-long after-school internship might teach students more about money management and work ethic than a summer job that they know they'll be able to leave in September. Plus, wouldn't school-company relations be improved by that kind of thing? You send your kids in for grunt work as interns or volunteers, which gains them that precious socialization and leadership training, and since they're there on a steady basis and they're learning more about the company in all seasons, they might be offered a job or a bit of tuition help if they come back... but I guess that makes too much sense.

2. Year-long schools don't get as much vacation time, or get more. According to most of the responses, while there are varied templates for year long schooling, the number of days spent in school is, at least in the US, the same number as that spent in a 9 month cycle. The key is taking shorter breaks more often, which has apparently been shown to increase both student and teacher productivity and would definitely have improved my morale in high school. Getting up on those dark winter mornings when you knew the next break wouldn't be till Easter... well, let's just say I "accidentally" missed the bus a lot. Frequent breaks at off-times also mean that a family can go on a week-long vacation to, say, the Florida Keys and not have to pay as much or deal with crowding.

And crowding is one of the big reasons cited for having several tracks running in a year-long school with staggered breaks for each one, so that the effective attending population of the school can be cut by a quarter or more depending on who's got break at any given time. It keeps class sizes smaller, which I always think of as a good thing, and thins out the stress on school facilities and staff in overcrowded areas.

3. Kids in year-round school won't have the time to attend summer camps, visit relatives, hang out with friends, and experience the "real world, and teachers need their breaks too!" Sorry to say this, kiddos, but the "real world" is pretty well formed by month after month of all work and no play, unless you happen to get lucky with paid leave and sabbaticals, or you're unlucky enough to be unemployed. I think a year-round school could easily give kids a slightly longer summer break to accommodate summer camps and similar educational activities, while still maintaining a fairly even schedule. If you want to visit relatives for more than a week you're probably overstaying your welcome, and I wouldn't count that as a valid excuse anyway - visits happen regardless of schedules, if you really want them to. Hanging out with friends is what school -is-, these days, so no points there. This argument is entirely based on the assumption that those 3 months are going to be spent in a productive fashion anyway, which is entirely dependent upon personal attitudes and SES of the family (can they afford space camp, or do they buy Johnny a $20 video game instead?).

And teachers? I've been told this so many times I'll never forget it: A REAL, GOOD teacher doesn't get summer break. Of course this could possibly be because teaching doesn't pay enough to support yourself without a second job. (*ba-dum-ching!*) It could also be that teachers are *gasp* improving skills via summer classes and training! I was told it was because prep work for the next year, including reflecting on what you learned from the last class, should take all summer. I'm sure veteran teachers have it easier but knowing how much I put into a student teaching assignment and how little work it actually was in comparison to running my own classroom, I can see how teachers wouldn't get a break. So why do people insist that teachers will and should get one, aside from knowing what little horrors their precious children are? It's perpetuating a stereotype of a lazy, incompetent teacher, and I don't think the teaching profession needs any more bad press.

4. Kids are losing knowledge over summer breaks. Yeah, they are. End of story. Even I who read all summer long had trouble going back to school in the fall and readjusting to the schedule. Summer for me always provided a canvas for establishing bad habits as well as for exploring my interests. I ended up having a lot of fun at camp, for example, but I also ended up doing a lot of "nothing" and developing bad habits (like staying at the computer all day) to deal with boredom.

I think boredom, loneliness, loss of learning and establishment of bad habits happens to most kids over the summer, and I think since everyone is always going on about how children need structure and stability in their lives, the natural extension is toward longer schooling with more regular breaks. I would hate for summer break to be taken out completely, since it does offer benefits like summer jobs and a chance to travel, but it would be nice to extend the school year a little farther. Three months is too much, and even the kids on the Yahoo! Answers blog agreed on that. I can't speak for costs of keeping the school open vs closing it, but I imagine that "issue" could be smoothed out if people were willing to work on it. I think a lot of areas have dismissed longer school sessions out-of-hand because they don't understand or don't like the changes that it would bring... but I am pushing for any change that might help our schools. Considering the state it's in, even tiny steps toward improving our educational system are welcome to me.

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