Sunday, March 1, 2009

Quality over Quantity

As I sit here on a snowy Sunday contemplating whether to shorten the school year one more day by canceling school tomorrow, my thoughts go to this article about our new Education Secretary's idea to extend the school year through the  summer. A dad from school sent me the link, and rightly pointed out that more does NOT equal better. What makes Secretary Duncan think that simply having kids spend more days in a broken system will help? Unfortunately, the "more is better" mantra seems to have taken over our country. So how does this apply to education, and specifically to summer? Well for children of families with economic means, summer is the time for true enrichment. My own children have traveled across country, gone to summer camp, been to foreign countries, sold lemonade on the corner, climbed trees, built forts, explored streams, and a thousand other things that are just as valuable, if not more valuable, to their lives than school. The types of things my children do outside of school cannot easily be replicated in a school setting. But what about children without economic means? For the most part, these are the children we should be concerned about, as they score consistently lower on academic assessments than their peers who are not in poverty.  This is where Arne Duncan could really make a difference. Rather than taking the joys of summer away from our kids, why not extend them to less privileged kids? I'm guessing that vouchers for summer camp would be a whole lot cheaper than keeping schools open. Not only that, the skills kids learn at camp would be more valuable than a few extra hours of academic instruction. Whether I cancel school tomorrow or not, my students will have a worthwhile day. They will go sledding or build fires or make cookies or read books or all of the above.  At my school, kids are guaranteed two weeks off at the end of December and a full week at Spring Break, and I will never extend the school year into summer. This is not because I want more days off, but because even though I am a teacher, and even though I love school, and think my school is a valuable place to be, I honor the time my students spend outside of school. It renews and rejuvenates them. It readies them for the "real world" outside. It is a sacred part of an American childhood. 

1 comment:

JLH said...

Hear, hear! And thank you for mnaking the distinction between middle class children whose families have the means for enjoyable and enriching summers, and those who don't -- and what a brilliant suggestion! Fresh Air Fund for all! I'm signing up to help!