Let's dismiss for a moment all the academic things schools do. I suggest this since I admit readily that kids learn as much (perhaps more) about life outside of my classroom as in it. I strongly believe that the rich nature of the experiences that kids encounter in school best enables them to succeed and thrive.
But, that is not why schools exist. Schools were created to teach our young people what society determines they need to know. For better or worse, this is how students and teachers are measured. If a kid does not "get" what they need, the school shares an increasing amount of the responsibility.
In recent years the pressure has grown to maximize what kids learn. Few would argue with the idea that we should try to teach all kids more. What sometimes goes unnoticed is the price paid for such efforts and uniformity and even volume. NCLB was clearly motivated by efforts to better serve populations that were traditionally underserved in public schools. But it turned into a monster that must be fed.
It’s not as much about what is taught as it is about what is measured. We grew so eager to measure what kids learn that we’ve made the measurement the point. With so much additional focus on testing, something has to go to make room. Trying to keep good, fun, quality learning becomes a greater challenge by the day.
So, something’s gotta give. There is just not enough time. We could go to school every day all year. The problem would still exist.
Time has come today
Young hearts can go their way
Can't put it off another day
I don't care what others say
They say we don't listen anyway
Time has come today
Those are prophetic words indeed. I see the relationship of these words to education as we continue to fit more and more into a full glass. The constant is not the length of the school day or calendar, it is the fact kids are people. More accurately they are young people. They need time for themselves. They need to decompress. They need downtime.
Each year it seems we ratchet up the pressure on them to do more to the point where the phrase joyless childhood might even apply to some. Though I think of Chinese schools first with this description, I hear more and more from anguished parents and students who are reaching the breaking point.
Most conversations about time come back to the topic of how much time students spend on homework. I am aware that homework now consumes a significant portion of my students’ lives. They have trouble finding the proper balance. For too many it amounts to spending too much or none. I always laugh at how we now control their access to sugar, fried foods, websites and the like but don't seem to recognize or seek to help them choose an appropriate course workload.
So how much is too much? With 9th graders it is among the most commonly asked question.
Our division moved from a schedule of seven periods to eight periods two years ago. Is this too much? Who knows, but is certainly has become for a number of students. Maintaining high standards and continuously increasing achievement with a greater volume of coursework conflicts with some basic notions: We want kids to enjoy school so that they choose to participate, we want kids to develop a love of learning, we want kids to be kids and have the freedom to explore a diversity of opportunities outside of the school environment.
A recent article from the Atlantic puts a focus on how much this emphasis on quantity and volume of instruction might impact our children.
"Since about 1955 ... children's free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children's activities," says the author Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology (emeritus) at Boston College.
Even in the form of additional opportunities and offerings, educational requirements are adding to the ever-increasing adult control of children’s activities.
The article concludes by saying:
When parents realize the major role that free play can take in the development of emotionally healthy children and adults, they may wish to reassess the priorities ruling their children's lives.
Perhaps it is not only parents who need to reassess priorities.