Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's not an agrarian thing, okay?

If Education Secretary Arne Duncan has his way, kids would be spending a lot more time at school — and a three-month summer would be a thing of the past. He continued by explaining that the American school calendar is antiquated and must be modified so that American students can compete at the highest levels internationally.

“Most people realize that our current day is based on the agrarian economy, and we don’t have too many kids working out in the fields nowadays,” Duncan said. “Schools in countries that are beating us are going to school 25-30 days more than us. If you practice basketball five times a week, you’re gonna be better than the people who practice three times a week.”
Most people realize, huh? Then most people would be wrong. And so is our benighted Education Secretary.

First, the summer months are hot. When the yearly schedules were decided upon, it was easier to heat buildings in the winter than to cool them in the summer because, you know, duh, there wasn't any air conditioning. Factories closed. Schools closed. Everything closed. People with the wherewithal escaped the cities and went to the Adirondacks or the Catskills.  People who didn't have money went to Coney Island.

"Why does everyone traditionally get two weeks in August?" and "Why are they called the Dog Days?"  - because it's hot, humid and no one wants to be in a schoolroom, factory, office, etc.

Second, if the whole thing was done for farmers benefit, wouldn't it make more sense to have the time off when the real heavy work was done on a farm? Like planting and harvest? You don't see vacations in October, do you? About the only farm work done around here in the summer is haying and watching the corn grow.

Finally, schools in countries that are "beating us" are different:
  1. They give a damn about the PISA testing and their students give a damn. The American schools who participate ... not so much. When was the last time any of our elite schools took that test? Right, they don't.
  2. The other countries are remarkably monocultural. Surprising, but the American melting pot isn't the easiest group to get motivated and educated.
  3. The other countries have single nationwide set of common standards and fewer choices for books and curricula. Again, it matters because you can tailor you curriculum to your culture.
  4.  Those longer days in Japan or England do not bother with sports.  We have chosen this aspect of our kids lives to focus a large part of our schools' attention on.  Again, it matters.  Other countries, if they have sports at all, have morning calisthenics but not school sports.  Sports teams are done as a town, not as a school.  Those who excel are not part of those in school - they're taken out.  
If you did these things with the American schools who took PISA or TIMSS, we'd blow the world away.  How do I know? I've taught these kids, both the top-of-the-line American students (the kind who get 5s on every AP test they take and win academic scholarships from Middlebury) and the top-of-the-line foreign students (from Japan, Korea, China, South America, Middle East Europe -- lots of them from all around the world.)  Look where the world want s to go college.  The US.  Who does well in US colleges. Americans and those foreigners who pick up the Calvinistic, work hard - be nice attitudes.

Oh well, Arne.  Sucks to be stupid.

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