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Summer days drifting away August 6, 2018

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, teaching, work, younger son.
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Tonight, I was bringing my younger son to the first meeting of his high school career.  I made the comment:

They’re starting everything off with a meeting.  That’s good practice for adulthood.

I was only half kidding.  As I said it, I realized how true it is.  This week, I have a couple days of meetings.  Next week, I will be in meetings for about three days.  The week after that, you guessed it, more meetings.

And then school starts.  It hit me that summer is finished for me.

I am much more disappointed about this than I expected to be, I think primarily because I’m losing some of my last couple weeks to meetings.  I was finally starting to feel recovered from last spring (aka the semester from hell).

That being said, it was in some ways both a summer both full of accomplishments and satisfyingly lacking in productivity.  I managed to spend a lot of time with my kid, which I owed him because I was gone so much last spring.  I started to write another paper.  I developed a lot of plans for how to improve this coming semester, although just having less courses to teach will automatically help.  I took care of a ton of small administrative tasks that need doing but are just plain boring and time-consuming.

I also got a lot more sleep (that is, more than 5 hours a night), spent more time outside, traveled, talked with friends and family, watched birds, smelled flowers, made friends, took a quilting class, did some crafts, read some books, and made a mental effort to step away from work.

I almost feel ready to start back up again…but I still don’t feel ready to sit in meetings.

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Nothing to do August 1, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, societal commentary, teaching.
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As I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for the new checker to figure out what she was doing, I saw that Time magazine had a cover article titled The Case Against Summer Vacation. (The complete article isn’t available online unless you have a subscription to Time.)

Despite the way the title came across and some of the pictures featured kids sitting in a traditional classroom, the article itself is more balanced than I thought. It doesn’t seem to favor leaving kids in school longer but employing more summer learning programs that try to teach skills but don’t require seat work.

The article probably had the opposite effect, however, in that I was wondering why, if these programs are so effective, aren’t they utilizing the same methods during the school year?

Particularly damning, in my opinion, was a chart of data compiled by Karl Alexander at Johns Hopkins. I’ll reproduce the data here. The chart gives several countries, the number of days children spend in school, the number of total instructional hours, and average math scores for fifteen year olds in each country.


CountryDaysHoursScores
South Korea204545547
Denmark200648513
Japan200600523
Mexico2001047406
Brazil200800370
Australia197815520
New Zealand194968522
Germany190758504
Norway190654490
US1801080474
Luxembourg176642490
Spain176713480
Russia169845476
Italy167601462

Looking at this data, it does seem like there is a pretty good correlation between number of days spent in school and math scores (with Mexico and Brazil being notable exceptions). On the other hand, if you look at the relationship between total instructional hours and math scores, there is absolutely no relationship.

If anything, this says to me that we’re not getting a good ROI. The US has the highest number of instructional hours with middling math scores. We’re taking all this time from children and then telling they need more instruction to compete internationally? Again, this indicates a lack of effective teaching and instruction.

One thing that really bothered me was this excerpt:

Karen West, director of Corbin’s Redhound Enrichment program, says, “Eighty-eight percent of our children live in latchkey families, and we have no Boys & Girls Clubs. Really, there was almost nothing for them to do.”

This bothers me for the same reason that pictures of kids sitting in classroom with the teacher in front bother me: learning and education do not equal sitting in a classroom. There seems to be this notion that if we aren’t programming and scripting children’s every moment, they are doing “nothing” and not learning.

As a child, I would have been classified as “at risk” because I lived in a poor family, the kinds of kids that this article focuses on. However, summer was never a time where I had “nothing to do.” If I was bored, my parents always said, “You know where the library is.” I was taking care of my younger sister when I was 8 and she was 6. (Yes, I’m quite aware that’s illegal now and would certainly not expect something similar from my children.) I learned how to cook and clean. I had chores to do at home. I read books. I learned to enjoy listening to music. I drew pictures. I dug holes in the yard. I made up and wrote stories. My dad was a carpenter, so of course I became interested in woodworking. When I was a bit older, I volunteered to be a counselor in training at various day camps or would check out the local museums. And I wandered over to the library a couple times a week to find new books. Yeah, those antiquated devices that have ink and paper.

To be perfectly honest, I think the real problem is how much time is spent in school already. Kids come to understand that ‘learning’ means sitting at a desk. They come to despise books so that a trip to the library is often seen as punishment (especially when some schools won’t let them check out anything outside of their grade level). They’re so programmed that they never have time outside of school or sports or whatever to enjoy other hobbies or interests or even to learn how to deal with boredom.

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