Sunday, December 25, 2011

Year-Round School

NOTE: I wrote this for publication on Thanksgiving day and just realized I never posted it here. I guess I ate too much that day and just forgot about it.

HARBESON: Talking around the year-round subject

SELLERSBURG — Will you have the pleasure of interacting with school-age kids on Thanksgiving Day? If so, I have a suggestion for you — ask them how they feel about year-round school.

Be careful though. If they don’t know anything about year-round school, their first thought will be that you’re suggesting they attend school for more days of the year than they do now. The very idea would likely freak them out and you could end up with cranberries up your nose for even suggesting such a thing.

So make sure you explain that, at least right now, year-round school means a “balanced schedule.” The mandatory sentence they have to serve out for the crime of being a kid would still be 180 days, but the days off would be spread out somewhat more evenly throughout the year.

If you can get them to understand this before your nostrils fill up, great. Now you should be able to find out whether they would prefer to have most of their time off grouped together during the summer, or whether they would prefer taking time off throughout the year and have a shorter summer break.

If you ask more than one kid, chances are good that the answers will vary. Some will prefer to get the school year over with and enjoy the longer break and others would rather take more frequent breaks in smaller chunks of time.

Some kids will realize that the question is really a request to make a choice that isn’t really much of a choice at all. Fundamentally, the question is just a scheduling detail to these prisoners — I mean kids. Either way, they still have to “do the time.”

I bring this issue up not because I want everyone’s Thanksgiving Day celebration to be punctuated by having little red berries falling out of their noses, although the thought does kind of make me smile.

No, I bring it up because local government school districts are discussing the idea of moving to year-round schedules, mostly because they say it could lead to improved test scores.

Whether or not that’s true, and the data is mixed, school schedules are like everything else related to education — a singular choice mandated for all will never fit the needs and desires of each individual child.

There are possible advantages with year-round school though. This schedule could give kids more experience with real-life math because more frequent breaks provide many more opportunities to calculate and count down the days to the next break.

Year-round school would also help the problem of kids not retaining important lessons while enjoying a longer summer break. For example, year-round school might help kids retain the lesson that what they do outside of school during free unstructured time, while engaged in self-initiated and self-directed play, is not as important as what happens in school where information is injected inside their brains for the purpose of passing a government test.

There would also be more chances to remediate kids, particularly the ones who struggle because they would rather learn in their own way, at their own pace, sparked by their natural born curiosity. Yes, I imagine year-round school could be very useful in helping to retrain those troubled kids.

On the other hand, maybe neither schedule is the answer. Perhaps society should dump the compulsion and work on creating wonderful places that would draw kids in by choice. Places where kids are free to play, investigate, experiment and explore on their own terms. Places that immerse kids in a friendly, respectful environment — one that supports year-round learning rather than year-round schooling. Yes, there is a difference.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson hopes she doesn’t end up with cranberries up her nose on this fine Thanksgiving Day.

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