In Which Detox Ends (Pt 2)

13 09 2009

The simple truth that is that as they grow older most people will happily compartmentalize, and indeed people are very good at it. However, on it’s moderately worse than average days, school takes it to such an extreme of cutting up segments of your day into different modes of thought that it really is difficult to handle.

On top of that, in high school work quantity per class climbs higher and higher, and this is on top of the enormous load of extracurricular that many have piled on for the college admissions game (I won’t even get started on what I think of that). The workload for many students is beyond excessive, and if anything it continues to grow, not shrink.

By the time summer vacation comes, kids are worn out. I don’t mean this metaphorically. It’s the literal truth. By the end of a school year, a lot of high school kids are truly, physically and mentally exhausted. If school lasted much longer, a lot of us simply wouldn’t make it through the year. As it is, more than a few people don’t quite make it through finals. There’s a reason I had a grand total of one half of one substantial post in June.

And of course in the often hilarious, always over the top world that is high school drama, a few thousand exhausted, worn out, teenagers makes for a cycle of fights wearing people out even more, so they get into more fights with friends, so they’re more worn out, etc. And in the middle of this, the SATs and finals. All around, not a very good thing.

The point being, summer vacation comes just in time. For various reasons, keeping school going much longer just would not work. If it were extended, either kids would simply stop being able to handle it, or they would manage at a very real detriment to their health. Again, it sounds silly, but I say this completely seriously. High work load high schools especially leave kids utterly worn out by the end of the school year. There are arguments against the long summer vacation, but I think that it requires a very fundamental shift in how American schools operate in several different ways before it could be changed without very serious repercussions for the schools (not to mention losing things that can only be done with the long summer vacation). Give me that massive shift in American education and I’ll consider the arguments again. Until then, summer needs to stay.

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In Which Detox Ends (Pt 1)

7 09 2009

Yes, summer has come to an end and with it the nearly 3 months a year in which children may detoxify from their educations. Let’s talk a little about that toxicity, and why the long break is important (I know that there are legitimate arguments for shorter, more frequent breaks for reasons such as how much progress is lost in many low achieving students, but for these posts t I’m dealing with average and above average kids).

Firstly, I guess I should at least a stab at showing that my premise (school wears kids down and is, in some ways, detrimental) is the case. All right, here goes.

Most American schools, or at least the public ones, are set up to foster uniformity. Yes, there is token “diversity,” encouraging diversity of race and background, gender and sexual preference. There’s even (supposedly) a push to creativity (hah. More on that later). But there isn’t a true encouragement toward diversity of thought. You are taught that you do math this way, and any other way is wrong, even if it works. You will write your essay such that it adheres perfectly to these thirty seven guidelines, and touches for exactly three sentences on 3 of these 5 topics, no fewer and no more. Your thoughts on those topics will fall within these parameters, and these boundaries. You will reach them by prewriting in exactly this manner. Have a science lab? Here are the instructions. Figure out things for yourself? That would waste valuable class time! We’re here to get you through the tests, not to teach you to think scientifically! Like music? Well then, you may do choral music, play chamber music, marching band, or jazz. What’s that, you like rock? Well, that’s just too bad.

And about that English paper, I hope you didn’t say anything that might offend anyone? After all, it’s much more important that you’re meek and inoffensive than that you’re cogent, or that you drive to the center of the issue. If that issue might offend someone, then school time should not be spent dealing with it, and you will be disciplined! And heaven forbid it wasn’t one of the five thoughts that the teacher anticipated, that would make grading it take an actual look at its merits rather than a look at the teacher’s outline of how they’ve graded the same thoughts for 20 years!

Creativity? Hah! You amuse me! We are here to learn facts! We do not learn to understand the beauty and elegance of an atom! We do not waste valuable test time to delve into its depths in order to learn the way to think to truly understand it, and how it was discovered, and why it is the way it is! We most certainly do not have free write time in English which might be used in writing a metaphorical story of an atom! And as for writing about atoms in science class, well!

Creativity in history? No, we will not spend time to read and discuss satirists! They are irrelevant to history! They did not shape it! Only the Great Politicians shaped history, not some lowly comedian! Use George Carlin to learn about the issues surrounding censorship? But he’s offensive! Read Mark Twain’s essays? But he’s for English class! And taking the time to learn about what satire is, and perhaps even attempt it ourselves? Positively absurd! That is not how it is done.

Subject integration is of course impossible. We could not possibly learn rhetoric in English and study historical examples in History. We cannot waste our time learning the history of Science, and how it began and developed. Learning about computer science and its impact on World War Two would be silly, of course. Alan Turing did nothing for the War!

Point made, I think. School is about compartmentalizing, and fitting our thoughts in approved boxes. The number of approved boxes has increased, but that is a far cry from removing the boxes and giving children the chance to swim in the ocean that is independent thought.