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Thursday, 3 March 2016

5 reasons why too much school is a bad thing...

Often I hang out with friends who bemoan the number of vacation days that their kids have.

"These schools are hardly ever in session! Holidays again!" they complain.

Schools around the world tend to have anywhere from 170 to 200 working days. American schools are required to have 180 working days for students/teachers, and Singapore schools have around 200 days.

And lots of people, like Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame, argue that long summer vacations are a relic of an agrarian economy that no longer exists, so why can't we have year-round school?

Here's my response:

School is very important. But too much school is a bad thing for the following reasons:

1. School is structured. 

I love the structure and routine of school days. It's comforting and effective, and it works.

BUT I wouldn't be able to cope with this sort of structure for more than 180 days, and I don't think it's healthy for kids to have to deal with such tight structure all year round. We all need time to dream, to rest, to play, to pursue our own passions at our pace. And parents can encourage all kinds of alternative forms of learning at home. We all need to balance structured time (weekdays/term-time) with unstructured time (weekends and vacations).

2. School requires conformity.

 Kids need to conform to teacher expectations and peer expectations at school. This is a good thing because it gives kids a taste of the real world and socializes them in positive ways.

BUT conforming all year long is not healthy. Kids need large chunks of time to be themselves and be free of all the pressures to conform socially/behaviorally/culturally etc. Kids can be themselves at home where there's no pressure to speak with a particular accent, wear particular clothes, or raise your hand before speaking. There's no peer pressure at home. If they're in school for half the year (180 days) and out of school for half the year, then they learn how to be socialized AND they learn how to be themselves.

3. Schools take kids away from family and home culture.

Schools are worlds unto themselves with their own cultures, their own values, their own ways of speaking/thinking/behaving. This is great for kids because it exposes kids to the world outside their home.

BUT schools should not replace home, and teachers should not replace parents, and the culture and language of the school should not replace the culture and language of the home. Kids should have both: school for half the year, and home for half the year.

4. Schools can't customize learning to a child's background and needs.

Kids learn a lot at school, and most schools do a good job of giving kids a host of different learning experiences. And today, with all the technology we have, schools are trying hard to individualize instruction as much as possible. So school is obviously good for learning!

BUT parents (and extended family/community) can also be wonderful teachers. When kids are at home, parents have the opportunity to customize learning for kids based on the child's background and learning needs.

For example, it's important to me that my kids know about the history and culture of India, since that's a big part of their heritage. Therefore, I often use vacations to teach my kids about India (and of course, we visit India as well). Additionally, if I know that one of my kids is struggling with a particular topic in school (say decimals), vacations give me the time as a parent to remediate and teach this stuff, and to make sure that my kids have the academic foundations they need. An education in a classroom setting can't be customized to the child's needs and background in the same way.

And of course, there's a tremendous amount of learning that happens when parents and grandparents talk to kids, take them places, travel with them etc.

5. Schools should NOT adapt to a modern work-all-year-round schedule because the modern world isn't actually aligned with our biological rhythms.

Our agrarian ancestors had the right idea when they aligned their schedules with the seasons and the harvests. They knew that our bodies need time out from school; they knew that we need long stretches of time in nature. Frankly, they had the right idea. If we keep kids in highly structured, conformist, routines all year long, we'll destroy them (not to mention the teachers).

Now don't get me wrong. I love school.

 I've spent my whole life in schools -- as a student and as a teacher -- and I think that kids benefit greatly from school.

BUT I think that  180 days of school is plenty. 

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