Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Can’t do

Today’s Press-Citizen has a front-page article reporting on people’s complaints about the short, unpleasant lunch period at our local elementary schools. I am quoted in the article, but, as a Facebook holdout, I cannot post a comment on it. So I’ll do that here.

First, there is one factual inaccuracy that I must correct or I may never live it down. The article states, “Chris Liebig, a parent of three students at Hoover Elementary, said he packs his children’s lunches every day to ensure that they have the most time to eat it as possible.” In fact, my wife usually packs the lunches, not me.

Second, I wish the newspaper had fact-checked the district’s assertion that all the kids now get a full fifteen minutes to eat after going through the lunch line. I won’t say they haven’t made any efforts, but the fact remains that the kids who go through the lunch line still often end up with less than fifteen minutes to eat. (Not to mention that fifteen minutes is inadequate anyway.)

Third, the district asserts that “to allow more time for lunch, the district would have to lengthen the entire school day. “We need a longer school day,” [the assistant superintendent] said. “We would like that not only for a longer lunch but for the academics and also time for all the other things — art, music, P.E. — all the good things that happen at school.”

I don’t like the idea of lengthening the school day, because I don’t agree that, when it comes to school, more is better. Six and a half hours is enough time for kids to learn what they need to learn to make it to age twelve, and I think kids benefit from getting away from school, especially because our schools are becoming increasingly stressful places.

More importantly, it’s just baloney to suggest that the only way to add five minutes to lunch is to lengthen the school day. Six-year-olds could live with fifty-five minutes of math every day instead of an hour, and that’s just one example. (Much of the “guidance” program is another example.) Before the district panics at the effect on test scores, it should take a look at Finland.

Finally, why should anyone believe that the additional time in a longer school day would be devoted to anything other than what the existing time is devoted to? The reason there’s not enough lunch, art, music, etc., right now isn’t because there’s no time for it; it’s because the district has decided that raising standardized test scores is a higher priority. If you add more time to the day but fail to change that way of thinking, the extra time will ultimately go to more test prep. On the other hand, if you do change that way of thinking, there’s no need for the extra time.

We saw with the Longfellow class sizes what the district can do when it sets its mind to something. On the lunch issue, though, the administrators’ attitude is strictly can’t-do.


Chris said...

The comments on the article, by the way, are well worth reading. I should point out that I do not know Beth Liebig and that she is no relation.

FedUpMom said...

The claim that "we must lengthen the school day to give the kids a decent lunch break" is obviously false. As you say, it's a question of priorities.

It reminds me of a perennial problem that I've had in life-drawing class: I draw a solid, well-proportioned torso and limbs, and then realize that the model's head has gone right off the page. My teacher tried to solve the problem by giving me a bigger piece of paper for the next pose. What happened? You guessed it -- I still cut off the model's head.

I'm also completely opposed to lengthening the school day.

Hienuri Kayleuetski said...

I really hate the "focus on standardised test" mentality. Once, in my primary school, someone asked, "Can we please learn long division?"

The teacher's response? "No, because it's not on the curriculum."

(In my country, I feel that the primary school curriculum has been severely watered down.)

Chris said...

FedUpMom -- The logic seems to be: when what we're doing isn't working, we just need to do more of it!

Hienuri -- I agree. It makes great sense, educationally, to build on what kids are actually interested in, but there's no room for that in a standardized-test-driven curriculum. Everybody has to march lockstep through the same stuff, because that's what's on the test.