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Learning Takes Time

March 10, 2014

Today I’m going to put on my mother cap.  For all of my readers who don’t give two figs about motherhood or my experiences with it, I don’t blame you.  It’s super boring.   You might want to stick around because my rant today is about education.  Educated people make better patients, better doctors, better administrators, and better bloggers.  So, you decide.

My oldest daughter is going to public kindergarten this fall.  She’s totally excited and I was too, until I found out what the schedule was.  Three days a week she will only go to school from 8:30 to 12:30.  All kids, in all of my town, in all grades through high school, get out at 12:30 on Tuesdays.  Then, the kindergarten classes are too big to appropriately provide guidance for every student, so they split the classes into two groups and each group gets two full days.  So…math, math, math…25 hours of school per week.  Jeeze!  She goes to school more hours than that right now in private preschool.  What the heck am I supposed to do with my smart, active, social child (who will be almost 6 this fall) for the majority of every day?  And what kind of system presumes all parents just happen to have someone available in the middle of the day to pick up and occupy their kids?  Then there are the christian holidays, the jewish holidays, snow days, winter break, spring break…  The kid is practically never in school.  No wonder half the world is ahead of us in math and reading.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.  A recent NYT article on March 7th talked about the frustration of parents in New York City, where kindergarten is also mostly half-day in the public schools.  Many parents there either don’t sent their kids at all or use private kindergarten.  Why?  Because in most cases you’re going to have to pay a full-time babysitter even though the kid is in school 4 hrs a day, not only because it’s hard to find good babysitters who only want to work part-time, but because there are so many non-school days part-time help isn’t enough.

My Au Pair, who is from Sweden, looks at us like we’re nuts.  Everybody in Sweden goes to school or daycare all day, every day, from the age of 3.  There are no snow days.  Ever.  Early education is heavily subsidized and widely available.  NPR recently did a story on the early education system in Finland. (  Same thing.  Formal schooling doesn’t begin until age 7 but childcare and/or preschool are considered the right of every child, and also heavily subsidized.

Now, I realize that when you have children childcare, or some school equivalent, is a major concern and one that parents take on knowingly.  It’s not like it’s a big surprise.  This post is not going to preach about how school should be full-time and free all the time for everyone, so that parents can work or go to the gym or eat bon-bons.  I just feel like once my kid is ready for school, she should be in school.

I live in an affluent town.  Our property taxes are high.  Our schools are considered excellent.  But my kid’s kindergarten class will have 22 kids between the ages of 5 and 6 1/2 with one teacher.  That’s why they have to divide up the days.  I’m sure the teachers are excellent.  But I can’t help wondering if part of the reason my kid, and many other kids in this town, will do well in school and in life is that we parents have the resources to supplement the curriculum and make use of the empty time.  The vast majority of people don’t have such resources.  In Finland one of the things educators and politicians understand is that poverty/wealth and educational success are inextricably linked.  Of course, Finland only has 400,000 children under the age of 7 and a child poverty rate of 5%.  We have 21 million preschoolers and a childhood poverty rate of 25%.  To me that’s all the more reason to make childhood education the absolute focus of the might of the US government.  We will never, ever, address the income gap, the educational gap, the health gap, any inequality measure you want to use, unless we invest in education.  Full-time, quality, honest-to-goodness, not-to-the-test schooling.  If we can’t do it where I live, what hope do less advantaged kids have?


From → education

  1. Very interesting. I have a problem in that I don’t see education the same way as other things. Parents should pay for it, maybe some would be more invested if they had to pay and reap the rewards. I’ll pay more for the police and fire. We have too many parents who don’t care, and parents who, unlike you, shouldn’t be parents. Maybe the Chinese have the one child policy correct in a number of situations?

    You are talking about societies that are fairly homogenous. Once you get everyone in the mix, with all various cultures, attitudes, backgrounds, its a bit harder for us to follow the same things as small countries.

    Actually, if we invested in one generation or two not becoming parents until they had the personal maturity, stable relationships, at least some sort of income from a job, a basic level of education, stable home life, that would do more than investing in education. I think the “education” people would get from that would make a lot of inequalities go away.

    But oh well …

    • Thanks for reading! You are absolutely correct about the difficulty in translating the results of smaller, more homogeneous societies into our own melting pot vortex. And it is true that while you need a license to drive a car, you don’t need one to have a baby, for better or worse. But we can’t visit the mistakes of the parent upon the child. In fact, it is those very parents who shouldn’t be parents who maybe could have been prevented from rushing into parenthood with some of the very education I’m talking about.

      • I personally would be happy if we had licenses to have babies. The fact is, the parents’ mistakes will be visited on children like that. Think about it … I’m sure you know what I mean.

        No, they won’t be. There is a difference between education and maturity, responsibility, and respect. Those things are modeled, rarely taught.

      • You can educate the kids but that doesn’t mean when the hormones kick in and “its feels good, do it”, where they are not responsible for the consequences of “mistakes”, that getting them to make that mistake only once, is going to be covered by education.

  2. Julia permalink

    Having raised two children who attended public schools (the younger to graduate high school in May), I can attest that working with school scheduling requires a great deal of flexibility and creative problem-solving. We would all be better off if we had more family-friendly workplaces, schools, childcare and other support services in our communities. Certainly, there are people who should not reproduce. Rather than talk of licenses to have babies, perhaps it would be more constructive to begin with insuring that all women have access to safe and affordable reproductive healthcare and education.

  3. Bettercareelsewhere permalink

    I disagree, as a single person, I’ve been left to pick up the slack because of too many family friendly stuff and workplaces that give pregnancy/motherhood exceptions but then don’t do the same thing for non kids people, single people, gays or whoever else. Its like the only benefits for a woman is with kids, rather than something else.

    You can give access to healthcare and education, but will they take it and do it? Teenagers? Single women over 30? Seriously, with all the trouble docs have with compliance to medications, instructions, etc.? That’s why a license would do much, much better.

  4. steveofcaley permalink

    I am grateful to be the dad of a wonderful teenage boy (reread if you need to.) Our society is honestly anti-human, anti-child, anti-life (and I’m not talking about the substitution of the term ‘life’ for ‘legal abortion’) We teach our children to be obediently bored, and promise them that conformity and patience leads to success. The problem is more serious, and more deep, than we might let on.

    • Steve – thanks for reading! I have three little girls, and I hope I can call them “wonderful teenage girls” some day!

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