Learning Takes Time
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. (http://www.npr.org/2014/03/08/287255411/what-the-u-s-can-learn-from-finland-where-school-starts-at-age-7) 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?