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Mike Schilling

When I was in high school, we had one period of P.E. every day. For kids (like me) who were never going to letter in anything, it was almost entirely a chance to run around for an hour. (OK, I did learn the Vardon grip, and it's served me well in the five times in my life I've played golf.)

My daughter just started high school, and she's now in her sole semester of P.E. Because there's no room anymore for anything that doesn't either build up the college entrance resume or turn directly into SAT points.

merciless

Right on all points, as usual. Mencken was right; some day Americans will get their wish and elect a complete moron as president.

As for school, well, Americans have always, always seen school as nothing more than a practical way of getting the young people educated enough to read (the Bible); write (basic correspondence); and cipher (bookkeeping for the farm or business). Americans have always seen intellectual pursuits as lazy at best and dangerous at worst. Corporations particularly love us like this, because it makes it so much easier for them to persuade us of anything they like, in marketing or politics.

Louisa May Alcott railed about this very subject in her books (Little Women, Jack and Jill). And it was her father, Bronson (a crackpot if there ever was one) who introduced the idea of recess into education.

Rana

Yup to what merciless says - there's a long history of sneering at the edumcated.

That said, there's an equally long tradition of sneering at uneducated boobs.

I find the attack on recess to be on a par with the cutting of "extra"curriculars like art and music. I suspect that the same impulse governs all of them; the goal is to have obedient little corporate drones who consume rather than make culture, and who not only don't know how to think critically about what they're being fed, but disapprove of those who do. It makes us fit fodder for all those ads that tell us that we suck because we don't measure up in superficial ways.

It's this sort of thing that has me thinking periodically about homeschooling, should we manage to have children - and that disappoints me, because I was a school-loving kid, and I approve of the concept of public school. At the very least, I anticipate a lot of counter-programming.

Bill Altreuter

The school day should be longer, as should the school year. The school year should resemble a French work year-- time for vacation and holidays, sure, but not this truncated six and a half months that kids now have. We live in a complex, post-agrarian world. I can't see that anyone is served by a school year that was designed around getting the crops in.

More time in school will allow for more time in music and art, and more time for gym. And for English, and History and Math.

Karen

You realize, of course, that the good ol' Amurrica you describe--and the candidates to run it--are exactly what Stephen Colbert has been satirizing for the last two years.

I'll be 49 in a month, and I know that when I was a kid we had a lot of recess and almost no homework, and most of us grew up to be smart enough to win Nobels and Pulitzers and run corporations and all sorts of stuff. My parents made sure we kids went to cultural events on top of everything else--and we grew up wanting to read because our parents read. That's how it happens: kids copy their parents. You can't get kids to love reading if you don't love it yourself.

Schools extend class years and days, they reduce recess time, they increase testing--but, strangely, American test scores overall continue their downward spiral.

Chris the Cop

This whole notion of limited physical education (my children in upstate NY have PE once every 4 days)is completely foreign to me. In high school when I was growing up, we had gym every single day (in New Jersey!). It was an ironclad state law along with 4 years of English and two of US history. New York State REQUIRES gym every day,REQUIRES it, but the rule is ignored. I just don't understand it.

Incidentally, I think Guliani is a very intelligent man-- he's just not electable. If your response is 'thank God,' okay, but he's still very smart.

Syd

Has anyone read The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto? I started it--and then put it aside because it frankly scared me, in the way uncomfortable truths will. From what little I read, his position is that the US public school system was modelled on that of Prussia, for the sole purpose of turning out rafts of mindless and obedient workers.

If he's right, it's a wonder the country isn't even worse off... It also explains why my mother worked as hard as she did to give me a private-school education, and this was 30-40 years ago, before standardized testing had become the be-all and end-all of children's time in the schoolroom.

Lance

Syd,

Haven't read the book. It sounds interesting, and as you say scary. The American school day and the current public elementary school system was designed to serve an urban population whose children were assumed to be growing up to work in factories, or so I've always thought.

Chris, Giuliani is very smart. But his intelligence isn't a factor in the Media's infatuation with him. Nor does he seem to think he needs to be smart any more, just mean. I used to admire the guy, but I think a screw came loose somewhere during his second term as mayor.

Bill, I've never been to France, but doesn't their school day include a two hour lunch period? And isn't their school week four and a half days long? Their school year is more of a full year, I believe, but it includes lots of one and two week breaks. Their model may be better but it sounds to me as though it's better not because it keeps kids in school longer but because the schedule is more intelligently designed to fit with the way people order their lives the in the 21st century.

Lance

PS

merciless, I've always had a great fondness for the Alcotts, both of them.

Sunny Jim

Lance - Your rants are always first-rate when it comes to certain topics, like American popular culture and our education system. You should do it more often. Always brings out some excellent responses in the comments section, too, as witnessed here. Maybe we could work on some type of alternative curriculum for schools or for home schooling, with suggested readings and whatnot. I bet we'd end up with a shining model of a finished product. There'd probably be a lot of arguing, though.

Dave

Diagramming sentences? As someone who grew up to be an engineer, it should have been right up my alley. A spacial way of looking at sentence structure should have made it clearer. Instead, it just made me feel stupid and I think it made my teacher think I was stupid too. I could never get it right. It still makes me sad to remember all the years I hated English because of it. I don't think extra recess would have salved the wound either. I wish they would have just let me read a book that I chose for myself. I would have learned more and been happier at school.

Bill Altreuter

A goodly part of why I think the French school year makes sense is exactly because it fits in better with the way the adult world is ordered. It gives me fits that here in the US we organize everything around the way the school year works, instead of the other way around. When the schools have a teacher in-service on a Tuesday, and suddenly my staff can't come in; or when school lets out for the summer, creating a child care crisis for that portion of the population young enough to be fecund it compromises everyone's productivity.

And to what end? Why do these vast, yawning spaces exist in the calendar? If we look at the results, it is plain that this system is not promoting education. More time in schools, more emphasis on language and the language arts, more art and music, and better math instruction would accomplish more in a generation than we can imagine-- and there is no real reason it would have to cost that much more than we are already paying.

KathyF

If they hate smart candidates, then why aren't they going gaga over Bill R.?

But I'm a contrarian. I always hated recess.

Emma1007

A dear friend of mine who spent two decades teaching elementary school used to tell me that the American school system trained people to "work, consume, do what you're told". I used to call her a cynic... not anymore.

anita

i had gym (ok ... P.E.) every day too, in new jersey in the 70's. what a nightmare. my middle and high school years would have been far less traumatic without it, believe me. i was the one standing sooo far out in left field (literally and figuratively) so that the ball would never reach me and i'd never have to figure out what to do with it.

but, then again, we had art AND music every week. that made up for it. kind of.

Gray Lensman

When I was in high school ('56-'59) in SE Texas, I had exactly one semester of "PE", in the gym, playing volleyball and generally hanging out. Driver's Ed was a PE class. The coaches were hired to run the football program and couldn't have cared less about us non-football players. The Superintendent of the District was the former Head Coach. Basketball and track were just so the football players could stay in shape. No baseball; not enough running. The rest of us were not welcome in those programs. I played tennis with my friends, but the high school did not have a tennis court, much less a tennis program. This was one of the highest-rated schools in Texas, and won the state 4A football title several times. Watch "Friday Night Lights". That was the team we played several times in the 50's. Friday nights I was the 3rd chair trumpet player in the band.

catherine

I heart the Alcotts. Recess is important for a lot of reasons, especially now with all of the obese kids. PE is just as important b/c for most it is the only exercise that they get.

Rana

Are PE and recess really the same thing, though? My memories of PE consist mostly of running laps and climbing ropes and standing in baseball fields being bored. Recess, on the other hand, involved playing with friends, building forts in the bushes, climbing on the jungle gyms, and other more creative things. For me at least, the exercise aspect of recess was the least important part.

Demosthenes

I really think the most intelligent comment was made in this comment thread, and the one I always repeat when discussions come up about the American education system:

No teacher can make up for the fact that your kids aren't seeing you read.

If you read for pleasure, they'll read for pleasure. If they read for pleasure, they'll be more comfortable with reading. And since you almost certainly must read to learn, they'll be more comfortable with learning... and since school as also largely about reading, they'll be more comfortable with school.

Dave: Kids should absolutely be reading their own material, but if the school is forcing them, the battle is probably already lost. Still, I'd definitely prefer having the kids diagram a sentence from a book they know and enjoy than one chosen arbitrarily. Even if it's a little easy, they get comfortable with the the concept, and then it's just a question of ramping things up a little.

freelearner

I've read The Underground History of American Education, and highly recommend it. Anyone can read it in its entirety here:

http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc1.htm

Essentially Gatto points out that public schooling as we know it was designed by the robber barons, for their own economic and political purposes. (From about 1895 to 1920, Rockefeller and Carnegie gave more money to public schools than the government did. What exactly were they paying for?)

Whether you ultimately agree with Gatto's conclusions or not, there are any number of direct quotes in the book which will make your hair stand on end. From Rockefeller's first newsletter to the "General Education Board" (robber barons all): "In our dreams... people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands." Ellwood Cubberly, who went on to become dean of the Teaching School at Stanford, said schools should be factories "in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products... manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry." John Dewey, of Dewey decimal fame, said "Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent."

Gatto also has an excellent book called "Dumbing Us Down" based on his extensive experience in teaching. He was both New York City and New York State Teacher of the Year, and he has some amazing success stories of turning around kids that the school system had long ago given up on. I can't recommend him enough!

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