If School Is Mostly a Waste of Time, Why Spend More Time There?

Yesterday Jesse Walker noted that President Obama wants to improve primary and secondary education by making the school day longer, shortening vacations, or both. Although I agree that current school schedules and calendars are not necessarily optimal, increasing the amount of time that kids spend in classrooms strikes me as a bad idea, at least until schools can give a plausible answer to this question: What the hell are they doing with all of the time they have now?

My middle daughter, who is in kindergarten at a public elementary school in Dallas, starts at 8 a.m. and finishes at 3 p.m., so they have her for seven hours a day, five days a week. The total for the year, taking vacations into account, is around 1,500 hours, and that's without considering homework. (Yes, they give homework in kindergarten now.) That's more than enough time to learn reading, printing, and numbers. My impression, based on conversations with my daughter, the glimpses I've had of her classroom, and the work she has to make up when she misses school, is that very little of her in-school time is spent actually learning anything.

This is not necessarily a knock against this particular school, or even against public schools in general. My own experience at private elementary and high schools was similar, and it did not change very much in the upper grades. The dominant model for primary and secondary education, which involves herding kids together into classrooms, yakking at them, having them read stuff aloud, giving them worksheets, and sending them home with more work, seems to be incredibly inefficient. Even the existence of homework is a concession of failure. Schools have kids for seven or eight hours a day, but somehow that's not enough time to teach them what they need to learn. By sending students home with more stuff to do, teachers essentially are conscripting parents to do their jobs for them.

I don't have any neat answers to this problem, which as I said goes beyond the public vs. private dichotomy. But fostering more competition, more experimentation, and more diversity in educational models has to be part of the solution. Toward that end, Obama is right to support charter schools (although I'd prefer that that the federal government stay out of education altogether). And while some schools, competing for students, might highlight longer hours as an advantage, parents will be justifiably skeptical that the problem with education is insufficient time in a big brick box.

Jim Glassman highlighted the promise of charter schools more than a decade ago in Reason.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Lefiti||

    "My impression, based on conversations with my daughter, the glimpses I've had of her classroom, and the work she has to make up when she misses school, is that very little of her in-school time is spent actually learning anything."

    Why don't you home school her? That would be a more productive use of your time than blathering doctrinaire right-wing nonsense here.

  • ||

    Even the existence of homework is a concession of failure. Schools have kids for seven or eight hours a day, but somehow that's not enough time to teach them what they need to learn. By sending students home with more stuff to do, teachers essentially are conscripting parents to do their jobs for them.

    Homework is practice. There's no substitute for practice.

    It's meant to be done alone. Parental involvement in homework (beyond "Go do your homework right now young man") defeats the purpose. It should be done at home precisely because it would be a waste of resources for the child to do it at school.

  • ||

    The reason teachers even need to force homework on students is because modern education has replaced the joy of discovery with mindless programming. If you focus on fostering their curiosity you won't be able to stop them from learning for the rest of their lives.

  • ||

    m8 wot are u on about i do hw all the time and it shows that the school cant teach us well enough so they send home, and i cant go out after school and be a kis so hw could i be able to socialise with others in later live if i cant do it after school with my freinds? answer that?

  • Cake||

    It seems to me, Tegan, that you need all the practice you can get.

  • Taggart||

    The problem is that they assign homework children are INCAPABLE of doing without the help, supervision, or participation of parents. They often assign age-inappropriate homework, or homework that specifically calls for parental participation (i.e. have your kid read these words aloud and underline the sounds he or she misses). My kids, in K-3rd grade, have rarely received homework where I could say, "Go to your room and do it." Teachers also make you, as the parent, initial the completion of every single assignment.

  • TofuSushi||

    Jacob,

    Yer uzin' too many "g" in yer writin'.

  • ||

    If School Is Mostly a Waste of Time, Why Spend More Time There?

    Seems like infallible lefty logic to me. Gun laws don't work? Pass more of them! Throwing money at banks isn't working? Throw more money at them? Kids aren't learning at school? Make them spend more time there!

  • Dello||

    "By sending students home with more stuff to do, teachers essentially are conscripting parents to do their jobs for them."

    I have a daughter in preschool and I mostley agree. That said, the time we spend with her on homework (yes, they even give homework in PREschool) is very focused and productive, while her time at school is largely of the herding cats variety. There are 3 teachers in a room with 18 students. Imagine how you would handle teaching 6 kids to read, play nice, get their hands washed, and stay laying down for a nap when the sun is shining.

    Instead of the 1-6 ratio (complete with other kids as a distraction), my wife and I enjoy a 2-1 ratio in the comfort (and silence) of our own home.

    We have accepted that school is mostly daycare and that the real learning will come from the home.

  • Spoonman||

    It's meant to be done alone. Parental involvement in homework (beyond "Go do your homework right now young man") defeats the purpose. It should be done at home precisely because it would be a waste of resources for the child to do it at school.

    THIS.

  • ||

    you are fucking retarded, School is redundent cause most kids aren't intrested, and you mostly forget 90% of what you learn afterwards, I beieve School should be optional, because mindless yakking is no substitue for life experiances

  • ||

    Amen to that. School is a an utter waste of time, you need about .0002 percent of it.

  • Tyler||

    You don't think any valuable experiences can be had at school? As a current student, there are a lot of aspects of school which I don't enjoy. Some of them are necessary, some less so, but one of the major functions of an education is that it places you in a situation with other people your age. It is a way to socialize people and prepare them to be productive, contributing citizens for the rest of their lives. Public education could certainly use an overhaul though in my opinion.

  • ||

    Decades ago our schools produced commendable outcomes with the same length of school time.

    The problem isn't in classroom time. It's what's being done with it.

  • ||

    If School Is Mostly a Waste of Time, Why Spend More Time There?

    Because it requires more unionized public school employees. Duh.

  • Brett Stevens||

    The problem is that education caters to the slowest kids in the group, those of IQ range 85-105, and those are unlikely to be anything but laborers and menial functionaries in life.

    It's more important to target the kids of IQs in the 115-130 range, as they generate most of the wealth, technology, etc. that makes life enjoyable.

  • dan||

    thats not a good plan cause IQ tests are just like any other test which dont fully represent intelligence.

    What your saying will make a world of uncreativity. Intelligence comes in different areas not just memorizing a bunch of math equations.

  • Billy!||

    Considering the current lefty desire for much much more small scale local agriculture I would think that they would not want to keep a farm oriented school schedule.

  • dazzling urbanite||

    Homework is important practice, and it allows parents to see what the kids are doing in school.

    However, there's a line crossed at about 1 hour per day, where more homework is not just practice. I've found in my inner city neighborhood that students in classes with a couple of kids who act out a lot during the day got more homework that kids in other classes in the same grade, due to the cumulative hour spent dealing with the one or two bad apples int he classroom every day.

    How were classes structured in the past to stop the disruptive children? Were they actually just thrown out of school? Corporal punishment? Special classes?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I'm sorry, but homework in preschool is just fucked up.

  • progress!!||

    The progression:

    Apprenticeship

    Apprenticeship + Formal Education

    Formal Education + Apprenticeship

    Formal Education (Apprenticeship in the case of some upper degrees like MD)

    The system has moved away from what actually is and towards formal mind numbing recitation without application. The solution? Revert to a former system as progression within the system occurs. At one time an attorney or businessman simply spent a significant time clerking or working for someone else to learn the trade, and that seemed to work out pretty well. Moving away from an almost Newtonian approach to education towards a more organic approach as a "student" progresses would make a world of difference.

    There is no substitute for learning by doing.

  • the innominate one||

    getting rid of summer vacation seems like a good idea to me - it gives students too long away from the material and an opportunity to forget what they learned.

    shorter breaks dispersed throughout the year make more sense, with lessons broken up into digestible modules, and minimal to no assigned homework to go with the increased class time. Students can do their assignments and "practice" in class where an expert can assist with their questions.

  • ||

    any teaching that doesn't involve the students own interest will fail. If they are not thinking about what is being taught outside of school they will forget it eventually. The best way to ensure learning is daily application of the material in immediately relevant ways or just plain curiosity. Let them learn like babies do. It may not churn out a homogenized workforce for CEO's to exploit but it will teach themm the joy of learning.

  • ||

    The problem is that education caters to the slowest kids in the group, those of IQ range 85-105, and those are unlikely to be anything but laborers and menial functionaries in life.

    It's more important to target the kids of IQs in the 115-130 range, as they generate most of the wealth, technology, etc. that makes life enjoyable.


    I agree. The present system shortchanges the most intellectually promising in a quixotic quest for an egalitarian learning process.

    Talk to H.S. graduates doing unskilled labor* about history, science or government for a few minutes and you realize they haven't really learned anything since ~7th grade.

    * All jobs require skills, but you know what I mean.

  • Dello||

    CN:
    "I'm sorry, but homework in preschool is just fucked up."

    I disagree. Keep in mind, we're not talking about "Name the state capitals" here: It's more of the "Trace the shape of the letters" stuff. I concure that a lot of homework in a lot of subjects is busywork and worthless memorization (especially at higher grade levels, unless you happen to be on a gameshow), but at her age, it's very important to get the fundimentals of reading, writing, and languages in place early and often. Her preschool is bilingual, so there's even more to do. Once she can actually read on her own (vs. just the see and say), then the homework can slow down and shift to other areas.

  • Zeb||

    I blame the children. If they weren't so stupid, the schools would be doing fine. I went to a crappy public school and did just fine. If the little turds would just behave themselves and do what they are supposed to do, schools would do just fine performance-wise.

  • Kawaii||

    People like you are the reason the world is so fucked up.

  • Taggart||

    This is actually true. Vast amounts of sociological research show that educational environment is of significantly less improtance than family environment coupled with individual personality. When it comes to worldly success, the school one attends actually makes very little difference. I don't blame the turds so much as the parents. Most real, lasting education occurs in the home, no matter how much time is spent in the classroom. This is why SHORTER school days and not longer are preferable, because then there is more time to learn at home, so parents aren't shoving educaiton on top of a 7-our school day. Let's make the school day four hours (parents need a break, and kids need socialization, erosion of their reticence to speak publically, and lessons in conformatity), as they do in many other countries, so there is more time for household chores, instructive homework, and creative free play. In fact, we could have morning and afternoon school, and split up enrollment, so instead of teaching one 7-hour class of 26 kids a day, teachers could teach two different, 3.5-hour classes of 13 kids a day. I doubt any less would be learned. Many parents would pitch a fit, however, since school is supposed to be a babysitter, but you could always bring in the private sector to offer paid, "after-school programs" of art, music, or sports.

  • ||

    The system has moved away from what actually is and towards formal mind numbing recitation without application.


    That's a good description of the problem.

    I think another problem is that our current system is that the way teachers are trained to teach doesn't have all that much to do with the way people learn.

    I think that once a child past the reading, writing and basic math, it winds up being useless drills with no goal in mind beyond test scores. You wouldn't ask a child to field grounders all day without letting him play a baseball game, nor study the pieces of a puzzle without showing a picture of what it should look like assembled. But we seem to do this all the time with mathematics, literature, history, etc.

  • Paul||

    Papaya totally beat me to it.

    Come on, guys, this isn't difficult. This is ENTIRELY a bone thrown to the teachers unions. Period. By increasing the 'workload' of the school system, more teachers must be hired and at higher pay because, you know, they no longer get three months vacation a year, a week in the spring, a week at christmas, plus every goddamned holiday ever invented.

    This has nothing to do with your children. This is based on long negotiations in back rooms with union officials trying to increase the number of dues paying members.

  • Taggart||

    Sure. Teacher's LOVE being required to teach for 8 hours instead of 6.5.

  • ||

    Wouldn't modeling the school day more closely after the typical parent's workday make life easier for parents? I'm not a parent so I don't really know. Just curious what the parental units here think.

  • Taggart||

    It's not practical in terms of busing. You need staggered start and end times for school to make use of limited bussing resources, and most people work 8-6 with commutes. That's why before and after school care exists- if you must have a babysitting service, you can at least pay for SOME of it beyond your taxes.

  • ||

    To increase total learning, we can either make school more efficient or make it longer. Why would Obama, who nets nothing from the loss of our childrens' time, pick the former?

    Oh, yeah, basic consideration of others. Well, if that's what you're hanging your hat on folks, you're clearly new to this world.

  • progress||

    You can't assume wealth or the generation of wealth is a function of IQ.

    I know a few people who own multi-million dollar operations that are not the smartest people on the planet, yet they found a niche, recognized their own weakness, and turned a skill into a significant amount of wealth. Being "smart" may make it easier, but I can drive you to any campus and show you a shit ton of very smart people that generate a menial amount of wealth in comparison to others that aren't as "smart."

  • ||

    damn apostrophe

  • ||

    I'm sorry, but homework in preschool is just fucked up.

    Agreed. I hear what you're saying, Dello, but homework is horseshit at all times. Study periods and class breaks are the time to do repetitive, solo tasks.

    Don't you think it's fucking crazy that a kid is in school for 7-8 hours and then has homework to do that could take hours? Then maybe they have a sports practice or musical instrument practice? So where is some free time to just play and be a kid?

    Thank god I'm brilliant and did my homework between classes.

  • The Expatriate||

    By sending students home with more stuff to do, teachers essentially are conscripting parents to do their jobs for them.

    By sending students to school to do stuff, parents essentially are conscripting teachers to do their jobs for them.

    **FIXED**

  • ||

    A large portion of training teachers receive should be focused on teaching them the profound difference between stupid and bored.

  • bill||

    "How were classes structured in the past to stop the disruptive children?"

    It was called a paddle.

  • LarryA||

    "If School Is Mostly a Waste of Time, Why Spend More Time There?"

    Kids need to learn to work for the government. Wasting time is a feature, not a bug.

    The problem is that education caters to the slowest kids in the group, those of IQ range 85-105, and those are unlikely to be anything but laborers and menial functionaries in life.

    To some extent this is true. Education philosophy is to treat every child the same, eliminating accelerated or slow classes.

    I think a bigger problem, though, is that up to high school, and perhaps even into college, different students have different learning patterns. My two daughters were polar opposites. One learned by reading, the other had to get her hands dirty. One learned from general to specific, the other from specific to general. One learned better in a group effort, the other did better as an individual.

    School, unfortunately, is one-size-fits-all.

  • stuartl||

    It's meant to be done alone.

    It depends on the kid and their age. When they are young, make HW fun. At all ages show them technique if they need it, whether it is how to make letters big and bold for a poster in Word, or how to solve a particular type of integral if they are stuck.

    I think that once a child past the reading, writing and basic math, it winds up being useless drills with no goal in mind beyond test scores. .... But we seem to do this all the time with mathematics, literature, history, etc.

    This is just wrong, the way to learn math, science, writing, and sports is practice. You don't learn algebra by watching a lecture, you do it by solving a kind of problem until you have mastered the technique. Just like fielding grounders.

    I will say that my kids have always had too much for their age. Five minutes is plenty for a pre-schooler, 1-2 hours for a high schooler.

  • Abdul||

    Living in an industrialized society, one of the essentail purposes of school is to keep the offspring penned up while their parents keep the industrial part of society humming along.

    If the kids learn anything, well, that's just a bonus.

  • Dello||

    Epi,
    "Agreed. I hear what you're saying, Dello, but homework is horseshit at all times. Study periods and class breaks are the time to do repetitive, solo tasks."

    I see what you're saying, but keep in mind that in preschool, there are no study periods, free classes, or breaks: There's snack time, nap time, recess, a couple of story times, etc.

    The time spent in class also has access to things like computer-based learning programs, hand-eye coordination toys, and other things that parents probably don't have at home. The "grunt work" of tracing letters can be done anywhere.

    "Don't you think it's fucking crazy that a kid is in school for 7-8 hours and then has homework to do that could take hours? Then maybe they have a sports practice or musical instrument practice? So where is some free time to just play and be a kid?"

    I do, which is why I'm a BIG fan of home schooling. In Washington state, you are allowed to be a "home schooler" and still send your kids to public school for the classes you can't teach at home (sports, music, art, science...the stuff you don't have the equipment for). Plus there is the socialization aspects. The home schooled kids here only have to pass a few tests over the 12 years of schooling (if they take that long), to be considered passed with full credit.

    Our intention is to be technically "home schoolers" (so that we can avoid the stupidity of grades and homework), while having our daughter in school most of the day. We can vacation when we want, leave school whenever, blow-off the homework, anything we want so long as the tests get passed.

    A child can have a completely well rounded education by the time they are 10 years old. Add specific info, and they graduate high school at 13. There is no shortage of kids that have done this.

  • SpongePaul||

    The education system is falwed in that it is all cookie cutter. the dumb lineman with an iq of 105 who needs hand holding homework and the like, is a very different person in needs and structure. Like myself a 150 iq dyslexic who never ever did homework, it was pointless, and actually never attened class at university. i made it 1 year. i aced the tests, but since i could not stand to sit for a lenght of time with idiots. i just needed to get the info and go. but with catering to the lowest common denominator. you assure the population will slide down to it.

  • ||

    ClubMedSux had it right. If it doesn't work, we need more of it. That seems to be the logic here.

    It's kinda like GM trying to make up for the loss of income per vehicle by selling more vehicles. We'll make it up in volume...

  • mark||

    I orbit between the two poles of "School is a training camp for totalitarianism" and "Kids need more discipline. A LOT more." Is school just a prison for non-rich kids or what?

    Maybe if the structure they give to growing minds in school actually made sense, it would help facilitate their growth. But as it stands, all the class periods, bells, marching in line, endless repetition of useless facts, and so on, only manages to either turn kids off to authority or squelch their creativity. Right?

    God I'm glad I don't have kids yet.

  • Reinmoose||

    I don't understand the institutionalization of homework. When I was a small child I learned plenty of things at home that I was not getting at school, but I didn't need the teacher to create a set of rules and dictate what I should be learning. Both my sister and I could read before we got to kindergarten. In school, I didn't start having homework until 3rd grade. I did most of my homework throughout elementary school during our free quiet time so I didn't have to do it at home. At parent teacher conferences, my parents would repeatedly have to inform my teachers that I never brought homework home, and they got told repeatedly that I should be doing that work at home rather than at school to "develop good homework habits."

    Now... for a kid like me, developing good homework/study habits was a function of creative efficiency rather than a function of discipline.

    To get back on topic - I hate the sheeply way people accept homework as a virtue in and of itself. It doesn't always develop the traits you want it to.

  • Dello||

    stuartl:
    "Five minutes is plenty for a pre-schooler, 1-2 hours for a high schooler."

    We do about 30 minutes per night. On alphabet nights, that's 1 minute's practice per letter (not exactly the gulag). On reading nights, that's a cuddle and 2 books. Again, no child-labor laws broken.

  • ||

    Dello,
    Every home schooled kid I've met has been well beyond the kids that weren't. At least in terms of being able to think critically. Plus, the parents had the foresight to get them involved in social activities.

    And even if they were a little socially under-developed, I'd be okay with that. Kids today(geez...how old do I sound?) learn e-speak, sexting, image-based social classes, etc. I'd be okay if my kid skipped a few of those gems.

  • Barbera||

    We cannot increase the time of the year because teachers already work in a very stresfull job. They need the summer to rest and be ready for the next year and not be burned out.

  • Johnny Nowhere||

    The emphasis on "efficiency" in education is profoundly wrong. An educated individual is not like a factory-produced widget.

    A good education takes time, caring and a deep understanding of the student's learning and communication styles.

    By insisting on an industrially designed school system we shortchange kids. We turn them into time-card punchers, not motivated and dynamic achievers. It's little wonder the American electorate is so stupid.

  • ||

    A child can have a completely well rounded education by the time they are 10 years old. Add specific info, and they graduate high school at 13.

    And then what's the kid gonna do? Go to college at age 13? I'm sure he/she will love being left out of the whole social aspect of college. And then what? He/she enters the workforce at 17? Look, you can obviously raise your kid however you want, but what's the rush to grow up?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Dello,
    I'm not trying to be a dick, but I'm truly curious as to why you need the preschool to assign the "homework" of practicing the alphabet or of being read to?
    We've decided not to send our three-year-old twins to preschool, but we still read them at least four or five books a day and have started encouraging their experimentation with the alphabet.
    We're fortunately that we can afford to have my wife stay home with them, but I imagine it's the kind of stuff we'd do at the end of the day, anyway.
    I don't get the benefit of having the school assign that kind of work.

  • ||

    the dumb lineman with an iq of 105

    Isn't a person with an IQ of 105 above the median? I'm kind of rusty, but I thought the median IQ was 100.

    Or are we now to the point where everyone is above average?

  • Dello||

    Silentz,

    Couldn't agree more. One big reason for teaching multiple languages is so kids can appreciate each of them. My wife speaks 3 and is learning a 4th. Our daughter will probably end up with a working knowledge of 5 without even being particularly into it, simply through exposure.

    People learn stuff by being exposed to it. Kids spend hours a day in school being exposed to the same crap for years on end. No wonder they are bored and don't learn anything...

  • ||

    And then what's the kid gonna do?

    Err, whatever seems like a good idea at the time?

    More studying on whatever interests the kid? Maybe a few college classes? A job?

  • Reinmoose||

    Part of what kids learn later in school is either how stupid the adults teaching them are, or how stupid the system they're participating in is.

    "This rule is stupid"
    "Yes, but you have to follow it"
    "Why?"
    "Just do it, ok?"
    "But it's so unfair"

    How many times has that conversation happened?

  • ||

    And then what's the kid gonna do?

    Actually, 13-18 would be a pretty good time to let the kid do different stuff, experience the world a little, try some jobs, before college. Going into college straight out of high school is dumb. Most of us had no idea what we really wanted to do. Some real world experience would be useful for that.

    And then at 18 they get to fuck and drink and do drugs in college like we all did.

  • ||

    Thank god I'm brilliant and did my homework between classes.

    Suck up. I just blew it off. It shows in my transcript.

  • ||

    More studying on whatever interests the kid? Maybe a few college classes? A job?

    Really? The kid's gonna get a job at 13 after graduating high school? I'm curious to see the job opportunities for somebody with that background...

    Look, my point is to think about what you were doing at that age... Would you rather have been working at that point? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have traded my high school and college experiences as I knew it in order to enter the workforce four years earlier. I have the rest of my life to work...

  • Abdul||

    "This rule is stupid"
    "Yes, but you have to follow it"
    "Why?"
    "Just do it, ok?"
    "But it's so unfair"

    How many times has that conversation happened?


    Only once if you can execute a pain-compliance hold.

  • Dello||

    ClubMed:
    "And then what's the kid gonna do? Go to college at age 13? I'm sure he/she will love being left out of the whole social aspect of college. And then what? He/she enters the workforce at 17? Look, you can obviously raise your kid however you want, but what's the rush to grow up?"

    Plenty of homeschooled kids go to collage at 15 or 16. Plenty of "kids" that go to collage at 18 or 19 get left out of the whole social aspect of collage, too. I know I certainly did.

    Will she even WANT to go to collage at 13? Who knows. I teach part time at a community collage, and I can assure you that there isn't the social life there that you find at 4 year campuses. The average age of students on my campus is 36. These folks aren't going to keggers. They are going home to read to their kids.

    There is no "rush to grow up". there is simply providing as much education as the child can absorb. I had 2 friends in high school who had been home schooled until 9th grade. They were slightly awkward socially, but still had plenty of friends, and their knowledge and reasoning skills were head and shoulders above their peers. They never wanted for summer vaction, playing in the pool, or anythingthing else. In fact, our daughter will actually have MORE time to play and see the world BECAUSE there isn't any mind numbing structure.

    We're already planning a 6 month tour of the Mediterrainian when she's about 12. How many kids get that? She's have done more by the time she's 18 than most people do in a lifetime. I'm having trouble seeing the downside here...

  • Reinmoose||

    Suck up. I just blew it off. It shows in my transcript.

    I did things the same way as Epi, and in my experience I would not call that practice "sucking up." Some teachers really really hate that you can more than adequately complete their assignment in a fraction of the time they intended. Others whine about how you'll be sorry later when the material is harder. It's an art, really.

    I would argue that the kids who are "successful" by following the system and its intent are actually probably the dumbest of the kids in the school.

  • Dello||

    CN,
    "I'm not trying to be a dick, but I'm truly curious as to why you need the preschool to assign the "homework" of practicing the alphabet or of being read to?"

    Because many parents are not as educated as you. Many parents honestly don't understand the value of reading to their children, of exposing them to brain-teasers, puzzles, and the alphabet. The homework more or less forces the parents to be involed, where they may not know better.

  • kinnath||

    3rd Grade Teacher: We're having some problems with your son in class.

    Me: What kind of problem?

    Teacher: He's refusing to read out loud in the reading circle.

    Me: Did he say why?

    Teacher: He says it's a stupid story.

    Me: Is it?

    Teacher: Well {pause} it's not the smartest story we've worked on.

    Me: Then give him a smarter book.

    Teacher: Well {pause} {cough} {pause} {sputter} um OK

    This was at a good school, in a good district, in a state known for quality public education.

  • Taggart||

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with my kid's K teacher -

    Teacher: We're having problems with your daughter's behavior in school.

    Me: Well what do you do when she misbehaves? Do you put her desk in the hall? Make her stand with her nose in the corner? What?

    Teacher (gasp!): We don't beleive in negative discipline at XX school. We practice the positive behavioral reinforcmeent model.

    Me: (silence)

    Teacher: Do you have any suggestions about how we might create a more successful behavioral interaction with your daughter?

    Me: Yes. Discipline her when she misbehaves.

  • Billy!||

    "I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have traded my high school and college experiences as I knew it in order to enter the workforce four years earlier. I have the rest of my life to work..."

    I would have given anything to get out of high school and college. College was the most unhappy time in my life high school the second most. Horrible horrible. Just awful.

    Being a kid sucks. Adulthood is, but for a few exceptions, much much better in every possible way.

    At least in my experience.

  • Taggart||

    In retrospect, I would much prefer work experience to a college education. I did meet my spouse at college - so assuming I could still have that - I would pick work. I love to learn, but I have learned on my own for years since college. I don't need college to learn. Work means earning money and experience. College means spending money. If I had it to do all over, I'd have worked. The career I pursued did not require a college education, excpet on paper (not in actuality). We have made college the new high school. Let's go back to making high school the general liberal arts education, and college only for the very elite. High school should equip most people for the world.

  • Dello||

    Billy!

    Same for me, and I can't even SPELL collage! Good thing I teach engines and not ESL...

  • ||

    I would argue that the kids who are "successful" by following the system and its intent are actually probably the dumbest of the kids in the school.

    If you can't figure out how to game the system, you're not the brightest of the students.

    Fun story: in 6th grade, our teacher would punish us by making us write a phrase 500 times, that kind of stuff. I had a TRS-80 hooked up to a thermal printer with a keyboard. I asked my teacher, who knew nothing of computers, if I could type my punishment instead of hand writing it. He was pretty cool and said yes.

    So I wrote a program on the TRS-80 that would print out the punishment the proper number of times--you know, just a loop. But I also built a randomizer into the program to generate random mis-types and errors to make it look like it was hand typed.

    Worked like a charm until the class douchebag complained that it was unfair that I could type mine up and the teacher stopped letting me. The class douchebag later received a vicious ankle sweep during soccer practice.

  • ||

    After reading some of the comments today it appears not enough time was devoted to homework in some schools.

    Somehow we gotten confused between education and going to school.

  • kinnath||

    Because many parents are not as educated as you. Many parents honestly don't understand the value of reading to their children, of exposing them to brain-teasers, puzzles, and the alphabet.

    When my kids were growing up, they'd get invited to birthday parties and I would buy really nice hardcover books as gifts. I had one parent turn livid and scold me for giving her kid such a lame gift instead of a cool toy.

  • ||

    I mean "have gotten".

    Need more homework.

  • SpongePaul||

    the dumb lineman with an iq of 105

    Isn't a person with an IQ of 105 above the median? I'm kind of rusty, but I thought the median IQ was 100.
    _______________________________________
    HMM i though the avg iq was around 115 or so. since below 80 is a moron and i think below 70 is retarded. but if 100 is avg, then that makes sense, seeing the way the country is run and hearing the people whom i encounter on a daily basis speak.

  • kinnath||

    From wikipedia:

    An Intelligence Quotient or IQ is a score derived from one of several different standardized tests attempting to measure intelligence. The term "IQ," a calque of the German Intelligenz-Quotient, was coined by the German psychologist William Stern in 1912 as a proposed method of scoring early modern children's intelligence tests such as those developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in the early 20th Century.[1] Although the term "IQ" is still in common use, the scoring of modern IQ tests such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is now based on a projection of the subject's measured rank on the Gaussian bell curve with a center value (average IQ) of 100, and a standard deviation of 15, although different tests may have different standard deviations.

  • ||

    There is one big thing in education that everyone knows but refuses to talk about - the parents are the key to education. Good parents mean well-behaved, eager-to-learn kids. This makes life easy for the teachers.

    My kids go to one of the best elementary schools in a college town. My 1st grade son is reading Harry Potter books and is barely in the top reading group. While I have helped him, he learned to read in the classroom. His teachers have the ideal situation - good students and lots of parent volunteers. The same students and the same schools would have totally different results with different parents. Our kids succeed because we are good parents.

    I used to live in a town with awful parents. 94% of the first graders did not know their alphabet. The kids were already 3 years behind the first time they went to school. There was no way the schools could be successful. And it is not just genetics. I saw bright two year olds turn into dim 5 years due to negligent parenting.

  • Dormouse||

    What the hell are they doing with all of the time they have now?

    Two words. Free daycare.

  • SpongePaul||

    IQ Ratings of Over 140 - Genius or near genius

    IQ Ratings of 120 to 140 Highly intelligent

    IQ Ratings of 110 to 119 Very intelligent

    wel i was wrong and overestimated the smarts of Americans. below are the standard iq planks


    IQ Rating of 90 to 109 Normal or average intelligence

    IQ Ratings of 80 to 89 Dullness

    IQ Rating of 70-79 Borderline deficiency

    IQ Ratings Under70 Definite feeble-mindedness

  • SpongePaul||

    how did it doublepost like that, lol. I would venture to guess that most reason readers are of above avg. In life i have found that Libertarians tend to have a higher iq than the other parties members. as a whole anyway. but that is just my findings, which could be biased. by the fact thqt i hang out with scientests and engineers mostly and alot of them are libertarians.

  • Dr Duck||

    getting rid of summer vacation seems like a good idea to me

    What's sometimes forgotten is that school buildings in many areas of the country are not built for summertime use, and would require retrofitting with air conditioning to be habitable. The added expense would be huge, the lead time ridiculous.

    Oh, and hold the chorus of "fuck 'em, let the little bastards sweat". I guarantee that nothing would get accomplished in such classrooms.

  • ||

    More time in schools means more teachers means more dues going to teachers unions means more of Obama's partymates getting elected.

  • Lefiti||

    If Resason Is Mostly a Waste of Time, Why Donate to it? Oops.

  • Class Clown||

    "To get back on topic - I hate the sheeply way people accept homework as a virtue in and of itself. It doesn't always develop the traits you want it to."

    Here's what I hate. When I was a kid in grade school, we were punished (for whatever) with having to stay after school and write pages from the dictionary, efecctively treating writing as punishment.

    And then when we got to junior high, they wondered why we hated writing term papers.

  • JD||

    Abdul took the words out of my mouth. Modern industrial society doesn't have much use for kids. But we can't just let them run around free, so we have to pen them up somewhere. If they actually get an education, that's just gravy.

  • ||

    I like Jacob a lot, but why do all these Reasonoids live in absurd places like Dallas, Virgina, etc.? I mean, and I hate to say this, the dumbest folks, on AVERAGE, live there. I mean have you seen Office Space? Mike Judge is from the great republic and his modus operandi seems to be to skewer the losers there. I admit that I live in ABQ and the folks here are dumb tambien. But I used to live in PDX and folks there are so much smarter. I am divorced and without kids so sun won out in the end. But duh.

  • Taggart||

    Virginia and Dallas have some of the best school systems in the country, idiot.

  • Brett Stevens||

    For information on how IQ correlates to usefulness as a person, check out the research of Linda Gottfredson:

    http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/

    And Charles Murray, of course!

  • ||

    I'd prefer that that the federal government stay out of education altogether

    Tried it. You know, before public school. Yeah we were all a bunch of geniuses back then.

  • Angela Norton Tyler||

    When it comes to education, millions of people believe that "more is better." They want more homework, more class work, more tests, more grades, more, more, more! There are two problems with this philosophy. First of all, there comes a point where you receive diminishing returns on investment. How much can you cram into a child's head before his stress and hatred of school outweighs any benefits? Secondly, more is only better if what you are doing more of is, in itself, good. It is my belief (as an actual teacher that spends real time in classrooms with living students) that too much emphasis is placed on the wrong things, and extending the day or the year to focus on more tests is not a good idea. http://www.family-homework-answers.com

  • Les||

    Tried it. You know, before public school. Yeah we were all a bunch of geniuses back then.

    I could be wrong, but I don't think the federal government was involved in public school from the beginning. So, suggesting that the federal government not be involved in public school (which I agree with), is not to suggest getting rid of public school.

  • Jaxon L. Yazka||

    Screw the government.

  • ||

    Even the existence of homework is a concession of failure.

    Damn, I wish I'd thought of that argument when I was a kid.

    -jcr

  • Jaxon L. Yazka||

    Me too John. "Even the existence of homework is a concession of failure", that's genius

  • ||

    What are they doing for those 7 hours if not learning? They're learning how to save the polar bears from global warming, why private property is immoral, how capitalism expoits and abuses the middle-class and poor, and that their parents are Gaia-raping thugs.

  • ||

    "Many parents honestly don't understand the value of reading to their children, of exposing them to brain-teasers, puzzles, and the alphabet. The homework more or less forces the parents to be involed, where they may not know better."

    Then explain it to them, and show them examples, and sit next to them and model the behavior if you have to. Over and over and over. That's how you get good parenting behavior that isn't dependent on institutions. Note that this would also make more union jobs. But it would require teachers to treat parents as adults and equals instead of as obstacles which they don't want to do.

  • Les||

    They're learning how to save the polar bears from global warming, why private property is immoral, how capitalism expoits and abuses the middle-class and poor, and that their parents are Gaia-raping thugs.

    No, no, they're not learning any of that. Or anything else, really.

  • Jaxon L. Yazka||

    Exactly, Les, you no what goes on in there and it's bullshit.

  • 111||

    Yeah all the 3rd graders at my son's school are wearing 'Property is Theft' T-shirts. Not.

  • ||

    Years ago we taught reading, writing, math, social studies and science. Now teachers (fyi Texas is a right to work state hence unions are just "suggestive organizations") are busy making sure your little darlings are fed, tutored, sent once a month to a fire drill, tornado drill, school shutdown drill, checked for lice, if eye glasses are needed, assemblies for anti-bullying, drug awareness, stranger danger, every cultural holiday to make sure no one is left out, band competitions, after school programs, sports just to mention a few things. You take them to baseball, karate, swimming, dancing, football, Scouts, and every party they get an invitation to, out of state soccer competitions, and vacations. There is no time for core academics- and teachers are busy teaching them what parents used to teach.
    My spring break will be spent working on school issues, grading, evaluating projects, buying books (because you know YOU can't get them to the library 'cause you are so busy) and not vacationing in the Bahamas. Oh, why do you think we have metal detectors? It's the kids who are being screened to the tune of millions of dollars, money that could go to actual educational endeavors. Field trips require reams of paper because someone may cut his finger and a lawyer is always ready to get you "the money you deserve". Documentation of your kids, because you don't trust the teachers, now takes many hours-hours no one wants to spend at home so your children suffer as teachers grade papers at school during a time your child could be engaged in learning. A middle school teacher with 120 kids would spend hours grading and importing grades to an online gradebook so you don't have to come up to school to see about your child.
    You aren't happy with the schools? VOLUNTEER and help, get to a school board meeting and voice your complaints and have some decent ideas for change! Check on your child instead of us only seeing you when your child gets a bad grade. 40 years of listening to you complain how bad the schools are and we can't get a decent well thought out assignment from half the students. We CAN however get excuses of why your kids didn't do some assignment. Be a parent and quit thinking everything is fun! Raise your own kids and demand quality from your kids instead of just excusing their lack of motivation.

  • Taggart||

    "checked for lice"

    Oh, no, they don't do that anymore. Don't you know that's a violation of HIPPA? They can't even warn you if there's been an outbreak of lice in the school. My generaiton had lice checks, but not my kids. Wonder why lice is on the rise?

  • Robert||

    Considering the current lefty desire for much much more small scale local agriculture I would think that they would not want to keep a farm oriented school schedule.


    Is farming the reason that not only is that the school schedule, but also that of theater (extending into TV), the US Sup. Ct., seminar series of even non-academically-affiliated organin's, and football in most of the world?

    I've found in my inner city neighborhood that students in classes with a couple of kids who act out a lot during the day got more homework that kids in other classes in the same grade, due to the cumulative hour spent dealing with the one or two bad apples in the classroom every day.


    When, and why, did the expression change "from act up" to "act out"? And "wait for" to "wait on"?

  • ||

    I'm surprise to see all comments from people who are not educators or teachers. How many of you really spent time at your children school?
    The problem is that this is not 1960 or 1970; today there is a great lack of parent involvement in public education. Parents expect to send their children to school and be "educated". In school a teacher, supposed to teach reading, math, social studies, and more…m, but now these kids are not well behaved because many parents don't want to deal with them, they are not fed because their mom and dad don't feed them, they act like school is a daycare center and teachers have to deal with those kids and try to teach other 20 more of them.
    About homework, the fact of your child getting homework is to practice and develop skills. Homework should be a support or extra practice and that's the purpose. Unfortunately, many teachers don't use it properly and send home a bunch of worksheets and just get busy activities. It is amazing that even parents complain about having to deal with their children homework.
    In simple terms, teachers teach and parents support at home. That's how it was before. But now parents can't teach and parents don't support their kids. Plus we have a bad school system.

  • Taggart||

    I call bullshit. Parental involvement in the public schools is MUCH greater today than in the 70's. In the 70's my parents sent me to school and handed it all over to the teacher. My parents never volunteered, nor did many other parents. Today, they expect scores of parents on every frickin' filed trip, parents to come in and do secretarial work of copying worksheets, parents to read one-on-one with the kids, parents to do this, parents to do that....you're a fricking paranah if you don't volunteer at your kid's school. There is more parental involvement than ever in schools. I'm not buying it.

  • ||

    One answer is to discard the paradigm of grades and allow students to progress as material is mastered not progression based on time served. The incorporation of community college classes with high schools may be a first step. Home schooling has the advantage of progression at the student's own pace but the disadvantage of tying up a productive adult with a few students and the disadvantage of paying taxes for an 'unused' puble teacher.

  • ||

    Dello,
    You teach at a community college, amd you spell it "collage." Enough said.

  • Jaxon L. Yazka||

    fuck you, you can't even spell the word "and", enough said.

  • Defcon||

    The truth is you only need to learn math and perhaps a second language and you'll be just fine. But on the otherhand school is good for keeping kids distracted.

  • lisa||

    no no no you are wrong

  • ||

    school a waste of time. people who agree with school are hypmitised with working within the system. You should have a free life of your choice fullstop.

  • Highschool student||

    I am ahighschool student getting very good marks according to me 90% +. I follow all the rules and comple all my assignment

    However, i think highschool is a waste of time! Period. Here's what i've come up with so i can do wee. If you like the subject LEARN IT. If you don't like it MEMORIZE IT. I don't see how this i'm ever going to apply this anywhere in the future, but i have to in order to go to university and get a job. Even though i will never use what i leared at that job

  • Middle School Student||

    One day one of the kids in my class asked the classic question in Algebra, "When are we going to use this in the real world?" Because our teacher couldn't think of an answer, she just said that getting a good education which involves learning Algebra will help you get into college and find a better career. Bullshit! My parents run a business and they don't know half of the stuff that we learn, and they're doing just fine in they're store...

  • Middle School Student||

    Sorry, I meant 'their' instead of 'they're'

  • ||

    I learned more on the internet than I did at school. I am currently a senior in High School. I learned about Human Evolution, the History of England (I'm an American by the way), Government, and I even learned Division on the internet. You know what I am confused about? The economy. While everyone in the media is talking about the ups and downs of the DOW, while congress is passing stimulus bills, I have no idea what in the hell they are talking about because I was not taught Economics in High School. It is a Honors student class. They did not even make it required. No wonder half the people in this country don't know how the economy works. Because schools don't teach you. The internet is awful, because every article I've read assumed you knew something about Economics, when I don't know squat shit.

  • Zelia||

    I'm actually attempting to right a paper on the cons of traditional schooling, and why homeschool might be more affective. You gave me....

    Nothing. You made a lot of big claims, but had absolutely no solid evidence to back those claims up. It's all fine and dandy if you wish to complaim, but please for the love of god have some facts before calling a paragraph or two fulll of nothing but gripes and article.

  • cpascal||

    The real reason why the schools want more and more of the child's time is to indoctrinate the children, and to create a situation in which the government has more influence on the children than the parents and families. Read John Taylor Gatto's book "The Underground History of American Education." (It's available for free online.) The real purpose behind the public schools has nothing to do with the education or well-being of the children, but to turn them into willing slaves for the elite.

  • Jaxon L. Yazka||

    I'm fifteen years old, only a freshman in high school, but I've been reading your story about school being a waste of time, and I completely agree with you. There is no point to it. Why give us all of that work if we don't want to do it. I don't believe that anybody needs to know about the revolutionary war, or what a prepositional phrase is, to get a job as a cashier at a fast food resturaunt. I feel as if I'm being torchured every single day that I have to come here, but actually, torcher would probably be better. I'm just going to live in a cave out in the woods, in the wilderness, so why learn all of this fucking Bullshit. If the government wants me to learn something they're going to have to teach me something useful to me in the future, like how to hunt and fish, not how to write a "proper" essay. They need to be teaching us how to defend ourselves against any kind of threat or danger to us.

  • Duke||

    I agree with every word in this article. The things they are teaching you do matter some way or another, but the way that it is being taught is completely counterproductive. Thank God someone came up with the idea of "unschooling".

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement