Obama wants more school time

I’m not quite clear on what he’s actually proposing, but here’s the idea that the president is preaching these days:

Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way.

Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.

“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” the president said earlier this year. “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

“Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

I don’t think that I would actually hate this idea, except for the fact that it seems to me like kids already spend just an insane amount of time in school not actually doing anything.  When I was a student (I graduated HS in 1998), I strongly remember watching a lot of movies; I don’t think that it was an exaggeration to say that we watched at least one non (or barely) school related, popular-type, full length movie a week, if not more throughout a lot of my schooling.  It got to the point that I remember my parents complaining about it so much that I intentionally stopped mentioning it to them when they asked about my day.  Middle school was particularly bad; I remember my 8th grade history teacher letting us watch Back to the Future, specifically joking that if anyone asks, we should just say it is kind of “history.” 

Even in high school, we didn’t watch movies as much, but we had a lot  of down time.  Many times throughout the year, some smartass would “suggest” to the teacher that we have a free day, and the other students would echo the plea, of course, and more often than not, teach (particularly the older ones) would give in.  We would play cards, or chat, or nerds like me would read or something. My parents could never figure out why I so rarely had homework- it was because there was so much downtime that I could get it done easily during most days!

Now, I’m working on the assumptions that 1) my experience was typical (I never felt too far behind my peers in advanced education, so I think that’s safe) and 2) that things haven’t changed that much since I left school (I see no evidence, and would note that I aced law school despite being several years older than most of my classmates).  Assuming these are the case, we would benefit a lot more from making better use of the time that we have than extending the time to waste.  (And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have a class party or something creative and fun now and again, but, in my experience at least, it can be taken to extreme). 

I don’t know how you fix that on a federal level; I’m not sure that you can.  It really strikes me as the sort of thing that the parents have to demand locally, and hold the schools accountable.  Thoughts?

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