Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Balanced Calendar, Who Really Benefits?

Let's try this again. I learned a valuable lesson in trying to post this blog last time. MySpace has a few bugs in it, and so it completely lost this post when I tried to post it! Well, now I'll put it in Notepad and then copy/paste it in.

This week Rockdale County is out of school for their "Winter Break." They're following a "Balanced Calendar," one that gives the students and teachers six weeks of school followed by a week off. Frankly, I wish I had that when I was in school. What I wanted to consider, though, is who really benefits from the extra week off, and what does that say about our society.

Obviously, the Balanced Calendar benefits the teachers the most. Having a week off after 6 weeks of intense babysitting, trying to control monsters who have no sense of right and wrong, is about the only way to help preserve the teachers' slipping sanities and help them get through from year to year. Teacher burnout is so high these days anyway. I couldn't even get through one year! (The whole issue of the conduct of the students is another blog, one I'm wanting to get into, but not now.)

One thing is certain, it does not benefit the students themselves. Sure, the students love having the week off, but the educational effects of giving students a whole week off are more than what you think. Students can forget quite a few things in just one week. Of course, for the advanced classes, a week can be just enough time to assign Red Badge of Courage to read, or give some major project, which, in my opinion, is not fair for the students. If they have a week off between quarters (?), then let them have that week off to recover as well.

It doesn't benefit parents of those students, either. Suddenly, parents have to provide food and babysitting for young children for a week. Which means finding a Day Care place or a babysitter, waiting long lines in grocery stores...etc... They have to actually parent those children, have to deal with them for a whole week.
(Again, this raises questions I want to deal with, but later.)

It takes but a logical leap to figure out who really benefits from this new Balanced Calendar schedule. The school calendar reflects the culture's economy. In the beginning of Public Education, school was based around an agricultural society, the breaks, around harvesting the crops and providing a work force for the farmers. Teenagers worked on the farms and helped provide for their families. In recent times, specialization occurred in the work force, and the numbers of college graduates were able to find specialized jobs in their fields. Teenagers were then needed to fill the jobs where menial tasks were done (retail, services...etc). A school schedule where there was one large summer break was needed again helped to fuel an economy.

Now however, with the workforce inundated with college students that can no longer get stable jobs with their college degrees, teenagers are consistently being pushed out of those jobs. There is no need to keep them out of school for extended periods. While educators will say that this will help to develop the education of those students, and they might be right, it actually does something else. With fewer people able to get a job (because of the shorter summer breaks), the Balanced Calendar benefits unemployed college graduates. Employees can now be more picky than ever. It is a shame that, despite this, customer service has not gotten any better.

What about the Elementary age children? Those that cannot get a job? Take a look at the grocery stores during those weeks, or the wrecked Children's sections at your local Borders. The children must be provided for, fed, entertained, taken to movies, or babysat if the parents work. All this costs money. All this benefits the local businesses and helps to fuel the economy. In short, Capitalism benefits from the Balanced Calendar.

This isn't a suprising revelation. The mighty dollar governs most everything in our society, at the expense of most everything. And while I'm not anti-capitalistic (I work at a retail store, this week off is proving profitable for everyone at Stonecrest mall.), I do think that there is a responsibilty that we make sure that our need for the dollar does not blind us to the bigger picture. With China and India becoming superpowers, the way that we educate our children will eventually determine how our economy is shaped. If the Balanced Calendar is determined not to have an academic advantage, it must be rethought. Of course, the timing of the school isn't the only thing that needs to be looked at. The way school is run in Japan, for instance, is based around the strengths of the individual students, whether it be technical, academic, or general. But I digress.

Citizens have to take a look at the underlying motives behind what's going on in the educational world, in government, in most every part of a person's life, and determine wether or not the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. I'm not sure about the Balanced Calendar, but I think that the old calendar was outdated and in for some reworking. The school schedule should be shaped around the society it serves, and maybe the current calendar is the best one. I'm not sure. I do know, however, that it makes this week at Borders busy and profitable, so I can't argue with that.

The next few blogs will be in reference to Neil Postman's ideas, especially in his book The Disapperance of Childhood, which I am currently reading. It changes the way people should look at the media, at childhood, and at the reasons behind the mess in the Children's section most nights.

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