School days are here again and the year is getting longer

Published 8:21 pm Thursday, August 2, 2007

The school year is beginning with students reporting to their classrooms on Monday in the Pearl River County School District and on Tuesday in the Picayune Municipal Separate School District.

Genie goes back next week down in St. Tammany Parish. Wow! School seems to start earlier every year, which, in my opinion, would not be a bad thing under the proper set of circumstances. Given all there is to learn today, children need more time in school. While school is starting earlier, little has been done to increase the amount of time children actually spend in class.

A school administrator I talked to the other day — I won’t mention any names because some folks might take umbrage at the prediction, though it isn’t original — said that in the near future school probably will be all year long.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The necessity for this, in my opinion, isn’t seen in the test scores so many moan and groan about every year, it’s seen in the education that children aren’t getting because of the pressure to improve those test scores. This lack of education in some areas I believe is seen in the increasing lack of civility in our society.

There is too little concentration on the arts and the reflection that they require and too much concentration on a list of “facts” that require more memory than reflection, “facts” that must be regurgitated on the myriad of tests that children take every year to compare them to other children elsewhere.

When we ignore reflection and the thought that accompanies it, we get people who don’t think before they act, even about the results of their actions, who don’t understand the civility that most of the arts teach and require.

Perhaps Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said it best in 1795, as quoted in a calendar on my desk: “One ought, each day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

Educators and business people discuss the need for students to learn to solve problems, that is, use what they are learning, yet there is no time for that because the base of “facts” seems to keep expanding. How are students to learn to solve problems if they have no time to reflect and think? How are they to solve problems and work together if their only goals are to do well on tests given them as individual students?

Again, problem solving requires reflection and thought and there is no time for that as students try to master list after list of “facts” to regurgitate on tests to make politicians happy.

Yes, I said politicians. Where do you think all these tests come from? Politician after politician pontificates about the need to quantify what students learn. They use the term “quality education” in describing what actually is quantification because what they really mean is an education that they can measure, which has little to do with quality and a whole lot to do with bragging rights that can be used to help in re-election campaigns.

If the school year does expand to 12 months, what is the likelihood that what has been lost in education in the drive to test and test and test and test some more won’t mean even more tests? What will keep these politicians from expanding the existing lists and adding new lists to be learned?

I fear nothing will prevent that. School will continue to be the grind that it has become with still no time for the arts, reflection and team building.

If the politicians do discover the arts, you may be sure of two things. One is that it will be converted into lists and not into doing. The second is that only politically correct art will be acceptable. Imagination and originality will be out the door, unacceptable. Politicians fear imagination and originality most of all. Those are things for which students can’t be tested, and still worse is that it produces things with which they are not familiar.

I fear that at the rate education is going these days that there may come a time when we will produce no more authors of the talent of William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare — I could go on for a ways.

I fear that if education continues in the current vein, we will no longer produce artists of the caliber of those that have been being featured on ETV over the past several weeks.

Some students who have gone through drama classes at Picayune Memorial High School and Pearl River Central, been members of the bands or taken visual arts have found paths to follow that would not otherwise have been open to them. How are such students to survive if such courses continue to be diminished.

As the drive to test increases, I fear those paths may become blocked altogether as educators are forced to find more time to “teach the test.” Despite protestations to the contrary, with teachers’ and administrators’ livelihoods being threatened if students’ scores do not improve, you may be certain that the tests are being taught.

Yes, school is going back in session and the year is getting longer and longer. I just hope that even with all the pressure of tests that teachers can find the time to teach some of the things that are being diminished in importance by these ridiculous sets of “facts” that have to be regurgitated on the almighty tests.