Every time I turn around, it seems that kids are off school for some holiday, teacher’s meeting, or whatever. This week it was President’s Day, so I guess its appropriate to honor Lincoln and Washington by not going to work or school. Granted, these two presidents accomplished some great things, but should we also have a day off for Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, and James Buchanan? Martin Luther King fought for civil rights and for equal opportunity in the work force, so it seems odd to celebrate his efforts by not working on his birthday either. Maybe I am just bitter, because I had to work on the holiday. I even work on my own birthday.
The banks and post offices are closed, and most of the state workers have a legal holiday so that they can go skiing or just sleep in. Half of the kids that I saw in the clinic today do not know the reason they are not in school. When I asked one 8-year old today, about which presidents are we honoring today, he thought it was President Obama. President Obama may be working today, too, even if it is hanging a wreath at the Washington or Lincoln memorials.
American children are supposed to get 180 days on instruction per school year; considerably less than other countries (like Japan) that put our educational methods to shame. Japanese high school children go to school for 240 days per year. Add that up over 12 years, and it comes out to an extra 720 more classroom days; or four more years of instruction compared to U.S. schools. No wonder why we are falling behind. The Japanese students only get a few weeks of holiday per year; classes are really year-round. They do not have an entire summer off to run the family farm and bring in the crops like American students.
We have had three different Japanese exchange students living in our home over the years, and had the opportunity of visiting them in Japan once. As a part of our visit, I wanted to see their school. So one Friday my wife and I were invited to Kyoko and Eriko’s private high school. We were greeted warmly, removed our shoes, and were escorted to Kyoko’s classroom. Surprisingly, during the one hour window that we were permitted to visit, classes were not in session. All of the kids had mops, scrub brushes, dust clothes, and toilet brushes — they were cleaning their school! And remember, this was a pricey private school. For a few hours, every Friday, the entire school cleans their building. We were told that this practice teaches humility and fosters respect. And respect, they do have. They respect their teachers and each other. It was amazing to see the cultural differences.
Japanese students are under immense pressure from their parents and society to succeed. They have to pass entrance exams to enter high school, as well as college. By the time they start college, they are extremely prepared. Japanese universities are prestigious and expense, so no one really wastes their money on junk classes. Education is taken very seriously.
Like many issues, there is a flip side. Japanese students are also under more stress. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle. American kids need to be in school more days per year. I think it would be better if there is not a long summer holiday to de-educate and mill about. Kids and teachers need breaks, but not all summer. Teachers (and I have been one) do like to continue their education during this time, but they can do it online easier and cheaper and with less disruption in the kids’ education.
I am also in favor of school uniforms. There is plenty of time outside of school for kids to express their fashion quirks. I get a little tired of seeing underwear half way up the back, exposed butt cracks, and some very inappropriate t-shirts on school-aged kids.
Americans spend a lot of money on education, but I don’t think we are getting our full bucks’ worth anymore. We can do better. We must do better.