POSTED ON AUGUST 24, 2011:
Back in the Day
Holidays extend school calendar
The signs of that part of the year known as Back to School--dreaded by kids, eagerly awaited by parents--abound. Flashing yellow lights on the drive to work. Big sales at clothing stores all around town. Crossing guards with their handheld stop signs. Anti-lice kits ringing the aisle of school supplies. That enormous influx of people into Target. Oh, children, it's time to get your learn on.
You may be saying to yourself, "But it's August. It seems like they had the last day of school just a few days ago." And you would be right. Sure, schools are starting later than they have--especially Tulsa Public--in past years, but still. And there are quite a few school districts around for which classes have already been in session for more than a week. Students attended classes until the second day of June, and some kids outside of TPS started in the second week of August. Now that's just not right.
Having taught in public schools in Oklahoma for 11 years, I've seen the school year start earlier this year, later that year, and I've seen it end in early-, middle-, and late-May, and I've seen it end in June. But it's not like it ends early when they start early. The school year has been getting longer and longer, starting earlier, ending later, but the kids are still going to school the same number of days as they were in the 1950s. It's because of all the blasted holidays. Seriously.
Understand that teachers love breaks from school as much as (probably more than) the students, but teachers are also a little better at not giving in to the lure of instant gratification. Kids want a break for Halloween. They want off for Ash Wednesday, though I can't imagine more than 10% of them know what that is. They "need" off for Cinco de Mayo, International Star Wars day, whatever they can get. The kids I taught honestly believed they should be allowed to miss school on the day of the winter formal and the day of prom. Like anyone believes they are starting to get ready at 8:00am. They are not considering, however, that taking a day off of school in honor of holidays as momentous as the day Johnny Appleseed planted his first tree or Ruth Bader Ginsberg's birthday just means more school days later on.
When I was in high school (I graduated from a high school in Houston in 1987), we didn't have all the breaks these kids today have. Actually, that makes me sound like a toothless old codger lamenting about walking in the snow to school. ("When I was your age, we were so poor, we just sat around and threw up. Now get off my lawn!") What I mean to say is that schools haven't always had the ridiculous amount of holidays they have today.
Spring break, for me, was something college kids got. Our Spring break in the 1980s was Good Friday and the Monday after Easter. This year, the TPS Spring break is actually 10 days long. I thought it was cool in college that we got a week off of classes. And a Fall break? Really? Ridiculous.
We got out of school for Labor Day (on the few occasions when we started school before then). We got out Thanksgiving Day and the day after. We got the standard two weeks off for Winter break, though winter in Houston is usually pretty laughable. I remember the one day it snowed in Houston. It was the kind of dry, swirling dusting of snow that doesn't even register on precipitation measurements. They cancelled school in the middle of the day, and our parents struck out after us, braving the completely-ice-and-snow-free roads to rescue their completely-unaffected-by-snow children. Anyway, then there was the Easter-centric Spring break, and we were done before Memorial Day, when most of us headed off for three months of beach bummery down in Galveston.
A quick glance at the TPS calendar this year shows the aforementioned Fall break lasting two days, kids get three days off for Thanksgiving (I guess the calendar-makers decided that moms need help cooking the turkey), Presidents' Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day (which actually ends up being a four-day weekend, since the Friday before stands as a teacher professional day), and the extra-long Spring break.
That break is longer because of another foolish addition to the calendar: the parent / teacher conference days. Again, when I was in school, which is to say back when the earth was still cooling, parent / teacher conferences were held in the evenings. We didn't get out of school for it, and more importantly, parents could actually come to said conferences and hear what holy terrors blessings their children were. These days, the conferences are yet another day out of school for the kids, and an actual conference between a parent and a teacher is somewhat of a rarity.
Granted, I spent most of my teaching career as a fine arts teacher, which means that kids mostly made good grades in my classes, so their parents rarely felt the need to visit. But even as an English teacher, I always registered mild surprise when a parent actually showed up. It meant that either he or she did not work, or that he or she had asked for time off in order to schlep up to school and see how their kids were doing in their academic pursuits.
So if you don't let kids out for Columbus Day and Arbor Day and any other ridiculous "holiday," there could be so much more summer fun to be had, and a bigger vacation window. Allowing for the usual 173-ish days students must attend in a school year, and giving two days off for Thanksgiving, the traditional two weeks off for a Winter break, and the old-fashioned Spring break (the one that starts on Good Friday), kids could go to school from Labor Day to Memorial Day, the way God intended.
And let's face it, when the Good Lord invented the agrarian-based school calendar, that's what He was after.
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