lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

Posted on June 24, 2009. Filed under: American culture, chinese culture, education, Japanese culture | Tags: , , , , , , |

I see it coming, like a runaway train, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The day after tomorrow school is over.  The kids will be home for the summer.

One of my kids’ favorite summer activities is  sitting on the floor behind my chair while I’m working, and fighting.  Another favorite activity is opening the refrigerator.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Americans go to school about 180 days a year.  We have more days off than in school. Other countries, of course, think this is ridiculous. European and Asian kids spend more hours each day in school. Many attend school Saturdays. They have fewer vacations.  If a foreign school has 15 days more each year (from K-12), that equals another 180 days of study, or another entire school year.

I’ve met many Japanese and Chinese expats who are amazed to see how little homework their children get in the US schools. Many teachers give 10 minutes homework per grade (1st grade:10 min, 2nd grade:20 min), so by 6th grade students have 1 hour homework. American kids are asked to focus less time, and in one study gave up on tasks faster than their Asian counterparts who focused on solving the problem for a longer time.

And why do American high school kids finish class by 2:00  in the afternoon? What are they doing the rest of the day and who is around to supervise them?

US kids get 10 weeks vacation from school during the summer. Since we no longer need the children to harvest the fields, they should be sent back to the classroom. 4 weeks vacation seems generous. As an American,  I don’t think cramming kids all day, every day is a good idea. I value free time for kids  creativity, self discovery and social development.  But the summer vacation is archaic. The teacher’s union, probably the biggest block to a longer school year, needs to realize 183 days a year won’t cut it today in a global economy.

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Starting school in America? Time to pick a race!

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: American culture, diversity, education, race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

For decades, students entering the American school system have been identified by race. Tracking of students by race was meant to identify trends, measure successes and allot funds. Children could belong to one and only one of 5 categories:  

  1. American Indian or Alaska native
  2. Asian or Pacific Islander
  3. Hispanic
  4. non-Hispanic black
  5. non-Hispanic white

Since America is known as the great melting pot, this seems quite arbitrary. So many children, especially in newer generations, are of mixed heritage, and don’t fit neatly into only one category.

When I registered my son for kindergarten I didn’t check off a race on his paperwork, because mixed race wasn’t an option. The principal went ballistic. “If you don’t choose a race, the kindergarten teacher will assign him a race.”  I will never, ever forget hearing that from an educator. 

Starting 2010, new, more inclusive categories will be included on school intake forms for mixed race children. However, these only apply to new students entering the system, not to kids already in school. Also, using these expanded categories it is not mandatory, but the government is encouraging all schools to use this new system.

I find this desire to assign people one and only one race as ironic, given our love of the hyphenated American, when we proudly declare ourselves to be Italian-American, Irish-American, etc. Many hyphenated Americans have never visited their “homeland” and don’t even speak the language. Still, most Americans can proudly tell you their roots, and where their ancestors came from.

By continually slicing and dicing our student body into ever expanding categories of races, we start to miss the obvious. At this point in American history, it seems to me that class trumps race in terms of educational opportunities and successes.  I am guessing that middle class and wealthy students will have greater educational oportunities and successes than poor students, regardless of race.

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