Obama on Education: More School, Less Play Time
HE SAID, SHE SAID…
“Yes We Can.” It was a phrase plastered on every other bumper, headlined in mainstream Media across the world, and, more often than expected, shouted from rooftops. The Obama administration gave a hope of liberty and freedom to the American people through change, but seven months after the inauguration, students across the country are wondering if too much change, too soon, will lead to too big and too bold ideas. Given the students’ public opinion on the president’s recent education agenda, which rallies to add time to school classes, to stay open late and to possibly decrease summer vacation time, President Obama has a tough call ahead.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a very impressive sounding $787 billion stimulus package that a divided Congress approved last February. Of which, $90.9 billion are going toward education reforms and the official lengthening of the school day and year, creating a schoolboy’s worst fear: a short summer.
I highly doubt that the new president is trying to eradicate the childhood staple of joy that is summer, and his motivation is seemingly pure. “Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” the president said earlier this year for the Associated Press. “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”
It is a fact that the United States has lost its competitive edge in comparison to the mathematical and scientific Asian countries across the seas, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to restore America to its intellectual prestige. What does worry me is that from the 40 republican senators, three signed in the proposal, and out of the 178 republican representatives in the House, none voted to pass the bill.
I enjoy the checks and balances of partisan platforms, and this donkey stampede that rushed the bill into law creates some questions. The White House website and Obama’s personal website both go into detail about the need to focus on early childhood education, improve K-12 schooling, and expand access to higher learning, but neither throw out anything more than dollar signs. The expansion of Pell Grant scholarships, rewards for teachers instead of punishment through a reformed No Child Left Behind, and creating a program for early education for children up to five years old (aptly named the Zero to Five program), all cost money, but will giving a proverbial $100 here and there address the root of the problem? College tuition has risen 40% over the last five years, and Pell Grants won’t stop the pattern.
Education does need reformation, and the government is in a position to begin, but what standard are we trying to meet? There are so many numbers, questions, and doubts surrounding the new federal approach, and before there is a general consensus on the bill, there needs to be a more accurate answer to the opposition.
Instead of “Yes, We Can,” I think come next summer, most students would like to hear three other words: “School is out!”
Etched on the surface of each and every American is a unique signature of liberty that serves as proof to their independent identity—allowing them to choose what they want to do and how they want to do it. Every American can strive to become who they want to be without any restrictions or limitations that could forge this individuality. This identity, so unique and unlike any other country’s, cannot therefore be even slightly compared to that of any other people’s.
With news of President Obama’s desire to lengthen students’ school day and curtail their summer vacation in order to keep up with the leading students of other world powers, one must examine the reasons for our new president’s beefed-up education motivation. While it is true that students in many other countries score substantially higher on math and science examinations, these same students are also spending about 25-30% more time in the classroom. Researchers see that adding a simple ten minutes to the school day will significantly help this problem in our own schools, rather than adding more days to the school year. And why not make this simple adjustment, when the current American school day is based off an agrarian work day that was designed for students to get released from school early to work in the fields?
While many applaud Obama for his new plan, the feasibility of such a measure coming to pass could prove unlikely. High school history teacher, Steve Mayo, comments, “I commend him for understanding the ties between school and national standards and how it links to the economy. As far as a longer day, it’s going to be tough to execute but if it happens, you would see a difference in performance.”
Student efficiency and effectiveness would indeed improve, but one must also consider the other strengths that American students are known for that would surely be hindered if the school day or year was significantly lengthened. Extracurricular activities, for instance, are highly valued and are what keep a balance in the lives of American students. Shockingly, many students in countries like North and South Korea lack these crucial additions due in part to an “all work and no play” mindset toward academics. In fact, Korean Ivy-Leaguers have the highest percentage rate of U.S. college dropouts—a scary 44% due to the students’ continuous study habits and failure to get involved with American activities. Korean students attending U.S. colleges and universities spend about 75% of their time in the books and only 25% in extracurricular activities. American-born students on the other hand balance both equally at 50%.
So do we really want to compete with our Asian counterparts and spend more time in the classroom at the expense of sacrificing our high school sports teams and other extracurricular activities such as band, art or choir? With all of their time being spent in the classrooms during school and in the books at home, students will no longer be encouraged to participate in class leadership or interest clubs—the very roots that allow a student to grow in his or her gifts and passions that make them uniquely American.