If parents and educators want to stress more of “the basics” in public schools, something is going to have to give because the school day and the school curriculum are just too crowded. It’s odd, really, how people will complain that the education system does not respond to public input and pressure when, in actual fact, it has responded to the point of its detriment.
For example, in September of 1972 when I started teaching elementary school, I had a homeroom Grade 6 and taught visual art to Grades 6 to 8. My morning consisted of two main blocks of time. From 9am until 10:30 it was language arts (reading, writing and spelling) and from 10:45 until noon it was math. That was it. Then, in the afternoon, there was phys. ed/health, music or art (on alternating days) from 1 until 2:00 and social studies or science from 2:15 until 3:30pm.
In many ways it was like “the balanced school day” now with the large blocks of time — but with fewer subjects. Clearly the emphasis was on what many call “the basics” — reading, writing and arithmetic, social studies and science.
Then, along came (in no particular order) daily classes of “sustained silent reading (SSR),” phys ed, health and French. Then, we were asked to include dental education and sex education in health. Now, I understand there are also curriculum units on diversity and equity (including gender equality), family education and drug education.
Now, a key question could be: How did all that change come about? Well, in my opinion, most of these additions were not as a result of research and academic elites telling the education system what to include in the curriculum.
While it is true educational researchers (following on the heels of the Hall Dennis Report in the late 1960’s) were responsible for the start of social promotion, open concept schools and so-called “whole language,” it was parental pressures that made the biggest difference when it came to adding to the curriculum — making it very crowded indeed.
So, here we are now, some 36 years later, and when we look back we realize just how much the publicly funded “system” has responded to public pressures. The problem is, however, that in responding to those demands, nothing was thrown out. The day was not lengthened. The year was not lengthened and, in fact, has actually been shortened because of all the professional development days.
In other words, time on the “basics” have had to be continually reduced to make way for all these other demands. Now what? There are only so many hours in a day and something has to give.
While many love to blame teachers and the teachers’ unions for all that is wrong with the education system — and they are responsible for the professional development days and I admit that not all teachers are created equal — there also needs to be some soul searching here as well by parents, past and present.
How many times have I heard comments like: “Why are they not learning that at school? I mean, how much time can it take in a week to teach _____?” Fine, but you can’t have it both ways. And, while it may not be politically correct to ask: What is left for children and youth to learn at home?
Moira MacDonald has an excellent column in today’s Toronto Sun on the complexity of the school system and how busy it is. Well, if parents want more of the “basics,” they are either going to have to take something away, lengthen the school day or lengthen the school year. Or, all of the above.
This issue is not just about teachers and teachers’ unions. It is also about parents and society’s expectations.
Just a thought. But, maybe that is why independent schools do so well (or even the publicly funded Catholic system who also manage to include religious classes). They do not need to be all things to all people. So, when parents are able to choose where to send their children, they decide which school provides what they feel their children need — and usually the curriculum in private schools focuses on “the basics.”
Something to think about.
H/T to Cathy Cove for the MacDonald article URL.