Friday, August 14, 2015

Educating Kids in American Schools: Early-Morning Zombies Subject to the Status Quo

It is natural to assume that the people in the business of educating children are highly committed to the dissemination of knowledge. That many school-administrators would stand by, and even enable the continuance of practices that compromise learning is difficult to believe; that fallacious reasoning would be used could only be reckoned as highly bizarre, and oxymoronic. Yet all this applies to dragging kids to school before their bodies have woken up.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised middle and high school administrators to begin the school-day no earlier than 8:30 a.m. “to allow teens—who are biologically programmed to stay up later than adults—to get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep nightly.”[1] In the 2011-2012 school-year, the average start-time for 39,700 public middle, high, and combined schools was 8:03 a.m.; 83 percent of the schools began before 8:30.[2]

To Safwan Badr, a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the early start-times make absolutely no sense. “You’re asking kids to learn math at a time their brains are not even awake.”[3] In fact, we have made a virtue out of it, as per the adage, the early bird gets the worm. Parents praise their kids for waking up early for school, wholly unaware that the virtue may actually be a vice. Nietzsche would hardly be surprised, as he wrote of modern morality as decadent—even a weapon. Hence, we should question our moral truths, rather than simply take them as a given.

Strangely, many school administrators readily accepted the compromised learning in order to make room for after-school sporting events—as if academics were secondary in a school.[4] “It’s a logistical nightmare,” said Daniel Domenech of the School Superintendents Association.[5] As if being the status quo could serve as a justification, he adds, “This has been going on forever, and kids have been graduating from school and going on to college.”[6] Just because a practice has longevity does not mean that improvement does not apply. Indeed, a long-standing practice, such as slavery, may be in fierce need of correction. That kids have been graduating from high school and going on to college does not mean that such kids couldn’t be better-equipped intellectually as they matriculate, and that still more kids could make it to college.

On a Saturday when I was in my hometown, I stopped by the library at the junior college. Arriving shortly after 1 p.m., I was bewildered to find the hours were 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. even during the school year. I approached an early-elderly woman working in the small coffee shop across the hall from the library’s entrance. I expressed my astonishment that anyone would think that students would wake up early on a Saturday morning to go to the library. Indeed, on another occasion I witnessed the library nearly empty on a Saturday morning. The woman dismissed my assertion that afternoon hours would be more optimal. “If that were better, the college would have tried it and kept it,” she claimed. She was positing the status quo as being a justification, and thus of value in itself. Additionally, she was assuming that people afraid of change would not only embrace improvement, but also with near omniscience. “It is also possible,” I replied, “that the obvious did not occur to the administrators.” Ironically, people clutching the status quo may be most likely to miss the obvious staring them in the face. That this would apply to school administrators, who are in the business of educating students, is especially damning.

[1] Liz Szabo, “Class Times Too Early For Teens,” USA Today, August 7, 2015.
[2] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Szabo, “Class Times.”
[3] Szabo, “Class Times.”
[4] At Yale, I took a senior-level course on American schools. During a discussion on the purpose of schools, I was stunned that I was the only student defending the “antiquated” position that the learning of academic knowledge is and ought to be the primary purpose. Many of my fellow students seemed intent to remake schools into social-service agencies that happen to disseminate knowledge. Doubtlessly, those students had forgotten (or were taking for granted) what had gotten them to Yale.
[5] Szabo, “Class Times.”
[6] Ibid.