Snow Daze

Truth be told
I’m not much for the cold
But if you’re selling a snow day,
Mother Nature, I’m sold!

An original poem, perhaps one of my finest! (Excluding those I wrote for school assignments, I think I’ve written–at most–a half-dozen poems in my life. See what you can do on a snow day!)

We missed the brunt of the recent winter storm as it passed through Virginia; just a bit to the north of us they received about 25″. For our part, we got probably 6-8″, though it’s hard to say for sure. Late Friday night it changed over to freezing rain/sleet, which compacted the original snow and turned it to ice. It then changed back to snow for much of the day Saturday which added a few more inches of powder on top. School was cancelled on Friday, primarily because everything else was cancelled, and it’s cancelled again today. And what a wonderful winter weekend it has been!

A snow day provides an opportunity to think and reflect (and write poetry). Over the past few days, I’ve luxuriated in a slow-sipped pot of tea, helped clean the house, and, yes, done some work–grading, catching up on e-mail, planning my upcoming weekend duty. These are all things I might normally do on a weekend day, but with a sea of white outside my window, it somehow feels different.

Another thing I’ve done this weekend is read–a lot. I just finished Dan T. Carter’s The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics. Now I’m working on Anthony Grooms’s novel Bombingham and Nel Noddings’s Education and Democracy in the 21st Century.

I also read this article from the Washington Post: “Expecting to enjoy a lazy snow day? Teachers urge parents, students to think again.” While it’s not the hardest-hitting journalism I’ve ever read, it does manage to provide an interesting angle on one of education’s stickiest wickets in just a few paragraphs. In short: whereas a heavy snow used to promise kids a fun-filled day of frolicking outdoors, educators now worry about the consequences of such activities. As the article states, “[I]n an era of increased academic testing, stacked curricula and virtual learning, many educators and school officials are urging students to continue their schoolwork during snow days to avoid the dreaded ‘amnesia’ that can set in after a few missed days of class.” Particularly in the upper grades and in Advanced Placement courses, “that can create stress for teachers, who worry about how they will cram a year’s worth of advanced curriculum into one shortened by snow days.”

To me, this is suggestive of the difference between a “teacher-centered” and a “student-centered” (or “learner-centered”) education system. I do sympathize with the teachers, who appear to be caught between an immovable rock (the AP exam) and a cold hard place, though I think the use of the verb “cram” is telling. How much curriculum should we be cramming in the first place? (And if we are cramming, is this really education?)

I think there’s a reasonable a fair conversation to be had about the “costs” of a snow day in the classroom, especially for those students who are really struggling or when a “snow day” becomes a “snow week” or more. For the vast majority of kids, though, the idea of “amnesia” setting in after just a few days is ridiculous. If that were true, we wouldn’t have long weekends, holidays, or spring break. In fact, such breaks are necessary to allow students (and teachers!) the opportunity to recharge and come back into the classroom fresh.

Perhaps most frightening of all is this asinine quote from Connie Skelton, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in Arlington Public Schools: “In Arlington, we really are moving towards 24/7 learning.” She’s explaining how Arlington’s use of iPads and other technology can be a game-changer, but what does that even mean? Do kids not sleep? Do they not eat or go to the bathroom? And even if we set aside the ridiculousness of the actual claim, we should ask ourselves a more serious question: Just how much learning is necessary and appropriate? I’m all for providing a “rigorous” education, but the law of diminishing marginal returns applies here. There is a point at which enough is enough.

I am heartened, however, by this quote from Evan Glazer, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (better known throughout the DC area as “TJ”): “‘We want them to go out and play and make snowmen and snow angels, because it doesn’t happen all that often,’ Glazer said. ‘You might as well take a break when Mother Nature gives you the opportunity.’” This from a school that has been ranked among the very best in the country and sends its graduates to top-notch universities. (I can hear the counterargument now: “With a more advanced student, you can ‘afford’ to take that stance.” Maybe so, but I also wonder to what extent the 24/7 “cramming” mentality contributes to the percentage of students who either drop out of school or simply go through the motions.)

 

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