Saturday, May 21, 2005

MH - School Daze

Hadleyblogger Mike calls our attention to Thursday's Strib and Lileks' regular column:

What's up with the people who want to have school go year-round? "Our kids won't be able to compete on the world market," they whine.

Waitaminnit -- Thomas Edison had summer vacation! Henry Ford had summer vacation! Bill Gates had summer vacation! George Patton had summer vacation! Clearly, America managed to raise its kids to be world leaders, inventors, and innovators while still allowing them that vast canyon of time between June and

Yes. Yes, indeed. During a summer vacation, young Edison caught fireflies, and wondered if their luminescent properties could be reproduced in a laboratory condition. Henry Ford watched his friends roll down the hill in a crude cart with wheels, and wondered whether such a conveyance could be mass-produced. Yes, such a thing might well be done, provided I bust the unions. Patton, no doubt, played war games until dark. George, we gotta go in! Your mom's callin'! No! We're going to Moscow! We can go to Moscow tomorrow, George. C'mon. And I'm sure Bill Gates spent his summer doing housework at his parents' request, fuming: "OK. Fine. I have to do chores, I'm going to do chores. But someday I'm going to find a way to make the world curse windows as much as I do."

Hilarious, as Mike says, and dead on! What good does it do to make kids spend more time in public school if they aren't learning anything in the time they are there? Frankly, I've had the thought cross my mind more than once that our kids would be better off spending less time in public schools, and more time learning on their own - from primary sources (not the edited, p.c. versions they get in public school). When I was in public school (and I hated school, by the way, although I'd love to go back now if I had the time and money), I learned a heck of a lot more about American history by watching Alistair Cooke's magnificant series America. (I'm not a big fan of public schools, in case you hadn't noticed.)

Speaking of which, there was an article in today's Strib suggesting that watching TV might actually make us smarter. Writer Noel Holston outlines the premise as follows:
Building on the "Hill Street" foundation, [author Steven] Johnson continues, the creators of more recent series such as "ER,"The West Wing,"24" and "The Sopranos" purposely withhold information from scenes, forcing viewers to figure out initially confusing plot developments by patiently assessing the context. We're having to pay closer attention, Johnson argues, and in the process we get a more rigorous cognitive workout than we once did. In his view, even a "reality" show such as "Survivor," in which viewers second-guess the contestants, tones up flabby synapses.

Holston doesn't entirely buy that premise and neither do I - rather than TV leading the audience to new heights, he suggests that it's TV that's finally catching up with the public. I think there's a little bit of truth in both ideas, myself (although I'm far from agreeing with the idea that TV's better today than it was in the 50s and 60s, or even the 90s for that matter). But if you're going to argue that kids are better off watching TV than going to school - well, depending on the show and the school, I might be willing to listen . . .

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