In my local newspaper today there is an article about a nearby school district considering a year-round school schedule. As one who is trying to figure out how to make meaningful changes in the public school context… how to provide for children an education that will open physical and figurative worlds for them… I found my heart sinking lower. Not because I have an argument against year-round school, but because some of the language in the article reveals (yet again) how deeply the narrowest discourse about the nature of education resides. From the Richmond Times Dispatch, May 5 2019:
“Joshua Cole, the executive director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Office of Strategic Engagement, said he was encouraged that Hopewell was considering going year-round because it will allow for ‘consistent’ learning. He specifically highlighted the negative impact of the summer slide, in which students forget what they learned during the school year. The slide most affects students from low-income families, according to multiple academic studies on the subject.
‘The more we can do as an educational system to prevent a long time period—a gap—in their schooling, the less they’ll lose in terms of their retention of information,’ he said. ‘The more time there is between when we’re learning something, the harder it is to regurgitate.’ ” (italics mine)
This points to an image of education as focused on information and as regurgitation. Is this the education we want for our children? Let them be proficient at regurgitating information! In fact, Joshua Cole simply tells the truth. This is where the public discourse has landed. “What about learning to connect to and follow one’s curiosity in increasingly deep and sophisticated ways?” I hear you ask. What about learning to think flexibly so that the child can solve problems, invent, negotiate with those who have other ideas? What about engaging in inquiry? Developing empathy and compassion? Learning how to find and use information one needs in order to accomplish a meaningful task? Not on the agenda.
We know how to create learning contexts where all this is possible…and the children learn to read, write, and think mathematically. Teachers are hungry for better. Children show us every day that they need more. What stands in the way, in my opinion, is a wide-spread deeply limited image of education. Regurgitation should never be the goal except in the case of accidental poisoning. Let’s change the discourse!