When I initially made a decision earlier in the school year to limit the amount of time that students were going to miss school for a program because I believe that it was more important for the students to be in the classroom, quite a bit of criticism was directed my way. And quite honestly, no one from outside the building agreed with me, and not everyone on the inside thought I had made a good decision. I am talking about the matinee of the musical in which I decided that taking what amounted to a nearly a full day off of school for those students involved in the play, as well as about three hours for everyone else, did not make much sense when it comes to priorities. My justification was that those in the cast had already had a “run through” in front of their parents earlier in the week to work out the kinks, and that there were three performances over the weekend with plenty of seats available. In some respects I questioned whether it made economic sense to “give away” the musical to high school kids who could be paying customers. And people argued that something like this might be the only cultural experience that some of our kids ever get, which I countered with “most will still see five or six plays and musicals” over the course of their school career with my original proposal, which was a lot more than I saw growing up. But alas, a compromise was worked out and while I did not like the amount of school some kids missed to put on these performances, there are a lot worse reasons that students miss a day.
But this points to the bigger issue that I was focused on – what is the focus of school? In other conversations about other things educational, people (me included) have said, “They want us (school) to do everything.” We have a captured audience of people that most of us are very interested in: children from pre-K through age 18. When someone or some entity wants something done for or done to kids, “tell the school to do it!” After all, that’s where the kids are. When laws are passed about child workers and the Department of Labor has to enforce them, they push their responsibility off on school principals to assure that proper forms are completed when a child under 16 goes to work. When the government makes the decision that students need to be formally taught how to drive, one would think that would fall on the Department of Transportation. Nooooooooooo! That becomes the responsibility of the schools. Not only that, we have to certify that students meet requirements for a school permit on a form that has Department of Transportation right on the top of it! When the oil industry wants kids to know about the multiple uses of petroleum, they send materials to teachers asking them to teach that content to kids, as do the pork producers, corn growers, conservationists, and many, many others. Dental checks, eye checks, and the list go on and on and on. And the funny thing – none of that is included in the Iowa Core or the Common Core!
Public education has been the whipping boy for the past ten to fifteen years. The critics loudly run down what goes on in our schools, misusing all sorts of data to push their various agendas. But those are all big picture issues. Closer to home people have developed their own lists of important things that they want to see happen at school. The matinee is one of those things. When you do the math, if we did not have any interruptions in our school day, we have 135 hours at most to teach a student math, or English, or any other subject. That is just a bit more than three regular workweeks for someone in the labor force. Three weeks! Now, take away six or seven hours for the time taken away for the shortened schedules due to early releases and late starts for whatever the reason. Do you see where I am going with this? It may seem no big deal for the kids to miss a couple of classes to watch the matinee, or to miss because they have to leave early for the track meet, or because they are going on the band trip, or physical therapy, or orthodontist appointments, or to go and read to 3rd graders, or to do a service project, and on and on.