Friday, July 3, 2009

Muslim Students Want Religious Holidays

Wish I had a shorter headline - here is the article in the New York Times. My question - which isn't raised in the article - is why we cling so closely to the three-month summer schedule. Students in New York city, as well as those in the suburban sprawl, clearly aren't spending those three months plowing the fields; the historical grounding for such an arrangement has disappeared. Mayor Bloomberg is concerned that students will no longer be spending time in the classroom but he could easily increase class time by shortening summer to one month off instead of three. Oh, and wouldn't having time off for religious holidays be an educational experience in itself? Promoting tolerance is as important as ever in modern America (sometimes it seems so few nations are doing it elsewhere).

Shortening summer vacation is a sensible reform that has yet to gain any traction. Another sensible reform being ignored is having high schools start their days later. Why is the educational system to static and resistant to change?


Josh Knox said...

On shortening summer vacation:

"For others still, the aimless and adolescent in particular, summer vacation means loitering in parking lots and shopping malls, cruising questionable websites, and perhaps experimenting with drugs or alcohol, and getting into trouble"

I think the author over estimates the productivity of those adolescents while they are in school

Josh Knox said...

On Starting later:

My high school didn't start until 8:00, and once a week we'd have late start days (9:00) because of a teachers meeting. I was still tired a lot. School has to start at some time. In my experience, starting later just means students stay up later.

Pete Abbate said...

Re: Your first comment - that's probably true. But for all students, the author still makes a valid point: "It’s not easy to retain information for three months without reinforcement". That's true even for me at the collegiate level... hence why I am trying to write a blog about economics.

Re: Your second comment - how late do you think you stayed up on the average weekday? I generally went to sleep between 12 and 1 and woke up between 615 and 630.

jroddy said...

First, the article features some incredibly awful writing. "Moneeb Hassan remembers having to choose between a final exam in American history or celebrating the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha. In the end, he chose both." If he can choose both, what's the issue?

Pete's right, it wouldn't be an issue if the granting of extra days off came at the same time as lengthening the school year (and/or spreading it around). I have to say I'm in favor of a longer year with shorter breaks, as well as a later start time (especially for high schoolers). Take July off as the traditional summer break, take a week at Labor Day, a week at Thanksgiving, three weeks at Christmas/New Year's, two weeks for Easter (or, alternately, a week for spring break and a week for Easter), a week in late May. That still leaves room to lengthen the year by about two weeks.

Why are schools so resistant to change? Geez, Pete, I thought I did a better job mentoring you. Two words: Teacher unions.

Pete Abbate said...

Agreed, Jay, but I think we could get a little more sophisticated in our thinking. Why haven't colleges adopted such a philosophy? They give even longer summer breaks than high school, and although they offer summer sessions they are optional and not structured at all like fall.

If you agree with my premise, that year-round school will increase retention and learning, then that's a reform that could be adopted at the higher education level (where the unions can't say anything) and simply retreat through the elementary and high school level. My premise may be wrong, but because it's never been tried I have a hard time believing it can be unilaterally rejected. If that's the case, why hasn't a year-round calendar been adopted at the collegiate level?

Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty