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Homework, Soccer, and Meaningful Reform

A local high school student had a letter printed in my daily paper. The first sentence:

“In our society, I believe homework should not be necessary.”

In what sounds like a school English assignment, she goes on to point out that on one recent school day, she had two hours of school soccer practice followed by a one-hour college soccer workout. That done, she had “two tests to study for, and homework in both AP Chemistry and AP Statistics.” She concludes:

“There is a time and a place for school work, and that is at school, during school hours.”

This girl’s complaint and the attitude that makes it possible for her to make it points up what is wrong with the present educational system.

Students, parents, teachers, administrators, and wealthy manipulators like David Coleman and Bill Gates all have different ideas as to what school is “for.”

If school is "for" mastering subject matter, then homework is more important than soccer.

If school is "for" preparing students to pass standardized tests based on a cut and dried curriculum of general knowledge, then soccer can be more important than homework.

Despite all the hype, the current blaze of school reform associated with the Common Core is not meaningful reform because it proceeds from one group’s notion of what schools are "for."

In the same newspaper, I read about another student, a ten-year-old, whose life revolves around gymnastics. Her goal is to participate in the Olympics. She "goes to school” online.

In 2007, the Arkansas Department of Education approved an online public charter school called the Arkansas Virtual Academy. The ten-year-old is one of 1,300 children, K-8, enrolled so far. Eventually, the Academy will expand to include grades 9-12.

The little gymnast schedules her days and weeks around her chief priority: gymnastic training. She spends 7-8 hours a day in the gym, fitting in school work around her training schedule. Concentrating on one subject a day, she spends three hours on the computer and another three hours reading and completing assignments and projects. She does her school work during breaks at the gym, at home, and even on the road as she and her family travel to competitions.

When I taught in a private school in London many years ago, I had a student who was a ballerina. She attended four classes in the morning at the school and took away a two-hour assignment to be completed at home. The rest of the day, she trained.

If the only purpose of public education is to prepare students to take standardized tests based on the Common Core –designed by the same people who design and profit from the standardized tests–highly motivated and barely motivated students would both benefit from two kinds of school:

1. face-to-face instruction for children who wish to pursue careers that require intellectual ability and specialized knowledge;

2. virtual instruction for children whose career goals can be satisfied by the minimum of knowledge and academic skills that can be tested by standardized tests.

Not every child wants or needs to go to college. Nonacademic career goals are as valuable as academic ones. Meaningful reform would change the structure of public education to accommodate more than one idea of what school is “for.”

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