Monday, August 14, 2017

I wish school didn't start so early, but I get why it does

At the risk of turning this into a "BACK IN MY DAY" old man rant, I will point out that my youngest two children go back to school tomorrow, which is a full three weeks earlier than they would have returned using the system under which I grew up.

That system – also known as "The Right System"  dictated that school didn't start until right after Labor Day. Which meant that the month of August was entirely devoted to summer vacation unless you were a fall sport athlete who had practices in August. And that was perfectly fine.

Then, round about the time I was in high school in the mid- to late 80s, they pushed the start of school back into August. It was late August, mind you, but still...August. That took some getting used to.

And now it seems every year they just keep messing with us. More for their own amusement than anything else, they keep seeing how far they can move up that first day of school before someone starts to notice. This year, Day #1 is August 15th, which as far as I can tell is the earliest the school year has ever kicked off in Wickliffe.

I will readily note that school has started in early August in Florida and other southern states for years. That's what they're used to, so they don't count in this discussion.

We in the Midwest lived for decades under an academic calendar that didn't commence until the Labor Day picnics were over, and that always seemed like a good way to go at it. At least to me. Labor Day was your last hurrah. As I recall, it was the last weekend during which the city pools were open. Or at least the last weekend they were open under summer hours.

You would watch the Jerry Lewis telethon on Labor Day and then you would go back to school the very next day, or maybe on Wednesday of that week. We were all good with it.

Of course, having said all of this, I realize school districts are subject to forces they can't necessarily control in making this decision, chiefly the state testing schedule that requires you (or at least makes it a very, very good idea) to have a certain number of instructional hours before the dreaded tests begin. The earlier you start, the longer you have to work with the kids before they take the tests, which go a long way toward determining your district's grade on state report cards, teacher and administration performance reviews, funding, etc.

Plus, at the high school level, an earlier start allows a clean break between the first and second semesters. You can finish off first-semester exams before the kids go off for their holiday break, and then start fresh with second-semester classes and material in January.

On the other hand, we somehow for years managed the not-quite-so-clean process of January review and exams at Wickliffe, and I'm guessing we could somehow get through it again if a calendar switch would force us into it.

I always think twice before I criticize school board members and administrators, because I frankly find that most of the people who do that do it out of ignorance. I would like some of them to spend a day in those jobs before they spout off. That's not to say people in those positions are beyond criticism. Not at all. But having the facts in hand first is probably advisable.

In any case, like so many things in life, this whole start-of-school question comes down to this: I wish it wasn't this way, but I get why it is. Things change. Life goes on. You can all get off my lawn anyway.

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