It seems that everybody else has pushed out their opinion about schools, learning loss, and the (post-pandemic) way forward.
Thus, I’ll provide mine: the best thing that governments, schools, parents, communities…can do for children is to quit fixating about kids “falling behind” in reading, writing….geometry, etc.
Instead, we should obsess about how we can help them recapture lost joy and recover bits of their stolen youth.
Academic learning loss is a real (though often overblown) thing, but it is subordinate to joy loss.
Yes, remediation needs to part of schools’ planning. Though much of the buzz is about mandatory summer school and longer school days, that I think will prove to be counter-productive.
With all that students have been through in the past year, should we really be focused on multiplication tables, vocabulary words, or whether they can explain the role of Adenosine Triphosphate?
In order to better serve children, now and in the future, I think, that, to paraphrase Chief Brody in Jaws, we’re going need a bigger acronym.
STEM to STEAM
The term STEM, representing education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been around for quite some time.
Ten, or so years ago, I first noticed extension of the STEM education acronym, to STEAM, to include emphasis on education in the arts (I’m all for that). Though many proponents of STEM, or STEAM refer to “education” or “teaching” rather than “learning.”
About the same time, my son was in kindergarten, and I was surprised by how few recreational opportunities there where for the students. This was during the early years of the No Child Left Behind threats and it seemed that even at age 5, kids were being prepped for standardized tests.
That same year, I read several articles about the importance of recess, and that it should be considered as part of the part of the curriculum, and an opportunity to learn rather than a brief respite from the curriculum.
Thus, almost as soon as I started reading about STEAM, I began using the term STREAM.
Admittedly, I don’t know that what the rules are for extending an acronym that has already been extended. Do I need to get approval from an international standards organization?
STREAMing Out of the Gate
I think that with all students have gone through in the past year, it’s even more important to add recreation to schools’ curricula. We (parents, teachers, elected leaders, taxpayers) need to adjust our focus to STREAM education, where recreation is an integral part of the curriculum.
While I have many (many) thoughts on this topic, I’ll limit myself to a few things here, focusing on things that can be applied universally.
First, I think that every school that reduced, or eliminated recess, due to the threat of No Child Left Behind-type punishments, should restore recess to pre-NCLB levels.
The next step: make recess periods longer and/or more frequent.
If your (or your community’s) high school or middle school never had recess, fix that. My high school didn’t have recess per se (because, you know that’s for kids, right?), but had a 1-hour lunch period.
There was more than enough time to eat, play frisbee, or chatter in the hallways. When I compare my experience to my 11th grade son’s 20-minute lunch break, it seems like I’m reminiscing about “the good old days.” In that respect, they truly were better.
We need to rethink gym class (again). Does everybody in the class NEED to be participating in the same activity, every single class period, to achieve physical education goals?
In real life, not everybody is going to enjoy team sports as much as the gym teacher does. People enjoy coerced team sports even less.
If some of the students want to walk the track and listen to music, and giggle away the class period, or if a student wants to participate in something like the 100-pushup challenge, or train for a road race, let them.
Students will find a way to learn. We should allow for autonomy so that students can find ways to incorporate recreation into their other subjects, and vice-versa.
Some examples from personal experience:
In grade school, I VOLUNTARILY learned decimals, percentages, etc. earlier than most of my classmates for one reason: because I wanted to calculate baseball statistics.
I knew I was learning math then, though I didn’t realize that I learned a lot about physics playing Little League. The outfield was quite a lab to learn about trajectory, spin, and velocity. In retrospect, it would have great thing to have some guided instruction in science to go with my practical experience.
One possible option is a semi-structured course in “Recreational Learning.” Or even better: an opportunity to incorporate recreation into learning across the entire curriculum.
Admittedly, there would be costs associated with transition to a STREAM framework. More, longer, recess, more-frequent gym class, etc.. would result in a reduction of time allocated to other areas.
It’s a good time to discuss whether some of the sacred cows that persist in K-12 education are really all that necessary. An example is algebra.
When my son was in 7th grade, we sat in the waiting room of the doctor’s office while he griped about the uselessness of the subject. I suggested, that he ask the doctor about how she used algebra in her work.
Our doctor and a medical resident glanced at each other with puzzled looks. His doctor replied, “Uh, I can’t think of any examples where I use algebra, can you?” She turned to the resident who had her palms up in the air to signify “I got nothing.”
The fact is they do use algebra, or they use software that uses algebra for things like dosage calculations. There are probably several other examples that I don’t know of.
Many people use algebra more than they realize. You likely used algebra when you planted seven bushes in your front yard’s plant bed to ensure they were spaced equally apart. You just didn’t call it algebra.
Even if algebra has some practical applications for most people, does that warrant having students attend 540 days of lectures for (pre-algebra, Algebra I and Algebra II)?
There are a few examples of subjects, topics that are taught way past the point of diminishing returns, that come to my mind. You probably have a few of your own.
Regardless of whether, or not there is a consensus over which subjects on which we may be spending too much time, I think we can agree that we haven’t spend enough time on restoring joy.
Let’s start there.