Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

(This post is now an August perennial, in honor of the beginning of the new school year–indeed, many kids have already been in school for 2 or 3 weeks)

Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director and is now at Lazard, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.

I’m with Jeremy LottBut to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education — the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform — and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.

I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children.

The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them–waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.

Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.

Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jeri name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?

Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.


Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?

Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?

And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.

And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party, those who talk so much about their devotion to Education and The Children, are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.

10 thoughts on “Six Hundred Million Years in K-12”

  1. One has to realize that for the average person today, the primary function of the school system is daycare. Education is secondary.

    For the average politician, the primary function is an employment program, for the average Democrat politician as a fundraising mechanism.

    There is only a very small constituency for which maximizing the teaching effectiveness is a top priority. Most of those either home school their kids, or are motivated and active enough to ensure their kids are in good schools, and are being properly paid attention to.

  2. Global warming a problem? Solution: more government, more taxes.
    Poverty a problem? Solution: more government, more taxes.
    Kids fat? Solution: longer school years, higher teacher pay.
    Kids not learning: Solution: longer school years, higher teacher pay.
    Kids not socialized: Solution: longer school years, higher teacher pay.

    Why are we listening to this—and how can they keep getting away with it?

    The Enlightenment occured hundreds of years ago. The simple proposal that consequences of a policy be tested, and if the policy fails to meet goals, the policy be revoked and abandoned has yet to be implemented.

  3. I am still amazed at the length of the school year. We stared school after Labor Day and finished the end of May.

    Some of that was the absence of air conditioning, of course.

    The present state of public school is even worse than college.

    I sent my kids to private school and wish I could afford to send my grandkids. Private school tuition has skyrocketed in Orange County, CA since my kids were young.

    Some friends here in Tucson sent their boys to Catholic school but the mother took one boy each year to home school. The Catholic schools cooperated with this and two of the boys are now graduates with Engineering degrees.

    The third is still in college.

  4. Brain – I never saw a bigger fuss in FB than when the metro area schools closed because the city had difficulty dealing with a snow/ice event but the mostly UMC suburban areas had clear roads. I’m sure the moms were oblivious to it but it was clear they considered the primary purpose of school to be watching their kids while they did their Very. Important. Things.

  5. I dunno. I guess you are just not equipped to do public education. Its definitely a socialist thing, and probably sticks in your craw to the extent you just wing it.

    That’s not gonna work. ;)

  6. Chatting recently with a lady from what used to be called Red China — and still is run by the “Communist” Party. She mentioned that Chinese parents have to pay to send their children to grade school in China. (OK, US parents pay too, but we pay indirectly through property taxes, while the Chinese system has them pay directly twice a year in cash to the school).

    She was surprised that I was surprised. She saw this direct payment system as normal — just the same as going to hospital in Communist China, where the patient has to pay cash on the barrelhead (or operating table).

    Someone once said that anything which is (apparently) given away “free” will cease to be valued. Maybe our domestic socialists could learn from their Communist brethren?

  7. There’s a reason I spend 1/3 of my take-home pay on private school.

    Most schools, as observed above, are day care centers – but more, indoctrination centers.

    These kids, faced with an “authority figure”, listen to pap about “climate change” and how eeeeevil the Republicans are. So they should vote “D” to be fair. But then, that’s nothing new.

    I channeled Daniel Greenfield’s observation about waves of immigrants, especially Jews, being greeted by Leftist educators determined to slant these new Americans to the Left.

    American Jews and Democrats

    No wonder so many new immigrants vote “D”.

  8. Schools don’t have anywhere near the effect, positive or negative, that we think. We also spent a great deal sending our children to private Christian schools, though the number of years varied child-to-child. (Christian schools tend to be prep academies, with little opportunity for technical training.) It may have helped in some ways, but they have friends who have reacted against it so strongly that they may never return. Private schools, secular or religious, have their own bad ideas you have to spend time counteracting.

    We got one great daughter-in-law out of it, though. that’s something.

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