I’ve been personally stuck over the past two weeks by the slew of news articles reporting on the beginning few days and weeks of the 2013-14 school year. For many schools around the country, the start of the school year also means a new calendar that includes longer school days and/or a longer school year. When news broke last school year of these pending calendar changes, articles tended to focus on the potential challenges that come with change (children will be tired, teachers are already overworked, schools will be too hot, problems with bus schedules, etc.)
As the new school year is well underway in some areas, the news is beating to a different drum however. Take, for example, this quote from 10-year-old Isaac Maldonado whose new school day and year began August 18th in Denver, Colorado: “It goes by quick, because it’s so fun, it doesn’t feel long at all.” Other articles quote teachers echoing this enthusiasm, “I’ve been here 14 years, but this is the best year yet. Kids are excited. Kids are wanting to learn. Kids want to be here.” You can read the entire article here.
At the same time that schools are returning to session, we spent time last month marking the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. As I heard Dr. King’s speech again, I was particularly struck by his statement that America could no longer afford the luxury of administering itself “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” but, rather, must recognize “the fierce urgency of now.” His speech was not about education obviously, but that sentiment rings true today in many areas of our country’s social landscape, including our work in education.
As we advocate for ELT, we hear reasons every day as to why more learning time won’t work or why the school day and year should just be a little longer or only apply to some students. That is the trap of gradualism. We all know how uncomfortable change is — for teachers to envision a schedule that looks drastically different than years past and for parents to grapple with the idea of schools to have a schedule longer than they had during their own childhood. But the achievement and opportunity gaps that plague our schools will only widen deeper unless we all feel the sense of urgency deeply and tackle the issue with fervent, leaving gradualism behind. Fortunately, we are seeing teachers and parents – and students – all over the country forging through the initial discomfort that comes with abandoning the 150-year-old security blanket we call the traditional school calendar.
And on those days, when the doubters become many, I will be grateful to have students like Isaac on the record with his feelings about longer school days. Because I know that there are many other Issac’s out there, and with them as inspiration, we will not lose our sense of urgency.