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Is missing school a disaster?

“The loss of these last five days has been a disaster, with the loss of instructional time…and we need to gain back as much (of that time) as we can.” P.E.I. Minister of Education, Alan McIsaac, as quoted during a CBC radio interview which you can listen to here

 

We have accumulated thirteen storm days thus far this school year. Meaning, there have been thirteen non-consecutive days thus far in the school year here on P.E.I. for which school has been cancelled due to this unusually brutal winter we are having in Atlantic Canada (a winter which seems to be equally as brutal in much of the rest of North America as well, I might add). Last week, added to the mix a total of five consecutive days of cancelled classes, stimulating much talk in public and private circles which concern themselves with educational matters. Talk by people concerned with outcomes and expectations. People concerned with time off task and focused in-class instruction. People concerned that ‘students not learning within the four corners of the school walls must then not be learning’. People concerned with the matter that students need to be in school, not whittling their time away doing what kids like to be doing, whatever that might be.

Yes, there have been lots of missed classes. Extreme weather conditions being the reason for such. These weather conditions can and may include blowing snow (thus reducing visibility), snow accumulations exceeding 10 cm, blizzard conditions, freezing rain or poor road conditions (impassable laneways). Fortunately, we have not gone so far here on P.E.I. to sacrifice student safety for the almighty tax-dollar. Or should I say: we haven’t done so often (there was that one day, but that was back in February- we have moved on since then). Thankfully, there would not be too many people here in our parts who would fault the schools for cancelling classes, but there are always a few who believe that classes must be made up. In other words, compensated for. By way of a sacrifice of some sort on behalf of the teachers and the schools. Which is to say, that something has to give. For that money has been invested in student learning; there must be a way of making good on our students’ education. So as to not lose said valuable education to such an unpredictable winter.

It has even been said, as evidenced in the above quote, that missing school is a disaster.

Thus, when school is cancelled to this excessive extent, there are often calls from the public that the School Board and government examine the school year thus giving consideration to whether or not the days allotted to instruction should be extended. Or at the very least, giving heed to the preservation of such instructional time via cancellation of any upcoming scheduled professional development days or other holidays in light of the missed class time. Class time deemed suitably important in that missing such time which would have been spent achieving curricular outcomes and meeting grade level expectations is too great a trade off. Thus, the reason for extending school years, decreasing P.D. days or cancelling holidays.

The debate for me is not the loss of professional development so as to preserve instructional time. If there is a benefit for students and a way to show good will to the public, I am all for that. What bothers me about all the debate and hullabaloo are comments like the Minister’s above which infer that missing school is a disaster (of epic proportions). Which, I would submit, it is not.

What is worthwhile? Knowing? Doing? Learning? And where?*

If you live here on P.E.I., there are a few things worth knowing. One of which is how to survive an ice storm (in which there is a pretty good chance that the power will be lost). Here’s what my kids learned last week about that worthy topic:

  • Board games are just as fun as video games
  • Snow forts are fun and challenging to make
  • Homemade donuts are just as good as Tim Horton’s donuts
  • Reading a book is both challenging and rewarding
  • Charades is a fun way to spend time with your family
  • Fireplaces are both cosy and warm
  • Melted snow can allow one to flush a toilet

 

And low and behold, my kids were not the only students learning last week. I met up with a friend in the grocery store the other day and inquired about a Facebook photo she had posted in which her daughter had rigged up a warming rack and candles so as to cook a can of beans during their family’s foray into powerless living. Her daughter played around with her design until it was just right and she eventually cooked a warm meal for her family using flame and metal. Ingenious. Did a teacher stand hovering over her micro-managing her design? Did someone grab a textbook so as to show her what to do? Was she told she needed to read the theory behind such a contraption first so as to make it work?

 

No. She just did it.  All by herself.  Fueled by her own desire to solve a real world problem related to her lived experience.

 

I do not mean to undermine our elected government officials and their priority placed on schooling. However, I do not share the same alarm with them that missing schooling is a disaster. If innovative, creative thinking is the result of a few missed days, then I say that was time well spent.

 

*Reference:  The questions you found me asking have also been asked by William Schubert (University of Chicago at Illinois)  in his article What is Worthwhile: From Knowing and Needing to Being and Sharing.

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5 thoughts on “Is missing school a disaster?

  1. Absolutely right. We have ice storms in Kentucky, and my kids once cut the ice into blocks and built an igloo. But my kids were raised to earn what they got. They earned an allowance that was based on whether they had earned it or not, so working was not optional for them. If they wanted their allowance, they did their share of the work. Their fun was mostly home made fun. Real books with pages to turn, trees to climb, grass and dirt to play in, and one son could stand back and look over a problem, and figure out how to solve it, even when he was 4 years old. Yet they were happy and never missed what they didn’t have. Missed school days were learning days at home. Learning to cook, learning to be self-sufficient during power outages, learning how to stay warm when the heat was off. School is great, but the kids should be given credit for things they learn when the schools have to close for bad weather.

  2. I agree with you 100% It is not a crisis! I have home schooled my kids for 15 years after most had gone to school at one time or another. Once you pull them from school and teach them yourself, you realize just how much wasted time there is in school, and how easily it could be to make up a few lost days. I have also worked part time in the school system as an aide and seen first hand a ton of wasted time. There is no crisis in kids missing a few days of school, and learning some real life skills in the process.

  3. I guess you have to wonder, and sorry that this sounds a little disparaging, but, do snow days inconvenience parents more than loss of educational teaching days do? It might not be curriculum learning, at home, but it can be incredibly inventive and valuable too!

  4. Having been a stay at home mom, I would say they inconvenience the parents most. Finding sitters, making sure they are fed, entertained, whatever it is. Just glad we all grew up on farms where we learned home made fun rather than the store bought kind. None of us depended on the latest electronics, we all read books by flashlight if necessary, listened to transistor radios, and did the farm chores morning and evenings. My kids learned the facts of life by observation, when the animals were in season. They learned food storage by helping me with the garden, canning and freezing food, foraging for berries, gathering walnuts.

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