Time to think



Extended learning time is widely recognized as a central piece of school turnaround strategy, and it’s one of the interventions that the Education Department requires of K-12 schools that applied for NCLB waivers. But how much time is too much time? Myopia rates have quadrupled among kids in Asia, and one of the leading theories as to the cause is insufficient exposure to sunlight, due in part to their extra-long school days.

And what about the quality of the time?

In the Wall Street Journal, Charles Wheelan offers 10 pieces of advice your commencement speaker probably won’t be honest enough to tell you. Alongside some extremely cynical advice about choosing your spouse, there’s the observation that time spent in frat rec rooms and student organizations is time well spent, since so much of your success in life depends on human relationships rather than academic achievement.

On Mama PhD, Susan O’Doherty describes her son, a “gifted underachiever” who easily masters skills and knowledge that he is interested in and sees the purpose of, but finds the abstract goals of most coursework not worth his time. And yet, he still has to get a college degree to qualify for the job he wants, and which he’s already doing quite well.

At Inside Higher Ed, Melissa Ballard shares her experience teaching students to own their pleasure reading. Part of what gets students excited about books is permission to like low-culture and popular books. Another factor is relevance, and relevance often brings controversy, which is something that schools often hesitate to promote. Andrew J. Rotherham argues in Time that fear of controversy is the real story behind last week’s Pinneapplegate. We’re all so afraid of offending anyone that the people who make standardize tests now resort to material that is patently absurdist.

Relevance is the name of the game in John Boyer’s mega-courses. Boyer uses the students’ engagement—and sheer numbers—to attract famous guest speakers like Aung San Suu Kyi. Critics question how much students learn in such a large crowd, but students made demonstrable gains in their knowledge of the course content; I’d be very curious to see whether, and how much, their critical reasoning and writing skills improved.

Student engagement is also the story of Adam Kotsko’s essay on something that can only happen in a much smaller classroom: intense discussion in which students teach themselves. Kotsko argues that a Great Books curriculum has a lot to do with fostering such discussion, because everyone in the class starts with the premise that each text is worth the attention they’re about to lavish on it. The texts’ intrinsic value is just part of that story, though. The other part is an institutional culture of commitment to learning only that which you believe is truly worth learning. And showing students why the course material is worth learning should be any instructor’s first priority.