, Gloucester, MA

August 23, 2013

Letter: Take time to deliver a 'great' education

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Ms. Fornero raises an excellent point in her letter headlined “Is school calendar short-changing city students?” (the Times, Tuesday, Aug. 20.)

The state set a minimum guideline of 900 hours classroom instruction for an average investment of five hours a day over a 180-day school year. Subtracting the 104 weekend days from a 365-day year leaves 261. Subtracting the 180-day minimum for the minimum requirement leaves 81 days to use for vacations, holidays, and weather disaster days.

I won’t suggest that any of those days be wasted in school, so let’s lengthen the classroom time to six hours per day to permit enriching the materials covered in classes. Some topics and concepts just take longer to teach and to master.

We face a difficult and emotionally laden challenge. Do we want to foster a “good” education or a “great” education?

Good education teaches students “how.” The students can learn how manipulate numbers, read and write at a tolerable level, have some awareness of how our country fits within the course of history, how other countries have interacted with one another, the consequences of those interactions, and even a brief introduction into one or more sciences.

Great education teaches students “why.” Open-ended questions are asked without necessarily having a single right answer or even having any right answer. Why did Chile attack Bolivia and what were the consequences to Bolivia?

Why is it important to have a basic understanding of Algebra and how can it be used in real life? England and Germany each had a mathematician who developed Calculus. What third country had an independent developer and why do so few know?

We live in a complicated world and every year we have brilliant students starting pre-kindergarten or kindergarten. Should we not do our utmost to protect and promote their abilities? Should we not do our best to show them how they can enrich their lives?

The world will not get less complicated or less demanding for those who want to thrive or just survive.

The parents of the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s were members of the final generations able to prepare their children for a predictable future. By 1915, changes began to occur in inventions, the sciences, culture, and society that affect us still. I shy from absolutes most of the time, but I am absolutely sure changes will occur by 2023 that will astound us and will not have been predicted.

Great ones? Bad ones? We don’t know. We need to give all students the best preparation we can for understanding and coping with their future.

They need to be able to think independently, ask rude questions, not question rudely, and revise plans and opinions as reality meets them daily.