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Vanishing childhood

By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
Oct. 20, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
Remember when children didn't start school until they were 5, when the school year began in September and ended in May, when there were no before-or after-school programs, when homework took less than an hour a night and kids had tons of time left to play? What happened?
In the name of improving education, children today have been placed on a treadmill of longer days and homework-filled nights that may end up doing more harm than good. Each time a new study shows declining test scores, the remedies proposed by educators and politicians are always more money and more hours at school. But I can't help but wonder that if what we are doing now isn't working, just doing more of it may not be the answer.
There is a point of diminishing returns in lengthening school days, weeks and years. Sometimes more is less. My peers and I received a pretty good education and spent much less time at school than children do today.
When I was a boy, I only had a couple of hours worth of concentration a day to devote to anything educational, anyway (and I've only gone downhill since). Adding another hour to the school day and giving me more homework would have only improved my skills at shooting spit wads and daydreaming.
Perhaps instead of lengthening the time involved in schooling, our children would benefit more from shorter, more intense bursts of education. The dramatic results from huge numbers of homeschoolers in America show that children can receive above- average educations in as little as a couple of hours a day.
Obviously, the intensity and focus of parental attention can't be replicated in a large classroom, but the point remains that the quantity of time spent in class is not the determining factor in the quality of the education received.
The continually lengthening school day and school year seems to be caused by two societal problems: the inability of the schools to maintain discipline and the willingness of parents to allow their children to be over-scheduled into a rat race.
Too much time that should be spent teaching is wasted on just maintaining order. Teachers' hands have been tied and administrators are often afraid to take the actions necessary to protect the learning environment for fear of confrontation with parents who would rather enable bad behavior than punish their little darlings.
The key to shorter school days and more focused learning is discipline. Without it, you could send kids to school 12 hours a day year-round and they wouldn't learn a thing.
When it comes to over scheduling, the voice of reason to declare enough is enough should be that of the parents. Sadly, though, many parents either don't notice, don't care, or even worse are glad to have their children busy from dawn to dusk.
Many children eat most of their meals in a cafeteria instead of at home and some parents have come to view the school system as a guilt-free babysitting service that relieves them of the responsibility of raising their own children.
Childhood is precious  and short. Kids shouldn't get home at dark with a backpack full of homework for the next day. Education is an important part of growing up, but so is building forts, playing football and climbing trees. They'll have their entire adult lives to work.
For now, children need to play, and we parents need to love them enough to guard their time and give them back the gift of childhood.