One of the most important things I’ve learned after more than 35 years of working is this simple verity: Everyone needs a break during the day. When I arrive at a knotty problem in the writing, I’ve learned to give my brain some space. Ideas percolate better after a respite.
Doesn’t matter what you do or where you toil — in a boardroom, on the factory line or in front of a computer screen — the salubrious effects of a timeout are many. Nothing replenishes as well as unfettered down time. Some schools have forgotten that, and what a dangerous pity.
Parents in Orange County are up in arms, and rightly so, after almost two dozen Orlando-area schools began cutting back on recess, sometimes even canceling it completely, to maximize class time. Of 123 Orange district elementary schools, only a handful mandate at least 20 minutes of recess daily for all students.
"They have become machines that produce data as opposed to children," one Orange County mother complained to NBC’s Today show.
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But let me not limit the finger-wagging to the school district up the road. One ZIP Code over, a kindergartner I know had no recess factored in her schedule — this despite a Miami-Dade School Board policy that calls for recess periods of 15 minutes three times a week or for 20 minutes twice a week for elementary school children. (Still a pittance.) She did, however, get about an hour of homework every day. I was flabbergasted.
Anyone who has had even the most fleeting interaction with a 5- or 6-year-old — heck, even a 10-year-old — knows that not allowing time for children to blow off steam is as ludicrous as trying to walk a cat on a leash. It works sometimes for a few felines but is disastrous all the time for the majority.
While the Orange County School Board does not oppose recess and, in fact, asked area superintendents to get all elementary principals to work it into schedules starting next fall, officials blamed the increased use of standardized tests for the death of free playtime. Apparently the demise of recess and the lack of common sense go hand in hand. As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a blog at the beginning of the school year, "Testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools."
No kidding. But don’t blame the teachers. My home state of Florida, which jumped into the school accountability movement head first and eyes closed, is at the forefront of an increasingly stupid and misdirected effort to test our kids into a stupor. Then again, what can we expect when we allow bureaucrats instead of educators to formulate classroom policy?
Testing and evaluation is good and necessary. Both parents and teachers need a reasonable gauge with which to measure how well students are performing. But it’s the manner in which high-stakes testing is used today that I oppose so vehemently. A standardized test does not measure creativity or perseverance. It cannot quantify desire and is only effective in conjunction with a teacher’s own observation of students. Try explaining that to presidents, governors and legislators.
I am so glad my children have graduated, but I fret over the public educational system my granddaughters are inheriting. This excessive emphasis on high-stakes testing — Florida’s version of Common Core is only the latest iteration — is exactly what Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho described as "too much, too far, too fast." It goes against what I, what all of us who were saved by school hold dear: Education should feed and encourage intellectual curiosity not serve as a stage for grandstanding politicians.
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