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Monday, November 26, 2012

David Hedges: UFT v DOE on Missed School Days Due To Sandy

David Hedges

The latest in the custody battle over our children between the State and the Family
If we can trust the polls, and Paul Volker[1] to quote them accurately, that “four out of five Americans don’t instinctively trust our own government to do the ‘right thing’ even half of the time,”[2] then perhaps we-the-people should question the government’s authority to rule our lives when their policy decision making power seems cross the line.  For example, how much power should the public sector assume it has the right to in determining the agenda of the private lives of the community?  Do families have rights to decide how to spend their free time, or is that up to the government too?  We have boundaries in place, yet the bureaucratic powers that be are bent on invading that domain with no greater rationale than “because I said so.”  People, not bureaucracies have inalienable rights, right?
Yet, in a joint decision between two bureaucratic giants, the United Federation of Teachers and the New York State Education Department, three days in February have been seized to force public schools to meet the mandated 180-day school year.  Those days were lost as a result of hurricane Sandy.[3]
The days that were seized were termed, “vacation” days, but in reality, they are days when the public sector does not impose its agenda on the private sector.  It is boundary, if you will, when the State permits families to spend time with each other, either by going away, or by staying home with each other.  The State takes it as it right to take that time away from the private sector, but the State does not impose this on private schools.  A vacation day, for a child who does not work for a living, is an invaluable part of that child’s development.  Depriving him or her of that private time is wrong in four significant ways: first, it teaches the child that the public sector has the right to seize the private rights of the individual, and second, it requires that a child submit to being co-opted and take the side against his or her parents in the custody battle that divides government and family.  Third, it is bad educational policy for it deprives the child of the time they need to reflect on what he or she has learned and to consider how to improve in ones learning, when school reconvenes.  Fourth, and most importantly, it deprives children of the time they need to socialize with friends and family.  Forcing children into the school building during their vacation deprives children of the time they need for both a healthier cognitive and social developments.  Surely there are better, less intrusive ways to repair the 180-day school year. 
In the wake of the trauma caused by Sandy, students need more, not less family time. During the week when there was no power, heat, and when students lost their homes, they did not run to school for emotional support- they stuck by their families.  They instinctively knew whom they could trust.  And it wasn't the government.  Imposing school-time at the time when family time is so important simply underscores how out of touch with the real lives of real people these bureaucracies, the UFT and NYSED, are. It also provides an insight into why so many people instinctively distrust the government to do the right thing.  Bureaucracies are, by definition, insulated from the consequences of the decisions they make.   They abuse their power and take it away from us because, like the psycho-pathology of the sadist, they cannot feel, so they use their control over others to compensate for what they lack, in an effort to fill the void they have in their own humanity. 
A more effective and balanced approach to restoring instructional time to students who lost it during Sandy would be to add time to the school day.  That would reduce wasted commuting time and reduce the time that students are on the roads, (especially at that time of the year when it is so cold and often snowy).  Roughly calculated, we are talking twenty-one hours of school-time, which applied over two weeks for two hours a day would meet the State’s mandate.  I would recommend using the two weeks just prior to the State’s Regents Exams for extra tutoring and other extra help classes, but it should be up to the schools to address the needs of their students.  I think holding extra classes at the end of the school day would help students achieve better scores on their exams, thus turning a loss into a gain for everyone concerned. 
That ‘s a plan that comes from a fundamental and balanced respect I have for both the private sector and its right to family time, and the mandates of the public school to provide effective and accountable instruction to public school children.  Seizing three days in February will not have any measurable effect on student learning.  As one parent commented, the canceled vacation days will just be baby-sitting days in school.  The impact that extra instructional time can have can be measured when it has a goal or a purpose.  Just adding days without a specific plan that can be verified only contributes to the dysfunctional culture that pervades the public school system, for those days would lack the kind accountability that could provide us, as citizens, with the data we need in order to hold them to the high standards we expect from them.
Here is the opportunity for government to do the right thing.  Frankly, I expect to be disappointed, but hey, you never know.  Comments, anyone?

[1] Paul Volker was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Carter and Reagan from 1979 to 1987 and the Chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board under President Obama during 2009 and 2010.
[2] Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates. Oct. 9-10, 2003. N=1,004 adults nationwide. .
"Generally speaking, how often do you think you can trust the government to do what's right? Can you trust the government most of the time, only some of the time, hardly ever, or never?
Most of the time                                    27%
Some of the time                                   52%
Hardly ever                                            13%
Never                                                      6%
Unsure                                                    2%

[3] The New York Times: “Storm Prompts New York City’s Schools to Cancel 3 Days Off” by By JENNY ANDERSON Published: November 19, 2012