Movies at School

Recently one of my daughters graduated from high school. I have another daughter about to enter her junior year. One of the things that rankles a bit with the education here in Texas is the amount of wasted time.

So, to illustrate one aspect of time-wasting that goes on at our high school, a couple weeks ago I asked my senior to make a list of all the movies they watched at school over the course of her senior year as best she could remember. Here is the list:

  • Approximately 20 BBC documentaries on astronomy
  • Hamlet (a parody)
  • The Prestige
  • Wuthering Heights documentary
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Like Mike
  • Zone (blues music documentary)
  • Men in Black
  • Astro Spies documentary
  • Contact
  • Runaway Jury
  • Supreme Court PBS show
  • Political ads documentary
  • Gideon’s Trumpet
  • Sybil
  • Seven Pounds
  • Pursuit of Happyness
  • Rudy
  • The Rookie
  • Pay it Forward
  • Avatar
  • Lucas
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Maxed Out
  • 5 People You Meet in Heaven
  • The Peaceful Warrior
  • ESPN Sports
  • Inspector Gadget
  • Back to the Future

The BBC documentaries were 60 minutes each and used up one class period, all the other movies as best as she can remember took up two class periods. Hopefully ESPN Sports only lasted one class period.

Generally I don’t have a problem with documentaries because I think they add a lot to a class in certain subject areas. And even some of the classic movies like Pride and Prejudice are marginally OK. But seriously, this represents 78 class periods used up in movies or documentaries. There are 180 days of school, so approximately every 3 days one of her class periods was a movie.

Just one example of why the US education system is falling over a cliff.

School Summer Project

We are into the school summer vacation here in Texas. It’s nice for everybody to get a break from the daily grind of the school year – both for the kids as well as the parents.

Sometime in the last few years or decades, the school system has started a program to give the high school kids summer homework projects. Depending on which classes the kids sign up for, they may or may not get one. My kids seem to get them every year.

My older daughter will be a junior this fall and her summer assignment was to annotate the “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Basically this means critically analyzing the book, and highlighting different categories and topics according to the assignment.

Here is a picture of one page of the book when she got finished with the annotating:

After annotating the book, the rest of the assignment was to log into a school purchased special database set up by the Gale Group and find and print some additional literature-related documents and do some further analysis on these. Problem was you could not get into the database without going down to the school and logging in through the library. They don’t have things quite set up yet it seems. Can’t use Google, has to be their database.

I think it’s critical to a good education that students be exposed to analytical thinking. I also think they need to read lots and lots of fine literature from many authors and across lots of genres. Finding and analyzing data are also much needed skills to have.

My question about all this, and the reason for this post, is I wonder what the point of the summer project is. In my experience I don’t know another parent who thinks it is a good idea. So much do the kids not want to do them that it encourages a lot of copying and and cheating two days before the fall term begins. It’s been proven that the state of education in America is in decline, and I’m not sure there is any data to show that these summer projects are worth while.

Recently posted in another blog was an entry about how Finnish students are some of the top testing students in the world, with a link to the original (and quite remarkable) article in the Wall Street Journal.

In Finland:

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules.

According to the article, the US is studying some of what the Finnish do in their schools.

I don’t know what the answer is, but as a parent it is frustrating to watch my kids struggle with this, and encourage them at the same time I feel it is useless and wrong to load up their summer this way. We never had this when I was a student, and at that time the US was still ranking quite highly across the world.

Of course, the summer project is not the cause of all the problems of the US education system, but for us it is representative of where things are heading – spending more money and doing more work for less results.

Sometimes it feels like the only thing they are really learning how to do is to get used to the idea of working while on vacation like so many adults in the US do…

Anyway, I would like to hear what other people think about this. Please feel free to add your comments below.