“Saving education … 2 hours at a time”

I’ve noticed with school starting again, there’s been a lot of discussion on state of the American education system.  I recent report cited our high school students have fallen even further down the rankings compared with other countries around the globe.

And as always happens, the saber-rattling has started.  The teachers and their beloved unions want more money and smaller class sizes.  The Republicans want a return to fundamentals and the Democrats want more parental involvement and a return to a more liberal curriculum like music and art.  It’s the same thing every time one of these reports come out.  Thanks God we haven’t heard anything about raising the “whole language” carcass from the grave.

Now here’s my take on the education debate.  Let me lay down assumptions first so you follow what I’m going to propose as the “be all, end all” to the education dilemma.

The brain is an array of synaptic connections.  Theses connection are formed through learning and our experiences.  We all know that.  The brain is also a muscle of sorts.  And like any muscle, the more we exercise it the more the muscle develops.

Now let’s look how we develop our bodies.  Any trainer will tell you, “no pain, gain,” right.  A ten minute session of jogging isn’t going to do anyone any good.  Now a concentrated twenty-minute run will that hurts – will.  My question is why don’t we treat our “brain workout” the same way.  And with the way we have our schools structured, we don’t.

Every school I’ve ever seen segments out classes in one hour periods.  Hey, it’s the way it’s always been and well … damn that’s the way it needs to be.  You know what the one hour class is?  It’s a ten minute jog.  And the one hour class isn’t even an hour.  By the time you subtract the five-minute break, the ten minutes to get the kids settled down and the five minutes at the end of class when they’re waiting to get out … the class is only forty minutes long.

Forty minutes isn’t enough time to build any significant synaptic connections.  It’s barely enough time to reinforce those that have already there in the first place.  And let’s combine that with the fact that there will some synaptic breakdown from one day to next.

If you ever took a college class in the summer, you probably found out that you learn more.  That’s because the classes are conducted over a shorter time period – four to six weeks, with longer periods.  You get into it more and don’t have as much time to forget it.  It’s been thirty years since my stint at UND, and I can still can knock out a lease vs. buy analysis or value a public company … even though I haven’t done it since.

Remember the movie, “Stand and Deliver,” starring Edward James Olmos, based on a true story.  A dedicated teacher inspires his East Los Angeles dropout prone students to learn calculus and do so well that they are accused of cheating.  He did it with a concentrated effort over just three months that often involved weekend classes.  He put those kids’ brains through a “mental marathon.”

We have to help our kids build their brains as strong as possible on the road to their future.  Would you rather send your children out on dirt or pavement?

Here’s my solution:  “Saving education … 2 hours at a time”

Make classes two hours long!

Here’s what will happen:

  • There will be more actual time for instruction and learning.  Even with a break in the middle of the two-hour period, you don’t have that mental and physical transition of the normal one hour class.  A forty minute period turns into a 100 minute period, a twenty-five percent increase.
  • The quality of the time spent in the class will rise dramatically.  Once you get going, then it’s a lot easier to keep it going.  Isn’t there a law of physics that says that?  Complex thought can only be achieved once the synapses are firing, and to get them firing takes work … no different from getting your cardio up on a run.  You can’t go from 100 to 170 in ten minutes.
  • Here’s one for the teachers.  If a teacher only has three classes a day then there is a good chance they will only have to prepare for one or two different courses.  My dad was a high school teacher and routinely prepared for three a night.  The synaptic connection thing works here too.  A more concentrated class preparation will probably lend itself to a better class preparation.  Better  teacher prep … better student achievement.  WOW, what a concept.

I don’t know why we continue to fight against brain neurology.  We all know how learning works.  Yet we don’t seem to put our knowledge into practice.  It’s like we are so determined to hold on the past – and way things have always have been done.  The only way any change happens – is if it is radical, like the “whole language” fiasco.

“Knowledge, 2 hours at a time” isn’t radical.  It doesn’t involve more money.  It doesn’t involve merit pay (so the unions don’t have to get their feathers ruffled).  All it involves is just having two-hour classes.

I remember a story a few years ago about a truck that had driven under a bridge underpass and gotten stuck.  Highway officials, firemen and engineers all caucused for hours in search of a solution.  A little six-year-old daughter of a man stuck in the ensuing traffic backup asked one of the firemen why they just let the air out of the truck’s tires.

And as Occam so rightly said, “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”


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One thought on ““Saving education … 2 hours at a time”

  1. This is a great point. I am somewhat familiar with the Waldorf system of education, which in my opinion, comes much closer to the brain-friendly learning than our traditional education, and they start each day with a two-hour “main lesson” focused on a particular topic. The curriculum includes arts, music, drama to teach even the “non-artistic” subjects more imaginatively and creatively.

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