Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Perspective on MEA Weekend

The other day I got into a discussion on the merits/pitfalls of that time honored tradition of MEA weekend. I come to this discussion and discourse with a fairly unique perspective - that of a child of teachers, a father of school-age children, and the spouse of a teacher. As a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I loved "Teacher's Convention". It was a weekend that I either spent at our friend's "farm" bow hunting and packing away the garden for the winter or at another friend's hunting camp chasing whatever was available - usually ducks. It is a great time to be outside. It was also that first time of the school year when my parents got to take a break. At that time, "personal days" weren't even heard of so they were limited to breaks according to the school calendar. I always got a sense that it was a much needed break for them. It probably was for me as well. As parent, I don't usually like the short weeks because they mess up that routine we've developed. I particularly dislike the ones for workshops, I've heard enough stories about second-rate consultants coming in an giving their "take" on how to improve education (they're usually someone that just got a PhD in education and are wanting to spread the wisdom they got writing a dissertation to the rest of the world.) Teachers do need time without students constantly hovering over them, there is a lot of work in preparing lessons and correcting papers. Workdays are great, particularly if schools are going to constantly ignore the need for prep time. With that in mind I think a three-day week in October suites us well. I know my wife appreciated the break and I sense her ability to breath a little easier - at least for a few days.
What got me about this discussion was this person assertion that kids should be in school learning as much as possible. Hard to disagree with that reasoning. I pressed the person a bit on this, our conversation went something like this ...
J - Have you ever taken a winter vacation - taken the kids out of school for a week to go to Disney World in February.
"Oh course, every year" was the response.

J- what's the difference between this and MEA?

"Well there are things to learn outside of school too you know!"

J- Of course there are. But that's a week of school your kids are missing.
"Well, they take their homework with them"

J- and they do it when?
(obviously stumbling now) "Um, when they get a chance"

J-And what about the extra work it takes for the teacher to put that material together so they can work on it "when they get the chance" ?

"Well, they have to do it anyway, so what's the big deal .. one kid"

J- What if there are 25 or 30 families doing the same thing? Doesn't have to even be the same week, it still adds up to a lot of extra work.

Suddenly this person had an appointment they had forgotten about.

I have a couple of points to ponder. Have we gotten to the point that individual wants are bigger than societal needs? That is, is a week at Disney or in Jamaica more important that education? There is a lot of talk about holding education to higher standards. Do we need to hold parents to those same standards? That is, we expect your child to be in class, prepared, engaged, on a daily basis. Do we need to consider family development and incorporate more MEA-like weekends into our school calendars (with the caveat that's when vacations are taken)?

We spent the weekend traveling to UW-Eau Claire and UW-Madison to visit the music faculty at each school. Got to see my folks for a little bit, and spend some time with our daughter Sarah on Friday and Saturday. I still enjoy MEA/Teacher's Convention Weekends.


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