Monday, March 10, 2014

Can skipping school be good?

I mostly skipped class when I was sick or studying on my own for exams, i.e., either I could not go to school or I was doing something I believed to be more important. I took the GRE Subject Test in Mathematics at the end of highschool to prove that I could do it. This is a test for college graduates with a major in Math. I scored 860 (62%) out of 990, a score with which I would have been admitted to some graduate schools. However, towards the end of high school I have also sometimes skipped school with friends. This was in part because we had some uninterested/ing teachers, and in part because it was fun to do what was not allowed.

Are we right in valuing attendance so much? No! No! No! Our educational system fails our children by assigning a zero or sometimes negative value to their time.  Schools are not there to keep children busy, but to teach them new and wonderful things and to make them interested in learning.

So should children skip school? Yes, but in a controlled way. Both the parents and the school should, in principle, always know where the child is because until college children are underage. However, I think it should be ok for children to skip school for short periods of time. OK, you can skip school if your parents agree with that, but then you have to catch up with what was taught in class on your own. If it's allowed, it is not going to be considered so cool. 

It is ridiculous when skipping school is confined to two days per semester, which require petitioning to some weird entity like the city hall. School is not a prison system, and turning it into one can only cause rebellion. We want to prevent children from skipping school to get high on drugs without paralysing their thought process. Students should have more freedom of choice because when they graduate they have to be able to manage their time and their lives effectively. If they do not graduate, the decisions will be even harder to make. 

Travelling is good. Children (and adults) learn from their own experiences better than from books. So, traveling should be encouraged within some limit - just like graduate students are encouraged to go to one or two conferences every year, children should be encouraged to travel with their families to see new places when it is possible. Conferences often happen during the semester and involve skipping class. The timing is not important, it is important that they go to these meetings, talk to people and learn new things. There are projects that can be assigned to the child about the learning he does when he is away, and these can be presented in class to make studying more interesting for everyone.

What was the most important part of my education? Since I remember my mother paid attention to our opinion and respected us, and in turn we have always respected her - even as teenagers. She did, however, make a point of always trying to know where we were. Placing some level of trust in children is something very important that most parents and educational systems fail to do.

Did I ever skip school while I was growing up? Yes, sometimes. I mostly stayed home when I was sick or when I wanted to study on my own. However, I distinctly remember that our French teacher, whose class was scheduled after two hours of classes that were not happening, remarked on how much Jeni's hair grew since the last time he saw us. Jeni, Alina and I were almost always together. So, it must have been that none of us attended French for a while. Instead of learning French, we saw James Bond movies and two other movies that had just come out. One other time we went to a park near our school instead of to class. There we sat on swings and prepared for the class after the one we were skipping. We were noted as absent in red by our Romanian Literature professor. Romanian was my favourite class from high school and I still skipped it. We also went to the opera several times - this was with the approval of our chemistry teacher who sold the tickets and allowed only the kids who attended the opera to skip her class the day of the play. I remember the movies and the plays we saw, and the trips to the park better than I remember the times I sat in class.

There were also classes that I skipped because the teachers were not interested in teaching and would rather send us home, but then everyone skipped.  However, I do not count these incidents so much as skipping school - more as poor management:  the school could not find teachers who were interested in teaching whatever subject they were supposed to be teaching. This was not surprising since salaries were very low, and the bribes for positions were a way of survival. We did have some really good teachers from my parents' generation. It was mostly the new hires who did not care about teaching and let us go home instead, but they gave us good grades, which ended up counting for admission to some universities.

I did not travel much until I left home for college, but this was because my family did not have the money or the time to travel. 

Did I ever drink alcohol or smoke in high school? No. I did have many classmates who enjoyed both. I had a few really good friends. However, none of my close friends smoke or drank on a regular basis, and so I was not under too much pressure to drink and smoke myself. While I agree that drinking socially is OK,  I still don't drink or smoke. I sometimes have a glass of Champagne at occasions, e.g., when a student graduates.
From right to left: Jeni, Alina, Adriana, below: me & my great aunt
Over the big break, we used to go to a nearby store and buy whole-grain black bread to share, and then to the post office to mail applications for US schools. My best friends from highschool with whom I used to skip school are Alina (who has a Masters in Mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and is now a highschool teacher herself at a top US highschool) and Jenica (holds a PhD from the University of Notre Dame in bioinformatics, and performs research in genetics at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia). My other friends from high school have stayed in Timisoara. However, they all have good jobs, and families that they are very proud of.

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