4-day school week is ill-advised

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Hope is not a method. In 26 years of military service to three different wars, Hurricane Katrina and the Moore tornado, I learned that lesson and a few others the hard way, more than once. The current public debate regarding moving our children to a four-day school week counts upon hope. Hope that the move is not detrimental to our students, to our families, and to our community.

The cited study is limited at best. Other studies, and experiences of like-sized towns in Oklahoma such as Gore and Marlow, demonstrate that it is ill-advised. Public debate is terrific and I am glad a conversation has begun about our school. However, we must always keep in mind that the purpose of our school, of any school, is to turn out educated, hardworking young adults who will remain or return to our community so that we may all experience a return on our investment in their future.

As parents and community members we are looking for a value added result. At a time when our enemies and competitors are doubling down their efforts toward their children, it does not make sense to do less for ours.

Duty is as heavy as a mountain. This was the motto of my unit in Afghanistan. As a servant of our citizens and Constitution, it served as a reminder that our calling was not just a job, it was duty. Duty mandates that you keep your eye on results, performance matters, winning matters. Yes, the pay could be better, but we chose our profession, and as professionals we held ourselves to win and to train winners. Anything less is and always will be unacceptable. Those entrusted with our children have a similar noble calling.

If we are to turn things around, logic would dictate that more is better than less. Putting aside the economic and community restrictions that weigh heavily against a four day school week, i.e. 77 percent of the children in our school are on free or reduced lunches, median income for Pawhuska is $20,000 less than Prue or other towns to which we are being compared, there is NO daycare available even if a family could afford it, economic savings to school is less than $25,000 annually, etc., we need to push our children harder to set the tone for resurgence of our communities.

I could understand and support an argument for a four-day school week if the school was in session year around and the off day would be Wednesday to allow children to recover from the ten hour schedule. Studies show that year around school benefits the community, the entire community. Duty is never easy, but you do not have to do it alone, nor our teachers. If the school will identify the needs, we can meet them.

A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. We have children in our community for whom school is an escape from home. The school provides them regular meals. The school provides them affirmation and a safe environment.

A single teacher can make a difference in a child’s life. One did for me.

Education is the only proven consistent ladder out of poverty and hopelessness. With oil prices dropping and all indicators being they may never return to previous levels, it is time to knuckle down and think. Think how we are going to meet the challenges of a world in chaos. We owe it to these children to push them to give them the tools not just to compete, but to beat their competitors. These lessons are the ones they will carry for life.

Schools have been systematically cutting the arts and physical education due to funding. With a decreased educational period, they will be the likely candidates to receive less focus or be cut. Increasing the school term will provide some breathing room for our teachers to cover the State curriculum (when one is finally published), allow our children sufficient time to not only get instruction in the arts and an increased physical education, but also give time to get assignments done in school, reducing the need for homework.

In the past 26 years I saw a consistent drop in the fitness level of new recruits and a decrease in reasoning/problem solving skills. Keep in mind this was in the military that was a buyers’ market after 9/11, so we had sufficient applicants and could be selective. Federalism of our schools taught them to take tests, not to think for themselves. We had to untrain in them the deferential approach to life and give permission to make their own decisions. Our current and future challenges demand that we rethink how we are doing business. We have for good reason rejected Federal intrusion into our schools; now let us take the next step.

If someone else did it before, you definitely can do it. Our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, found a way to make sure that we received a world class education and opportunity. Why is it that when faced with challenges our first response is to lower expectations? Why is our first impulse to be lemmings and follow someone else’s path, even if it is a poor path? Are we ready to give up on our childrens’ future by surrendering up front? I am not. I do not think any of us are. No parent looks at their child and thinks I want my child to achieve less than I have achieved. I have consistently found that those I led would meet my level of expectation. We must not set that level low.

We can and must do better. We owe our children to push them. We owe our community and country no less. We need to set the example for the rest of the state to follow. Lead, not follow. Winners always want the ball.

Doug Merritt

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.)

Oklahoma Army National Guard