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One-stop family service

(This link gives an idea of the background information that is to be provided with the underlying principles.)

Today’s school system stems from a time when only one parent worked and children were needed during the summers to help with the family farm, but the 9 to 3 school day and the long summer holidays no longer suit reality.

Families now need year-round schools and longer school days. The headaches for parents caused by having to find decent before and after school care for their kids, and the destabilizing of children by shunting them here and there needs to end.

Longer school days and years have been debated and tried in some jurisdictions, but implementing them is difficult with traditional schools. Parents are split on the idea. Not all want their kids to be in school all the time. The rigid structure of schools, staffing concerns, and the competing interests of organizations offering after school and summer programs for children are among other things working against an effective implementation of these changes.

A fully developed democratic education system has the flexibility to overcome these difficulties. In the absence of curriculum that has children being taught lockstep, self-directed learners can learn anywhere, anytime. They do not need to be in school for fear of “getting behind”. This gives parents the freedom to decide the hours of the days, the days of the week, and the weeks of the year their children will attend school. It even allows parents to homeschool their children on a part-time basis if they wish. The flexibility to vary the hours of children’s time at school is of course contingent on children being able to walk to school. If they need to ride a school bus, the bus schedule will dictate the hours for students. This is another argument for building, as much as possible, a system of neighborhood schools to which children walk.

A Better Life for Teachers

Talk of longer school days and years creates concern among teachers that their workloads will increase. Teacher unions need to stand firm to ensure that this does not happen, but they also need to recognize that there is a better life for teachers that is worth pursuing, one that leaves far more of them feeling that teaching really is the most honourable of professions.

The absence of timetabling not only opens the possibility of students deciding when to be at school, it can also give teachers more control over when they will be “on the job”. In keeping with current working agreements, teachers in the proposed democratic system will work an average of 8 hours a day, 10 months a year with no marking or lesson planning to do on their own time at home, and no expectation that they run extra-curricular activities. With the work teachers now do at home, and with the extra-curricular activities they run, most are putting in more than an 8-hour day so this requirement is not a major hurdle. What changes is that teachers will spend the full 8 hours a day on average at school, but the benefits of flexibility again come into play. Teachers might arrange to start at 7 and end at 3, or some other numbers like 11 to 7 depending on community needs. They might also arrange for 10-hour days, 4 days a week. With a year-round program, the 10-month contract provides for even more options like working fewer days each week, but over more months. Teachers would also be able to take their holidays any time of year and a week or two at a time.

New Opportunities for Summer Camps

The private summer camp industry worries when it hears talk of year-round schools, but there are great new opportunities to seize. Parents are still going to want their children to experience camp life and all the things that can be done there that can’t be done at school. They are also going to continue to want a break from their kids, and to give their kids a break from them. Business as usual will probably continue, but summer camps will now have the option of becoming four-season camps.

An obstacle to this has been staffing. Many staff members are senior high school students and teachers who are only available in summer. This is not the case with democratic schools. Students can make themselves available anytime. Teachers with ten-month contracts can make themselves available other than summer months.

Working at a camp is a great experience for young people, but there will be concern that their education will suffer if they work too much. It’s not a new concern. It has been found that students’ schoolwork starts to suffer if they work more than 15 hours a week during the school year. It has been found that new paradigms sometimes face the same problems as old ones, and this makes a good example. This problem will continue to exist with democratic schools. It is a real-life problem that has no lasting solution and it continues into adult life. People are forever trying to get the right balance between work and other parts of their lives. The advantage to the democratic model is that students get to build experience dealing with this problem in the presence of professionals trained to help them. (Teacher training for the democratic model is discussed elsewhere.)

Some schools today use camps during the school year to augment their programs, and democratic schools will have a greater need to do this. Community schools for children from infancy to graduation need ways to avoid being insular. They need to expose their students to children from other places and other cultures. Camps can draw students from a broad geographic area and immerse them in multicultural experiences that could last for weeks. They can also create themes, for example, students could be immersed in the times of Shakespeare. They could make and wear clothing from those days and follow the customs. The grand finale could be the performing of a play. With a little imagining the possibilities start to appear endless, and when the students return to their schools they enrich the lives of others with their experience.

Before and After School Programs

For people providing before and after school care, schools with longer days will present a serious problem. Most will probably find that their services are not needed. This might reflect a better deal for kids, but the people providing the services may have to find other ways to earn income. Some might survive by providing special activities related to music, sewing, crafts and such, and some already doing this will benefit from the change. Instead of something like piano lessons having to be scheduled after school and in the evenings, they can be scheduled anytime. With new opportunities created by longer school days, some might be employed part-time in schools. A major social transformation does require people to adapt, some more than others. Before and after school caregivers are among those who will be most affected, but it is not something that will happen overnight. They should see it coming and have time to prepare.

Day Cares

As the description of the fully developed democratic learning model reveals, the community school is a place for children from birth to graduation. Working parents are not faced with having to find good daycare for their preschool children. Parents are always welcome to be at the school, which helps parents on maternity leave to prepare their infants well for when they return to work. It also provides a place where parents, and even older children, can observe good role models and witness good practices for nurturing children.

Schools accepting children from birth will have a big impact on daycares. Many might be incorporated into the new school system. Others may fold with their employees being hired to work with young children in the community schools. Some people will likely be put out of work. A caring society will strive to minimize any hardship change inevitably brings for some people, plus, repeating what has already been said, the change being proposed is gradual. People will see it coming and have time to adapt.

The Question of Costs

Some people believe that the costs of longer school days, longer school years, and the inclusion of younger children will be prohibitive, but this thinking needs to be challenged. Longer school days will be covered in large part with teachers putting in 8-hour days as outlined above. With the flattening of the school administrative hierarchy, large salaries being paid to management can be redirected to hire more teachers. The same can be done with funds saved through the reassignment of staff now employed to maintain student records and provide the timetables for teachers and students. The money saved by reducing school bussing can also go to hiring staff that work directly with students. After-school public and charitable services designed to keep kids off the streets and give them a place to belong can be incorporated into schools providing more staff and a more cost effective use of facilities. Public funds and social services can be better managed by moving social workers into schools. These workers stand to be more effective with children who they casually see everyday and it puts more qualified adults into schools. The prospects of fewer social costs resulting from a system that better meets the needs of people also has to be considered. These are things that suggest the above changes may require no new funding, and quite possibly will reduce the amount of funding needed.

As things stand, no one has a definitive answer to this question of cost, but it is an answer worth pursuing, and we need to do the normal science of the democratic model to get it. A strong advantage to approaching change through the proposed series of steps is that the answer can be found in a low risk manner where people can get closer to it as they become more experienced with the model. Some people can try things before others. Some may find ways to make something work where others may not. A study of what led to the difference is the kind of investigation needed to refine the model. If a school reaches the point that it wants to lengthen its school day, but can’t see how to make it work, then it can stick with its old schedule until it becomes clear that the step can be made.

A Great Benefit

A beauty in stepping towards change is that schools can hold-up at any step until they see that the next one can be managed. It’s an approach to change that unleashes the best problem solvers, the most creative thinkers, to come up with ways to move reform forward. If it happens that longer school day and years can be financed at no additional cost, but that including younger children starts to require more funding, then parents may have to continue funding early child care. It’s still a vast improvement over what we’ve got.

As indicated, the benefits described above do not exist in the early Steps of the change process presented here. They are developed in later Steps when the conditions for their acceptance are more established, but people are not to feel bound by the order of the Steps. There exist today community schools with daycares attached that also serve to teach older students how to care for young children. There are many ways to reach the goal of a fully implemented democratic public education system and each learning community needs the freedom to introduce reforms in the order that most suits it.

The above does not address all of the problems and concerns that will arise from striving for schools that are a one-stop service for families. For example, questions related to providing space for preschool children are discussed elsewhere, but from the above it can be seen that change needs to be approach with the state of mind well described by Jean Drapeau, a former mayor of Montreal who said, “There are no problems, only solutions.”


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