It's a common fear I've heard expressed among those who homeschool: too much time is wasted, or more specifically,
“Are we doing as much as the public schooled kids are doing???”
I'm not going to juxtapose these two different modes of education in this post; however, I will give an account of my experience in the public schools in regards to how and where time is spent to illustrate just how much time is wasted in our government-provided education institutions.
I can't speak for everyone's experience in public school, all I can speak on is my own experience in the schools I was in. Now, just what kind of public schools did I attend? According to Newsweek, all three of the high schools in my school district—including the one I attended— are considered to be among the best high schools in the country. As the school district’s website says, “The district has received the State of Ohio’s highest possible rating, Excellent with Distinction, for nine consecutive years, bolstering its statewide reputation for academic and extracurricular excellence.”
I attended the public elementary, middle, and high schools in this top school district. You would be hard-pressed to find better schools in the country. So if there is any public school standard you want to compare your homeschooling with, I would say you can't go wrong with my school district.
And yet, as “perfect” as these schools are, the amount of time wasted is unbelievable.
With this post, I decided I wanted to add up the time spent in school each day, and subtract from that total all the time wasted in order to come up with a rough estimate for the actual amount of time spent being instructed. In other words, how much time is actually spent “learning” from the direct instruction of the school teachers on a given school day? I'll use my high school as an example since I just recently graduated, and it is still fresh in my mind.
Time wasted outside of class
According to the school website, school hours are from 7:55 AM - 2:42 PM, however, what is not factored into that is the time getting ready for school, waiting for the bus, and riding the bus. Buses usually come pretty early in order to get in and get out before the commuting students start showing up. Prepping for school, waiting for the bus, riding the bus, and arriving early at school adds at the very least an additional hour to your time in the public school system.
That gives us a little under 8 total hours a day taken up by school, which seems appropriate since, in theory, public school is supposed to be preparing one for the typical 9-5 job. Of course, this 8 hour total is a bit misleading, as it does not factor in extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs, which many students participate in.
Since no academic instruction takes place during our 1 hour prepping/arriving time, that leaves us a little under 7 hours spent in the school building. From that number, we have to subtract a half-hour for lunch. There is no instruction during that half-hour, unless you count learning poor manners, and perhaps some new and exotic obscenities to add to your vocabulary.
There are also four-minute intervals between classes to allow students the time to actually walk all the way across the building to get to their next class. My school was so big, you rarely had enough time to actually stop at your locker to retrieve the books you needed, and to then get to your class (thankfully, the backpack ban was repealed my Junior year.) That may sound far-fetched. How hard can it be to walk across a building in 4 minutes? But when the halls are packed wall-to-wall with over 2,000 students, punctual arrivals become much more difficult.
Some people had the bad luck of having multiple classes on opposite ends of the building, and they would have to carom back and forth between them. With so many students, shoulder-to-shoulder stand-still human traffic jams in the hallways were a common occurrence, which would always slow you down. Additionally, many would stop to socialize with their peers, causing further delay. However, I will not factor in all the times students—including myself—were late for class. I'll just assume that these four minute breaks between classes were always four minutes.
Since there were 8 periods, that means there were 7 breaks. That's roughly another half-hour in the school building not spent learning. We've already lost an hour off of our original 7 spent in the building, and are now left with only 6 out of the 8 total hours spent daily in the public school system.
This is not, however, where the time wasting ends!
Homeschooling at public school?
We have homerooms and study halls at public school. Homerooms are where students check in and get their attendance marked off. They also receive any important announcements here—such as schedule changes.
Homerooms are roughly 15 minutes long. No educational learning takes place.
Also, everyone usually has at least one study hall in their schedule, and many have two. Now, as the name indicates, a study hall is supposed to be a time where—instead of having another class—you spend the entire period studying, or working on homework.
This is not what happens, typically. From personal observation, what takes place in study hall in order of frequency is as follows:
- Chatting with peers
- Playing free online computer games (in my day “Crush the Castle” and “Run 'N Gun” were all the rage)
- Texting and/or doing whatever it is people do on their smart phones
So depending on what kind of student you are, what your priorities are, and whether or not you even have any homework to work on...study hall can be either completely unproductive, or a helpful way to get your homework out of the way.
However, since I'm only counting the time spent being instructed, study hall doesn't count. It's more like homeschooling anyway.
Any learning that does take place during study hall is accomplished by the student and by the student alone. They are reading the text book and figuring the problems out on their own. Study hall becomes homeschooling at that point, since the student is not being instructed by a teacher in a classroom, but by a book and their own mind—homeschooling.
Like I said earlier, pretty much everyone had at least one study hall, many had two. For the sake of this illustration, I'll subtract only one study hall period. Since periods at my school were roughly 45 minutes long, I'll subtract 45 minutes. This subtraction combined with homeroom leaves us short another full hour, bringing our remaining 6 hour total now down to 5.
Still, 5 solid hours of education? That's pretty darn good, right? Well, we're not finished.
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