In part 1 of this series, I examined all of the time spent outside of class during the 7 total hours in the school building.
Part 2 described the wasteful nature of electives.
In part 3, we will be moving on into the core classes. Surely less time is wasted in such important classes as Math, English, Science, History, and foreign language.
It’s harder to actually assess how much time was wasted in these classes, as it would fluctuate depending on teacher and time of year. However, in pretty much every class I’ve been in, only about half the class is actually spent on actual instruction.
What I’ve learned about teachers, is they like to talk. I may have had to teach myself most of Honors Algebra II, but I did learn a lot about my teacher’s personal life, credit card debt, and opinions on social issues.
For example, she once expressed her opinion that she didn’t think it right that the woman should always have to take her husband’s last name when married. This led to class time being consumed with debate on this issue, not mathematics. Debate is nice, but not when you’re paying a lot of taxes to be taught Math.
What was especially frustrating was when we would get to the end of the class time and the teacher hadn’t finished teaching all the material. She would blame us for being too talkative, and then just tell us to figure out the rest of the material for ourselves and do the homework (homeschooling).
Even at public school, it’s up to students to learn
There was no going back. She couldn’t teach the rest of the material the next day because that would put us behind schedule and we would never cover all of the yearly material.
So if we ran out of time, we ran out of time. Missed something? Too bad, you must learn it on your own, or not at all. I still recall one day when she got so mad that a number of students for looking at the clock that she simply stopped teaching and just stood in front of the chalk board with her arms crossed. Very immature, spiteful, and harmful to the students who actually did want to learn.
In my AP chemistry class—which was two periods long (an hour and a half)–the entire first period was spent going through a boring and confusing power point. Several of my classmates would fall asleep during this portion of the class. These weren’t underachievers either. This was AP (college level) chemistry. I struggled to stay awake myself. It was the end of the day, the lights were off, and the teacher was speaking Greek.
The second period of the class was just for us to work on homework. However, since 90% of us had no idea what the teacher had said, we weren’t capable of completing the homework. Instead, we just took turns copying the answers to the homework out of his answer book—which he let us do—then we talked the rest of the class, or worked on homework from other classes. At home, we would then go over the answers and try to figure out how in the world the teacher had arrived at them.
Chem Guy: one of the greatest men of our time, fo sho!
In order to overcome the lack of teaching, I bought an online Chemistry course to help teach me, and I watched a lot of youtube videos by “Chem Guy” (who was my Chemistry savior).
I spent about two hours every night on chemistry homework, and was getting nothing from class. I essentially had to teach myself college chemistry as a sophomore in high school.
The result? I got an “A-” in the class, but only a 2 out of 5 on the AP test, which means I didn’t get college credit, which was the whole point of the class. It also goes to show that grades don’t always reflect learning. One would think that an “A-” in the AP class would correlate to passing the exam. Not the case, and yet grades are all that matter in the public school system!
Many times I questioned myself about what the point of even having a teacher was if you just had to learn everything on your own, anyway.
Of course, not everyone did learn on their own, and these were the people who would get the “B”s and the “C”s. Sure, some of the responsibility is on them for not putting in the work, but they are were expecting to be taught. They were victims of the system. Conditioned to sit back and be fed what they needed. The students who received all “A”s; however, they succeeded because they got a tutor, or they spent an inordinate amount of time doing homework and studying and learning on their own.
Again, nearly all of my classes could be cut in half, with half the time spent on instruction, or “teaching,” and the other half spent on doing homework or figuring it out on your own—or more commonly—burning time. So much time was wasted.
This 50/50 split wasn’t true in all of my classes. I did have one class that was chock-full of fun and productive teaching and instruction, but that was a very unique and exceptional class. Because of this common 50/50 split in time, our 4 hours and 15 minutes of remaining educational instruction time is cut down to approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.
This roughly 2 hours isn’t all the time spent learning, but it’s all the time spent being given instruction by teachers, which is supposedly what sets public school apart from homeschooling.
All the other learning that takes place during the school day is generally left up to the student, and quite frequently, students choose not to do homework. You can find ways to get decent grades without doing homework or putting in much effort. Even if you are a hard worker, and do want to commit yourself to learning, it’s hard to learn much in an environment as wasteful and inefficient as the public school system, especially when your peers are likely to ridicule you for “trying”. Public school hurts poor and good students alike.
Most of my learning occurred outside of class, doing homework or studying the textbooks on my own.
Sound like a typical day of homeschooling to anyone?
Ever wondered how kids could be locked away inside the school building for hours on end and still have more work to do at home? It’s because the system is so inefficient, and wasteful. There shouldn’t be a need for homework, but there is.
Also, what should be noted is that there was much that was not factored into my estimation. I didn’t count all of the times where the “class clown(s)” would act up and cause the teacher to hesitate or get distracted and go off on a tangent.
I’m also not counting the times where a teacher would have to have a conversation with a student, “out in the hall,” when the rest of us would just have to sit and twiddle our thumbs in the awkward silence.
There were also school assemblies and pep-rallies, which were a complete waste of time, but we always looked forward to them for exactly that reason—time off from school work. Fire drills, tornado drills, lock-down drills, real lock-downs, delays for weather, early dismissals because of weather are all time wasters, but they did not factor into my estimation.
Lockdowns: Putting all the kids in one spot so the killer doesn’t have to work as hard.
I’m also not counting the days completely lost to substitute teaching. Days with substitute teachers are rarely productive or educational. Indeed, I’ve had some subs that didn’t even know anything about the subject they had to teach.
Substitutes simply follow the instructions left by the teacher, which means assigning busy-work or telling students to read their text books.
This usually results in an entire class period of teenage socializing.
Following up on a tip from a former public school teacher about the frequent occurrence of substitutes I discovered the following statistics. Up to 10% of teachers are absent on any given school day, and about 5 million students nationwide in some 274,000 classrooms have a substitute teacher on any given school day.
There is a lot of time wasted in public school, and this is not only my belief. Ask a typical student, ask a typical teacher; they’ll tell you the same thing if they’re being honest. They may not have taken the time to actually add everything up, but the majority of people will at least have the vague idea that, “yeah, a lot of time is wasted,” but most students, and even most teachers are okay with this.
Finding ways to waste time has even become an art-form to many students. After all, the alternative to wasting time is actually doing hard work, or pointless busy-work, which isn’t fun.
Also not factored into my estimate is all of the time wasted on false and detrimental instruction, like the views taught in “Health Class” on sexuality, or the teaching that the only significant “achievement” of Ronald Reagan was the Iran Contra affair, or being taught Darwinian Evolution is science and the reason we’re all here today.
Of the 7 hours spent locked away inside a public school building, approximately only 2 and a quarter of those hours are really spent being given instruction. Nearly 5 hours are wasted.
With all the time wasted in public school, is it any wonder that America is falling behind the rest of the world academically?
Is it any mystery that other nations are outscoring America in every subject?
We need more education and less school
I recently saw this quote from the writer and Youtube celebrity, John Green: “Let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools even though I don’t personally have a kid in school: I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”
Now, Mr. Green’s point is valid, but it is mis-made. What he is really arguing for is education, not public school.
Education is very important.
What Mr. Green must not realize (maybe because he went to a private boarding school, not a public institution) is that public education is a very poor means and environment for acquiring a solid education.
There are much more efficient and cost effective alternatives. We must also forsake the idea that time and learning are directly related. It is not necessarily true that the more time spent doing something the better you become at something. Practice does NOT make perfect. It is perfect practice that makes perfect, and our public schools are rarely providing the kind of effective practice that students need to improve.
We all know the public education system isn’t working. Even our illustrious president recognizes the current system is a failure, but his solution of throwing more money at schools will not patch up the holes. But, I’m sure the money would be put to good use, like for acquiring more flat screen TVs to add to school collections, or possibly the purchase of new computers for students to play “Crush the Castle” on during study hall.
Money will not solve any of the problems which are the fruits of a fundamentally flawed system. That’s like throwing money at a ship building company committed to constructing boats out of Swiss cheese.
If you’re a homeschooler, I hope this series has equipped you with a better understanding of the reality of the public school system, and provided you with more ammunition to fearlessly articulate the superiority of home education.
Sure, time can be wasted in homeschooling too, but it’s likely the time not being spent on academics is being spent on something that is at least worthwhile, unlike at public school.
If you’re a public schooler, then I hope maybe your eyes have been opened. Your school is not giving you as much as they say they are. What you do with that knowledge, is up to you.
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Click here to read part 1: Time wasted in public school outside of class
Now that we’ve cut away all the trimmings of public school, we can now get to the meat—the actual classes. In public school, you have the four core classes: Math, English, Science, and History. On top of these four, a foreign language—usually Spanish—is often taken, along with two other electives.
I usually avoided electives when I attended public school part time, as they were deemed too wasteful by my parents and myself; however, there were a few electives that we thought would be beneficial, such as Public Speaking and ACT/SAT prep.
Looking back, I didn’t receive much benefit from these classes, and there was a lot of time wasted. In fact, the reason many of my peers gave for taking these two classes was that they were looking for easy electives which required little attention and came with a light homework load.
The Busy work that is Electives
In the whole semester I took Public speaking, I only had to give three real speeches. There were a total of five “speeches,” but I don’t count the other two. Of these two, one speech involved reading a children’s book aloud to the class, which, in addition to making me feel pretty foolish for reading such a book to a bunch of teenagers, didn’t seem like public speaking to me.
I already knew how to read a children’s book. I wanted to learn public speaking, you know, like standing up and having to give a speech in front of a lot of people. But the teacher seemed to get a kick out of us reading the childrens’ books, so there we were.
The other speech I didn’t count was our end-of-the-year project, where we had to give a “how-to” speech with a partner. I ended up showing how to make and decorate a gingerbread house since it was close to Christmas. All I did for that was talk about what I was doing and mention some interesting facts I researched about candy and gingerbread house-making which I’ve long since forgotten.
Not only was the instruction lacking in the class, there were also many times where the teacher would finish teaching early, and then we would talk among ourselves for the last 15 minutes of class (which is a whole THIRD of the class time). Pretty much every day we would line up at the door five minutes before the bell rang, and the teacher would often have to tell us to be quiet because other classes were “still learning”. Most of our time was spent not learning how to speak publicly, but researching on our own the information we would need in order to give our “speeches”. The whole class just felt like an means for burning time.
Another rather pointless and wasteful aspect of that class was all the time we spent learning common sense “conflict management”. Perhaps it was necessary to teach such things, since kids are not learning how to act and respect others at home, but this was not public speaking. We were not learning how to articulately deliver a message to a crowd of people in an oral format. Learning about aggressive and passive aggressive behavior did not help me improve my public speaking, which is what I wanted from a “Public Speaking” class. For the three or so weeks we studied this material, it was basically a sociology class, not a public speaking class.
Teaching young adults to actually behave like respectful human beings
In all of my classes, teaching would often have to be interrupted so a teacher could share some nugget of wisdom about how to behave like a respectful human being should. There was a big paper bucket hanging on the wall of my public speaking classroom, and our teacher explained to us that it’s never right to “dip into someone else’s bucket to fill your own,” the point being not to insult others to make yourself feel better. A valid point, yes, but why is she having to teach this to 17 and 18-year-olds, and why the juvenile illustration?
I was often thinking to myself, “Are we in kindergarten?” However, this childish metaphor was not unique to just my Junior-year public speaking class. In fact, this was a trend I had noticed going all the way back to middle school. The older you became, the more the teachers treated you like children. My 4th grade teacher was actually the only one who really treated her students like adults, often telling us we needed to grow up because the teachers in middle school won’t “baby” us. It turns out just the opposite was true. In middle school, and even into the late years of high school, teachers treat students like children. Apparently the youth are experiencing a regress of maturity, or maybe that lack of maturity is being fostered by adults.
The result of seeing high school students as children who need to be taught how to act was a plethora of conversations and ridiculous messages about how to behave, all of which take time away from academic instruction. I felt my intelligence being insulted rather frequently, while my peers just thought it was hilarious, and were all too happy about the low expectations.
The one thing I did appreciate as I got older, however, was the teachers’ lack of caring about whether or not you did your homework. My fellow classmates and myself were quite traumatized by our fourth grade teacher who would chew us out for forgetting to complete a homework assignment, informing us that the evil teachers in the higher up grades would not tolerate it. I was almost giddy in 7th grade though, when I accidentally forgot to do a homework assignment and the teacher just made a mark on their assignment sheet and that was it. Sure I lost points, but nothing that couldn’t be made up. Most teachers did treat us like adults in this regard. Most.
Pointless work with no academic benefit
In my ACT/SAT class, we spent a lot of time learning vocab—most of which I already knew—and played silly games, like one to help us memorize all of our prepositions (which two years before, my Freshman English teacher made us sing a song and do a dance to in order to remember all of our prepositions. Yet another example of how high school students are treated like children.) The name of the class was also a misnomer. All the studying we did was for the ACT, not the SAT. Even after that class, I didn’t make much progress on my ACT scores. My scores didn’t improve until after I left the public school and studied on my own. Overall, my ACT class was a disappointment, and a waste of time. Again, just a bunch of pointless work with no results.
There were many other electives. Another one that was popular because of the lack of homework was Global Gourmet. Still, there were other classes such as Computer Basics, where you learned typing skills and other “basics”. Then there was “Shop Class”, where you used table saws and whatnot to make things out of wood. You were also required to take two years of Gym Class to graduate (which seemed rather pointless to me since I was on both the school football and basketball teams). Health Class, or “Sex Ed” as it was commonly referred to, was also required. Needless to say, I did not graduate from public school. But also rest assured that a high school diploma from homeschool is just as valid. I have had no issues getting into colleges, as many of my public school friends thought I would.
I didn’t take any of the above mentioned elective classes, or any of the other pointless electives not mentioned, so I can’t say how much time was wasted in them, but the teaching of many of these topics in an institutional setting seems rather wasteful. All the necessary knowledge could easily be learned better on your own if you were really that fascinated. If you are really interested in building things out of wood, a more flexible homeschool model is a much better system for learning, rather than a 43 minute class period with one instructor and a bunch of other peers who couldn’t care less, and were just happy that the class was an easy “A” with no homework.
While you may pick up a few interesting facts and valuable info, electives are largely a waste of time in the high school setting. While one could make the argument that students are wasting two whole periods every semester in their elective classes, I will not factor in the wastefulness of electives into my estimation, since I’m counting all of the time spent being given instruction, and electives technically fall into that category.
However, there is still a lot of time during electives that is not spent on academic instruction. All totaled, probably about half of electives do not involve being taught, but doing something on your own (or simply wasting time, as is most common). For this reason, I will subtract half of each elective class from our estimate, which amounts to about 45 minutes.
Thus, our total time spent on academic instruction in public school is now down to 4 hours and 15 minutes.
Read part 3 where I examine the heart of public school: the four core classes and foreign language.
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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.
Click here for part 2!
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