Lousy lessons learned on Monday

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It’s hard to find anything to like about the Memorial Day make-up day held in Suffolk Public Schools on Monday. With some notable exceptions, the day turned out to be an elaborate bit of kabuki within the educational system — with more than a third of the system’s students absent, little in the way of instruction for many of those who attended and the meaning and importance of Memorial Day lost on most of the members of both groups.

After having to close schools for extended periods because of snowstorms last winter, SPS was forced to find a way to make up days in order to meet the state-mandated number of instructional hours in a school year. Rather than choose a Saturday to use as a makeup day, the School Board decided to hold school on Memorial Day to meet the state’s instructional-time requirement.

But instead of instructional time, many of the system’s schools held field days and other “fun activities” to keep the kids engaged while administrators checked the box that showed they’d kept students in school for the prescribed amount of time.

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But about a third of the system’s students — and, judging by anecdotal accounts, it was a far higher percentage at the high school level than the elementary level — just didn’t show up. Perhaps their parents figured the children might as well stay at home if they weren’t going to be learning anything, anyway. Maybe a few of those parents took their kids somewhere they could learn about Memorial Day and honor the fallen. If so, one thing is certain: Very few of them took advantage of the two events held in Suffolk.

Some teachers and their schools tried to honor the significance of the day by inviting veterans to come and speak to their young charges, and that lesson, well learned, would to our minds have been worth the entire instructional day. But many of the children who were at school on Monday just didn’t get that lesson amid the field-day fun and games.

Instead, the lesson learned by most Suffolk students who attended school on Monday was that the appearance of work is more important than the work itself. Putting in the time to be able to check off a box for the Virginia Department of Education was clearly more important than making that time count.

Those students whose parents did not require them to attend school on Monday also learned an unfortunate lesson. They learned that the rules do not necessarily apply to them — that responsibilities can take a back seat to relaxation — and that their education isn’t necessarily among their parents’ top priorities.