Cutting more school days better option than larger classes

Really? The Gilroy school district had the option of shortening
the school year by four days or making larger class sizes, and it
chose the latter? What I remember from my (excellent) public school
education was that not every single day of school was …
valuable.
Really? The Gilroy school district had the option of shortening the school year by four days or making larger class sizes, and it chose the latter? What I remember from my (excellent) public school education was that not every single day of school was … valuable.

Case in point: the history teacher who showed the movie Gone with the Wind – not, I suspect, because it gave us students insight into the Civil War and Reconstruction, but because it was an epic four hours. He dimmed the lights, pulled the blinds, and leaned back with his arms behind its head. It was okay: he was an exceptional teacher and this downtime was deserved.

Another example: the algebra teacher who’d let us play 7-Up every time we finished a unit. Again: she worked us hard and I learned a ton, but then we relaxed when it was breaktime.

And how could I forget the English teacher who arranged our desks into “whaling boats” and encouraged us to assign a harpooner and act out Moby Dick … it was fun, it killed an hour, and hurt none of us. I remember it vividly, which is more than I can say for some of the other lessons.

The point I’m trying to make is that not every second of classroom time is pure scholarly gold.

Losing four days? Feh. Not a big deal.

On the other hand, throwing a handful of students into an already-full classroom? Problem.

We can’t expect individualized attention in this era of full classrooms, but we do hope that the teacher knows each student’s name, has at least a vague sense of each’s performance levels, and could stop by a desk, if needed, to proffer a few extra words.

The more students there are, the less likely any of that can happen. In second and third grade classrooms, if eight students are added to the prevailing 20 as proposed, that’s nearly a third more kids.

And this at a stage of a child’s development when they really need to feel their teachers are there for them. Two years ago, these second graders were mere kindergarteners, some of them venturing from home for the first time. Let’s give our second and third graders a break by keeping their world small and cozy as long as we can.

Their teachers should be fresh and bright and available to them: not beleaguered by the hordes they are responsible for. Can you imagine wrangling 28 kids of that age and trying to keep order, let alone instilling knowledge? I’ve got one word for you: burnout.

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You Can Dance, You Can Jive: Jennifer Ehrenberger contacted me after the column ran about dancing being illegal in Gilroy without a dancehall permit.

She teaches Zumba at Gilroy Health & Fitness, and in the words of Peter Tosh, “Legalize it!” Zumba is a class involving a hybrid of different dance traditions: Latin, African, hip hop (we’ve even done Hawaiian and line dancing in this eclectic class!) I can attest that her class is incredibly fun, making you sweat hard without even realizing it. Calling it “exercise” is a misnomer. And you will feel approximately 80 percent more sexy when you leave than when you came in: this is pelvic gyrating at its best, baby!

You’re Not Wealthy Enough To Be Sick: Author Joe Quirk once said that complaining is the ultimate act of optimism: it means you think things could be better.

That’s how I feel about the healthcare reform bill – it has a lot of kinks to work out, and folks can complain about it, but thank god it passed. As a nation formed under noble principles like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we are long overdue in providing healthcare to all our residents, not just those who can afford it.

This national discussion created a chance to imagine walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, as the old saying goes. Imagine being incredibly ill, and yet not seeking medical attention because you couldn’t afford it. Now imagine it’s your kid who’s that sick. Whatever our political beliefs, no one should suffer bodily because of the income bracket they were born into, or fell into. One shouldn’t have to be wealthy to be sick.

Dude, Where’s My Car?: I saw some online reaction to my column about merchants and employees not parking in front of their stores, to reserve those spaces for customers. Someone stated this was a red herring, that there are “literally hundreds of empty parking spaces everyday in downtown Gilroy.”

That may be the case, but the very day I ventured in to Garlic City Books and overheard the discussion about parking, I had circled the block twice and finally found a space on the side street. If I hadn’t been dead set on getting to the bookstore, I would have given up.

Erika Mailman is a historical novelist and teaches writing online through mediabistro.com. You can reach her through www.erikamailman.com.

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