Hey Schools: Don’t Charge Extra for Extra-Curriculars



By 03/08/2011

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Of the many dumb ways to close budget holes, perhaps the one most worthy of the title “self-inflicted wound” is the move to reduce the number of extra-curricular activities offered to students (or to pass along the costs to families in the form of fees).

I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that one of the reasons American kids do so well in life (starting entrepreneurial companies, embracing a spirit of optimism, creating wealth, etc.)–even though they score poorly on international tests–is because of what they pick up from sports, theater, band, student council, and the like. These activities are perfectly designed to teach “the most important things,” as David Brooks describes them in his column today, like character, and how to build relationships.

Over the past few decades, we have tended to define human capital in the narrow way, emphasizing I.Q., degrees, and professional skills. Those are all important, obviously, but this research illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion and make a hash of both categories:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

I can only imagine that when educators discover Brooks’ new book on this subject, they will rush to incorporate all manner of social and emotional education into the school day. But that’s missing the point. It’s the stuff kids do after the school bell rings that is better suited to “educating the emotions.” And if we throw those activities overboard during this time of budget cuts, we’ll be losing something valuable indeed.

-Mike Petrilli




Comment on this article
  • Barry Stern says:

    By all means, keep the after school activities and budget for them in lieu of charging fees. But what’s wrong with making in-school more like after school so that our kids are more engaged more of the time. Besides, you don’t get rigor until you have relevance and relationships. Teachers worth their salt know this. For those teaching in urban schools, their survival depends on applying this principle every day, particularly in high schools.

    In fact, a high school that made students want to exceed minimum standards and continue their education would look like an after school sports team. It would emphasize teamwork, daily practice of fundamentals, daily feedback on individual and team performance, effective time management, continual communication among staff and students on how to do better the next day, continual opportunities to integrate theory and practice and to apply skills in game-like (“real world”) settings, expectations of helping fellow teammates to improve, and the targeted use of technology to diagnose and improve abilities. If this works for our teams and after school activities, why not let all students benefit from them during the school day?

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