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

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