In Michigan we are truly blessed. We live in a state with all four seasons and we are surrounded by some of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Given the choice between sitting in a cubicle or wandering winter trails, most every adult I know would choose a hike over staring at a computer. Sadly, grown-ups don’t get snow days; that’s a pleasure only a child can know. Now, these sacred snow days might be at risk.
An article today in the Grand Rapids Press, “Should Michigan schools replace snow days with ‘e-days’?,” offers a troubling alternative to snow days, an indoctrination into the mind-numbing life of your average desk jockey, where days of sledding and snowball fights are replaced by hours staring at a screen; where days when kids once learned to entertain themselves with the wonders of the natural world are replaced with rote school work.
I understand the desire to get students online and to keep them competitive in a global marketplace, and I’m fully aware of the political posturing that comes along with our public education system. But as a teacher myself, I also understand that students are fed up with technology. We, the “older” generation, assume that this new tech generation is obsessed with computers. On the contrary, having spent their lives surrounded by computers, they’re bored with them. What students want and need is freedom - freedom from overbearing parents, from scheduled, mandated lives, and from the constant barrage of media. What these students need is to get outside.
If a school absolutely must mandate that students work on snow days to meet state requirements, why should e-learning be the only option? As an alternative, why not a day of poetry, or of nature learning? Hand out a list of poems about winter at the beginning of the school year and have the students set them aside. During a snow day, require students to spend the day outside, and then spend the evening reading poetry. The next day at school, have the students write about their adventure, perhaps a poem of their own that reflects on sledding and the meaning of nature. Have them write it on a computer, if you must.
Wouldn’t this provide a better education? With such highly specialized and claustrophobic curriculum, students need a break; they need some poetry in their lives. I submit that a hike in the woods with sled in tow provides a much better education that any e-learning course ever could. We should all be so lucky.