Obama recently had this to say on the subject of kids running loose in out streets:

“Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas,” the president said earlier this year. “Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”

I read this over at Pitts Indeed (great blog) re: Obama’s advocacy of longer school days and less summer vacation for kids. Check it:

Somewhere between college and unemployment I became an angry 65-year old Black man because I completely agree with dude (and also think stricter dress codes should be in place as well). I recognize that such a change is not just a matter of flipping a switch–there are obvious budget and personnel issues to work out–but the essence of the argument is solid: Kids should be in school or otherwise structured settings MOST of the time.

As a person who is not far removed from his teen years and a former knucklehead–not in a hard rock kind of way; but in a smarter, non-dyslexic Theo Huxtable kind of way–I can honestly say kids don’t need more free time to be left to their own device. The default device for most teenagers is somewhere between uninspired indifference to really, really stupid acts of worthlessness.

Am I against teenagers? Outside of public transportation and gathering places, no. I’m merely against thinking they’re developed enough to reasonably plot their own direction.

I went to prep school and, outside of the advantages that come with private education and the wealth of creature comforts those institutions can afford, the difference was the rigor. We were occupied in some constructive way all day. We had school on Saturday.

It seemed liked seersucker slavery at the time, but looking  back, I know I benefited from the structure–a structure reinforced by the structure I had from a healthy and supportive home life, a factor many students cannot say they had the benefit of. Yes; had I stayed public I would have still played sports and I would have still done well enough on some level, but I also know iron sharpens iron and the raised game forced me to raise my game.

Holy crap! Did I just become Bill Cosby?

I echo Pitts’ experience: both the excellent public school and later the ritzy private school I attended (on scholarship, mind you) had plenty of structure both before and after school to make sure that us kids knew where we were supposed to be when and what in general we were supposed to be doing. In contrast, I worked 3 summers in a row as a college student at Martha’s Table in DC, which has a summer camp-style program for homeless and poor kids. I was a camp counseler. I guess — there wasn’t really a name for what we had to do each day for these kids whose home lives were “challenging” at best.

One day after camp let out, I was leaving after cleaning up for the day. I found 3 brothers, immigrants from Eritrea and all under 10, throwing glass bottles against a wall while waiting for their mother to pick them up. There was broken glass everywhere. I took them back inside and we waited together. Then I got some help to clean up the glass. Without sufficient supervision, it’s true: young minds can get up to trouble. But when energy is focused, kids can stay safe (so can the rest of us) and incredible learning can happen.

The bottom line is that the world has changed. In the past, kids were let out in the summer so they could help with the family farm’s harvest. We don’t do that anymore. With both parents working in many families or with a larger percentage of single moms (and divorced dads sharing custody), kids need more structure. Furthermore, American schools are increasingly uncompetitive compared to other countries. If we hope to remain a powerful and wealthy nation, we have to give the next generation the best possible preparation. That means catching our school systems up with a changing civilization and making sure that idle little hands aren’t the devil’s workshop. Cosby-esque rant = over.

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