Where does the time go?

Wasting Time in School is seeking examples of time-consuming, learning lite assignments.

For example, a Houston parent thinks memorizing a rap about pronouns is a waste of time for gifted eighth-graders who’ve mastered pronouns in elementary school.

Sit down learn it,
you don’t need a permit.
Memorize it, do it now:
Pronouns take the place of nouns.

The SUBJECT list—
It’s nothing new:
IT, WE, THEY, and WHO.

And it goes on. And on.

Some 80 percent of elementary teachers are women, notes the blogger.

Imagine that 80+ percent of elementary teachers were male, and that they were constantly assigning girls to design football plays or battle plans for assignments putatively related to math or social studies. Would no one raise the complaint that men were being insensitive by assigning so many projects that most girls didn’t actually enjoy or identify with, and that were barely related to any legitimate academic objective in the first place?

I was just visiting my brother’s family in Oregon after attending our sixth wedding since May. (Yes! The wedding marathon is over!) Their girls love to sit and do arts and crafts projects. Their son wants to run, climb and destroy.

Here’s Simon and Garfunkel on time:

Hazy Shade Of Winter lyrics

About Joanne


  1. Schools, particularly ES, are either unaware of or uninterested in the concept of efficiency. Even if some of the artsy activities/projects are academically sound (and I don’t believe they are), they are appallingly inefficient. Between that sort of time-wasting and assemblies/announcements, schools waste enormous amounts of time.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    When public school means ‘free daycare for the middle class’ the time-killing is a desired feature, not a bug.

    • Yet parents are concerned if their children fall behind in academic progress.

      This is probably another effort on the part of the egalitarians to reduce that horrid racial achievement gap.

      • Yes and no, Engineer-Poet. They worry if their kid obviously misses milestones like not learning to read, but most parents don’t seem to be that concerned as long as their kids are going to a “good school” and seem to be making progress. My oldest is three, so a lot of our time right now is spent talking about pre-school and elementary school options, and it is amazing to me how little thought most of my neighbors give to issues of curriculum or education. They are just excited that they won’t be paying for pre-school (and worried about afterschool care).

        • At age three, I’m not surprised.  What could you expect, expositions on Aristotle?

          At age 8, when they’re teaching weird arithmetic algorithms like matrix multiplication instead of the straightforward, proven traditional methods (and telling the kids tutored at home that they can’t use “stacking”), the lack of progress will be more of an issue.

          • I might expect opinions on balanced literacy versus phonics, when kids learn to read, etc. I’m also talking about conversations where parents of older kids talk to parents of young kids — no one talks about math curriculum or reading scores, just whether teachers are supportive and the anti-bullying curriculum. A teacher is good because he makes the kids work hard, not because his assignments are efficient or useful.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        “This is probably another effort on the part of the egalitarians to reduce that horrid racial achievement gap.”

        Or not. Doing things in a time efficient manner is difficult!

        You can, for example, go watch a lot of Little League practices. For the vast majority of them, there is a *LOT* of wasted time. this is not because the coaches are striving to reduce an achievement gap. It is simply because there are a lot more ways to run a practice inefficiently than efficiently.

        Now … we should expect better from professionals. Experienced teachers have had time to see what works better and what does not. And the schools of education *should* have figured this all out an passed it on to student teachers.

        But it doesn’t require any conspiracy to waste lots of time. Wasting time is what naturally occurs unless a lot of effort is spent avoiding it.

        • Teaching a game which wastes a lot of time in the playing (most of the offense sits on the bench the whole inning) is rather different from academics.

          • When the school’s objective is something fuzzy like building kids’ critical thinking or cooperation skills, artsy projects can easily evade the label “inefficient”. Both teachers and lay people are able to convince themselves that projects are not time-wasters –they have faith that intangible, immeasurable psychic benefit is occurring. What will it take to convince America’s teachers that schools’ #1 mission should be to transmit bodies of knowledge? I wish Arne Duncan would focus his reform energies on discrediting Teachers College and making E.D. Hirsch dean of a new federal school of education in DC that would teach wise, empirically-proven ideas to a new batch of teachers. Then compare the results of these teachers with those from conventional schools of ed.

            All that said, I do think there is SOME place for projects in schools. I was a die-hard fan of the intense, rote Chinese style until I read Educating Young Giants recently. Chinese schools are admirably efficient, but do seem unduly dreary. It convinced me that there is SOME merit to progressive ed. Some of my seventh graders are positively electrified at the prospect of making skits on Aztec history (I give other options for introverts)–that cannot be bad.

  3. Sometimes moments of ineffiency improve overall efficiency. Students (and adults) need mental and physical breaks to maintain attention and reduce frustration. I know a good deal of experienced no-nonsense teachers who assign frivolous activities like this for no other reason than to give kids a break.
    That being said, I’ve also seen plenty of teachers focus solely on these activities because they themselves don’t have the focus necessary to teach a coherent, effective curriculum. They support their choices by offering the false assumption that easily witnessed engagement is a proxy for effective learning.

  4. One of our high school history teachers just assigned her students to make a collage representing current events. Wasted time is something I think about every time a recommendation for longer school days is proposed. No thanks!

    In a recent post I compared two types of lessons – on one side representing time wasted on poster projects and questionable group discussions, and on the other side more time focused on academic learning. In my example I make the point that the collage instructions suggest items typically of little interest to boys – fabric samples; jewelry; nail polish and lipstick.


  5. My daughter’s freshman Englsih class is assigned a novel packet where they have to complete seen of fifteen activities. Activities include, doing a collage, making a poster, making a dust jacket for the book, writing a letter to a teen magazine describing their reaction to the book. Time spent learning to write effectively….haven’t seen it yet.

    BTW, are there any teen magazines directed at boys?