Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Keeping Kids In School When History Is Made Is Not Important

I'm glad Bob Sipchen of the L.A. Times, who has more professional lives than a cat has lives, period, has a new column, on educating our children, but I disagreed with a point he made in the very first -- urging students to stay in school and not participate in the immigration marches.

I followed a different tactic in raising my own children. When history was being made, I wanted them to participate in it. I felt they would learn far more on such a day than they could possibly learn in school.

So, when I had the Olympic assignment for the Times, I used to regularly take the children out of school to accompany me on Olympic reporting trips. The understanding I had with the L.A. schools was that they would do all their homework on such trips, but they would go with me. By the time of the Olympics, my daughter Kathy, then 12, had accompanied me on trips to 20 countries, and David, who was 9, had gone to 12. Kathy became so conversant on Olympic matters and the press that she was able to write an article for the London Times when she was 8 at the Lake Placid Winter Games and for the L.A. Times on the opening day of the 1984 Olympics. David accompanied me to the 1980 meeting of the U.S. Olympic Committee that decided to go along with President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the Moscow Games, and a photograph of him listening to the debate ran in a Colorado Springs newspaper.

All this could not have done the kids any educational harm. Kathy ended up going to Yale where she became editor of the leading student magazine, and David to Berkeley. Both kids have professional jobs today that require substantial travel.

The fact is that experiencing life and major events directly is often more important than simply reading about them, and creates indelible impressions of great value.

The only countervailing argument that I know of of any weight is that the schools lose some daily reimbursement by the state if their attendance is down during these periods.

There can be little question, when one thinks about it, that yesterday's immigration marches in Los Angeles and other cities were important events affecting particularly the lives of the children of immigrants.

It is my feeling they should see those events for themselves, and statistics issued by the L.A. Unified School District indicate that many did. The schools reported a 27% absentee rate yesterday, 71,942 absences betwsen grades 6 and 12. Many of those absentees undoubtedly will remember participating in the marches and what they saw in them for the rest of their lives.

It is important also, I think, that education columns such as Sipchen's don't advocate a goody-two-shoes approach that will turn children off, rather than encourage them to learn about life, both inside and outside school. A parallel is the advice given by some ministers to youngsters to abstain from sex until after they are married. My own view is that as long as adequate precautions are taken to avoid pregnancy or AIDS, sex is too important an aspect of life to be left to the married.

I notice that the Times editorial on the marches this morning also contains the statement, "We don't believe students should skip school (to participate in the marches)." But that really doesn't bother me as much as Sipchen's column, because the Times editorial page is always saying things that only encourage many people to do the exact opposite of what it recommends. Columns in the Times, particularly those on regular news pages, are better read in any event than editorials.

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