It would be easy to write this post from a “When I was a boy…” viewpoint, as in, “When I was a boy we had to walk 16 miles to school through 12 foot snow drifts when it was -60º and fighter planes were strafing us and Siberian tigers chased us the whole way!” But this is too serious an issue to be flippant about.
Today, my daughter’s school district cancelled school because of “road conditions.” The condition of the roads? One centimeter of wet slush. And it was raining, so even that was disappearing fast. And the forecast temperature for today is 13º C (55º F), so it’s not like it’s going to freeze later, at the end of the school day.
Last year there were something like 9 snow days and only 1 or maybe 2 were truly warranted. So that’s 7 days × 16,000 students × 6 hours/day = 672,000 hours of educational time that were needlessly withheld from our children. And that’s just our school district. Multiply that number by all the other districts and provinces. I personally think that education is the most important challenge facing us these days, and doing less of it is not the answer.
And there’s the cost! I don’t know how many teachers there are or what they get paid, but if we assume that they make $30 an hour and are responsible, on average, for 20 kids each, then that’s over a million bucks worth of teaching that taxpayers didn’t get what they paid for.
I don’t blame the teachers, of course. I blame the over-cautious administrator that makes the judgement call early in the morning. What’s going though his/her mind is, “If I cancel school today, then the worst thing that can happen is that some wacko blogger will be mad at me. If I don’t cancel school, and FOR ANY REASON (weather-related or not) any harm comes to a child, I will be vilified and fired.” Hmmm. Tough choice.
But we need someone who can make that tough choice independently of their own situation. We need someone that balances the cost to society of under-educating our future workforce, with the extremely small chance that something bad might happen. Maybe it’s impossible for a human to make that decision rationally – maybe we need some kind of software that inputs all the meteorological data and spits out the answer. Someone go invent that.
And I was exaggerating before – it was only 8 miles.