Good Ideas about School and the Military Whose Time Will Never Come

Good Ideas about School and the Military Whose Time Will Never Come

In the The Washington Post ‘Outlook’s 4th Annual Spring Cleaning’ ten writers were invited to recommend one thing the country needs to throw out. Among the suggestions were these two standouts:

Peter Orszag, President Obama’s former budget director, makes the case for getting rid of the 3pm school day and extending it to 5 pm or longer. He points out that more time in school, especially when combined with other measures, is likely to help our kids to master the material they are taught by giving teachers more classroom time. It would also help parents with their schedules by addressing the problem of latchkey kids; these are children, many of whom are elementary school age, who go unsupervised once school gets out.

And as a parent who has watched my children’s progress over the years, I am convinced that their teachers, particularly from middle school on, are forced to rush through a broad curriculum that doesn’t allow sufficient time to explore concepts in depth, or ensure that students have mastered the material before moving on.

My high school and middle school children start school at 7:50 am and get out at 2:20 pm. This is a ridiculous school day which starts too early and doesn’t last long enough. A much better school day would start a bit later, say at 9 am, and end no earlier than 5 pm.

Orszag acknowledges the monetary cost but insists it’s worth it. He’s absolutely right.

Meanwhile Thomas E Ricks, who has written a couple of excellent books on the Iraq War, wants us to get rid of the all-volunteer military – not because it doesn’t work but because it works too well.

I daresay that during his book research as well as during his coverage of the Iraq war, Ricks must have appreciated even more clearly than the rest of us the folly of George W Bush’s Iraq invasion, both in terms of its stand-alone stupidity and because it resulted in the United States taking its eye off the ball in Afghanistan, thereby significantly adding to the length and human cost of that conflict.

Admittedly it’s odd to argue that because something is too efficient we should go to a less competent model. But the all-volunteer military’s very professionalism when combined with the tiny percentage of Americans who are thereby touched personally when it goes to war is too great a temptation to some presidents with a serious imbalance in levels of testosterone and common sense.

Ricks thinks our society needs to re-establish its connection to our military through the draft; that way if we do decide to go to war there is no doubt we will all feel the pain. It’s a point well-made but, like Orszag’s, it will never happen. Good public policy ideas rarely do in today’s America.

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