While I have jokingly and not-so-jokingly suggested that our local county, and pretty much the entire DC metro area, simply cancel school in January because we always seem to be out more than we are in, there is something more than inconvenience and logistical frustation that is lurking beneath the surface.
What is at stake here is more than simply missed class time, although that is certainly important. And especially important when you have non-American born children who are striving to catch up to their grade level. We are missing more than hours or days spent in the classroom. We are missing important and critical lessons that as a society, as families, we must teach our children. Life just doesn’t shut down because there’s a chill in the air, people. Yet, that is what our children learn each and every time this happens. They learn excuses. They learn they cannot instead of they must.
There is more at stake here than the frustration parents countywide go through as they have to juggle work and other demands, all the while their children are home from school. And not a speck of snow is to be found anywhere. As our four year old articulately stated this past Tuesday, “Mama. I don’t see any snow outside. Just some clouds. I’d call this a fail, mama!”
And I’d call it a fail too, smart child. We are failing to teach children to respect old man winter and deal with freezing temperature appropriately. We are failing to teach safety precautions and life skills; and instead just allowing our kids to throw in the towel. We are failing to build responsibility for one’s own actions by not allowing Little Johnny to freeze hit butt off when he refuses to wear a coat. We are failing to teach our children what generations of parents have taught their children before us: life is hard, kid. Suck it up and get to school.
Have we let the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction? Have we become too soft? Where is the balance in this equation? I, for one, refuse to let my kids think life shuts down when it is chilly or there are snowflakes in the air. No, tomorrow, just like today, we will wake up and do school. Then, we will get our butts outside and see if there are any neighbors we can help or any fun to be had. Probably both.
Because you know what? We are failing our community too. I have heard pretty much every excuse in the book as to why school shuts down when it’s cold outside. Lower income kids don’t have jackets. Kids can’t stand at the bus stop in this weather, they will get chilly. (The heck they can’t! And if you are worried about them not having jackets, make it your cause to hit every bus stop in your route and deliver jackets.) It isn’t safe for buses to be on the road. (Cancel transportation…I guarantee you mom or pop will find a way to transport little Johnny and Jane.) A pipe may burst in these temps. (My head might burst if you keep filling it with these ridiculous reasons. Did a pipe actually burst? No? Carry on, then.)
Here’s some truth. The kids we are worried about at the bus stop. You know…the ones without jackets. Guess what their parents have to do in order to pay their rent? They have to go to work, darn skippy. If they don’t go to work, guess what they don’t get? A paycheck. So when schools are closed, do you think mom or pop just stay home? Probably not…but you know who still does? Little Johnny and Jane. All alone. Does that sound safe? How do I know this? Because some days I have a house full of Johnny and Janes. But do you know where else Johnny and Jane have warmth and get fed? At school! Sometimes, it’s their only meals of the day.
And continuing on with life when it’s cold and snowy outside. What a great way to love your neighbor! Help that cold, jacket-less kid at the bus stop. Do you live near a bus stop? I do. Open up your garage or front door and let the kids stay warm while they wait. Coordinate rides or transportation with others in your community. Get to know each other, look out for each other. You know, love your neighbor…like we are called to do. Even when it’s cold.
Earlier today, with temps sub zero, my two Bigs and their friends were outside for hours, HOURS, walking through our neighborhood, shoveling drives and walkways. They even made a few bucks. Good for them, right! You know what didn’t happen? Their extremities didn’t fall off. They didn’t die from the cold. They aren’t scarred for life. Rather, they learned an awesome lesson and built some character than only sub zero temps can teach us. They learned not to mess with the cold…unless they come prepared. They learned to bundle and layer. They learned to check in and warm up as necessary. They learned the value of hard work as neighbors handed them cash for shoveling drives. They learned how to have fun and be responsible. My gosh, they learned lessons that used to be so simple to learn. Why is simple so seemingly hard these days?
In short, they learned to put on their big girl and big boy pants and face the world. They learned to face the cold, sub-zero, world with a few inches of beautiful snow on the ground. They learned how to have fun doing it. And I am SO proud of them, because you know what? I didn’t even ask. It was their very own idea and iniative.
I wish I could say I was proud of the decision makers making these snow day calls in our county. I understand they want to keep everyone safe. I get that. But I think we may need to examine the definition of safety, because I think we are setting these kids up for an extremely unsafe future.
Snow days, sans snow, each and every time it gets cold, are way way more than missing a day or two of school. These are important opportunities to teach our kids, but I fear we are teaching them the wrong lessons. We teach our children not only in the classroom, but out. We teach them by what we say and we don’t say. We teach them by each and every decision we make. And what we are teaching them, every time school closes for a drop of bad weather, is that folding our playing hands and cowering back inside is they way to handle life.
How does this play out in 10 years for them? What does this generation look like when life throws them more a inch or powder…because it will? If they can’t even figure out how to put on a hat and gloves and battle the cold, how will they handle much tougher decisions in life. Maybe it’s not that extreme, but it’s still more than a missed day in the classroom.
What do you think?
(These final paragraphs below were added to incorporate thoughts and ideas generated in the comment thread.) Are there other options besides shutting down life every time inclement weather is in the forecast? Should we consider moving to year-round school and just nix January all together, if safety is our biggest hurdle and can’t seem to jump it? Should we consider remote learning options when it is too difficult to navigate dangerous backroads? Could we just simply be good neighbors and help each other get to school, if buses need to shut down for safety reasons?
I’m just saying, there are other areas in the country that do continue on with life when weather hits. Philly, NY, and Chicago are coming to mind. They all have big school districts, transportation issues, and various socio-economic levels to deal with too. Could we learn from them?
Living in and outside our nations’s capitol, where people are charged with making decisions that affect national security, our economy and much more, I find it hard to believe that can’t come up with something better than our “shut down” mentality. We can do better, friends. I believe we can.