The Corner

Education

Kamala Harris Proposes More School

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris arrives in the Spin Room to talk to reporters after the conclusion of the fourth Democratic U.S. 2020 presidential election debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio October 15, 2019. (REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk)

The headline at Mother Jones reads: “The School Day Is Two Hours Shorter Than the Work Day. Kamala Harris Wants to Change That.”

The author, Kara Voght, gives a sympathetic look to a pilot program that Kamala Harris wants to introduce to encourage schools to fill in the gap between the end of the academic day and the time when parents can pick their kids up after work. Schools that accept the funding would remain open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on all days, even on most school holidays, and provide “enrichment activities” during non-class time. The pilot schools would be studied for the best practices, to enable a results-driven expansion of the program. We’re told that Harris is “framing” the proposal as one that encourages economic growth (i.e., encourages more women to stay in the workforce) and child development.

Here’s how Voght frames the story:

The school day and calendar is a bad deal for children: In the absence of a better alternative, 3 percent of elementary-school students and 19 percent of middle-school students look after themselves from 3 to 6 p.m. on school nights. But it’s an equally bad deal for working parents—and the economy as a whole. A family paying out of pocket to cover child care for those two hours between the end of the school and workday costs an average of $6,600 dollars per year, or nearly 10 percent of an average family’s income. Almost 40 percent of all workers lack access to any paid vacation time, which means parents will often have to scale back their workday to accommodate child care duties.

That burden typically falls to women, a million of whom work less than full-time in order to keep up with caregiving responsibilities for elementary school-aged children. This hardship is particularly pronounced for low-income mothers and mothers of color, who are the most likely to have unpredictable or inflexible work schedules.

She promoted it with a tweet saying that Harris wanted to stretch the school day. This got a furious reaction from many quarters on social, including from me. The author seems to think that people who react negatively to this are just “White men—unfamiliar with parenthood’s demands?—mocking it.”

I’m not sure if having three children and using my flexible work schedule to accommodate them counts as familiarity. I had a single working mother who rarely if ever was able to pick me up, or be available for extra events imposed by the school. I remember “the gap” quite well. It would have been strange for us even to think of using pay-for child care. The institutions of our world filled the gap: neighbors, friends, and family. I remember the phrase “it takes a village” made some sense to me at the time.

My grandmother looked after me during my gap in primary school. Mostly this meant that I was able to go outside and engage in free play with other children in the neighborhood before dinner. If my grandmother was out at the store when I arrived home from school, I could call on a variety of neighbors. My friends’ parents might pick me up from school in special circumstances. I would have been in the smaller percentage of children in the mid 1990s who looked after themselves. By the time I was in middle school and the first years of high school one could say I was looking after myself and my grandmother.

Perhaps my mother would have liked an after-school program such as the one Harris is promoting. It might have made her feel like she was drawing down less from the treasury of her social life.

But I instinctively recoil at the idea of using schools for after-school work. My own childhood experience taught me a great deal of independence and responsibility. It gave me confidence to call on neighbors and friends for help. This is good practice for offering it back in the future. Also, schools are already an unusual hothouse environment. Socializing with the exact same children who are the exact same age, day after day, makes every social faux pas feel like life and death to children going through it. There’s an intensity of regimentation and social extremism already in our school system. A proposal like this would only intensify that existing problem.

And worse, because the proposal gives more opportunity and responsibility to the state to socialize and “enrich” the lives of children, it becomes a target for activism by those on every side who think they know precisely how to socially engineer our children.

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