It will snow. Just don’t ask me when.
by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist
I would never want to be a weather forecaster in Boston. The changing jet stream winds, the effect of the warm ocean on a snow or rain line, and the pressure of predicting whether rain will hold off long enough for the Red Sox to play would be too much for me. Engineers were thinking about traffic when they built Routes 128 and 495, but those lines on the map are now rain and snow boundaries. Making those storm calls may be the most thankless job in the region– after predicting the Red Sox finish.
March 22nd was one of those difficult predictions. The snow was supposed to begin around noon on March 21st and was sure to accumulate 8 to 12 inches during the day and overnight. We responded as we have been trained: we rushed to the grocery store. Schools announced early closings on the 21st to get students home safely before the flakes began to fly. We were all pretty much on lockdown by noon, and the sun was still shining. At 2 PM, still no snow, but forecasters assured us it was on the way. Same at 4. At 6, those 8 to 12 inches were hovering just south of the city and would be here any time, at which point the Boston Public Schools announced they would close on the 22nd. By 9 PM, forecasters began to backtrack and by 10 they were in full retreat: the storm was not following the script and we might get an inch or three by morning. We woke to rain.
As difficult as it is to forecast the weather, the toughest job may be deciding to close the schools. There was a time when that call would only be made in the morning, when the degree of certainty was highest. I have fond memories of waking up to the list of closings on the stat icky radio, hoping to hear my town called. Concord, Danvers, Dedham, Dover….
At some point, the focus shifted as school assumed the function of daycare, a shift driven by larger social changes. Two-earner families and single parent families, once uncommon, have become the norm. For most families now, economic survival depends on the schools’ custodial as well as educational functions. This dual focus was on full display when the Boston Public Schools announced plans to reorganize school start times. High schools were to start later and elementary schools earlier. The plan was based on sound research that indicates adolescents need to sleep later and young children don’t learn as well in the later afternoon hours. Though based on educational principle, the plan did not factor in the effect on parents of young children getting out of school as early as 2 PM and starting as early as 7:20. For high schools, later dismissal times raised the specter of rush hour.
Schools are embedded in the larger society.
Their role changes as social needs change. The role of education as a shaper of citizens is a concept as old as Aristotle. The function as a trainer of workers dates to the 19th century. The services of daycare and nutrition are more recent responses to fundamental social shifts. A new concern for social and emotional development is now emerging.
What does all this have to do with the weather? A storm prediction has vast ramifications for a region. A shutdown costs millions, even billions, in lost economic activity. A change in school schedules can disrupt families, business and traffic throughout a city. Our society is so intricately interconnected that no sector can operate without affecting others. Though we often wish that schools could make decisions based on educational principles and leave it to society to adjust, that simply doesn’t work.
Educational decisions should be based upon the best interests of students, but those interests don’t stop at the school walls. Students can’t learn if they’re hungry, so schools provide food. Should they have to? Until society provides another solution, they do what is necessary. Schools are the institution of last resort.
Schools are embedded in the larger society. Where is the line between education and the larger society? If you can tell me that, I’ll tell you exactly where and when the next snow storm will hit. And where the Red Sox will finish.