Thursday, February 19, 2015

We Don't Need No Stinking Snow!

Weather forecasting has fallen victim to the same problem that plagues healthcare. Experts cannot afford to undersell risk because our society will not tolerate such errors. Better to predict the sky is falling even if there's only a 10% chance.

They'll mock you for overreacting, but they'll practically crucify you for downplaying it if the fit hits the shan.
Olaf, enjoying a school-canceled snow day in Chattanooga


In the world of education, public schools in the South are canceling school sometimes more than 24 hours in advance, and with nary a flake on the ground or a degree below freezing. The mere legitimate possibility of inclement weather is now a more than legitimate reason to call the whole thing off.

This is due, in part, to a greater faith in the slightly more accurate "science" of predicting the future in regards to weather. (I wrote that to try and make it as absurd a concept as it, in fact, is.)

From an administrative point of view, in 2015 the only unforgivable mistake is to not cancel school. That decision risks both parent and student animosity and the risk of litigation. Why would anyone want to battle that three-headed hydra?


Parents, even at independent schools, even those with high tuition, are vastly more likely to be happy about school being canceled than upset. Why? Because school getting canceled means happy, cheering children.

Because modern parents are far more obsessed with their children being happy than they are with them being educated.

If this blanket statement seems harsh, look around. Hop on Facebook or read parenting blogs. If you ask parents whether they value their child's happiness over their child's education, you might get close to a 50/50 split. But it's in their actions where we see the priorities come to life. Parents might philosophically know that happiness is a by-product, but they treat it like a manufacturable commodity.

"And really," they say, "what's one day of school? What does it matter if you miss a day or two?" Or even better, they say, "You don't need school to learn things." Which is absolutely, undeniably true, of course. Except that when your kids fail out of college, few parents seem interested in accepting the blame and are conveniently quick to point to their school as the problem. We only need school to learn things so we can blame school when we don't or won't.


Here's a minor annoyance: educators who over-celebrate getting a day off even when they know they shouldn't really have a day off but get one because of the weird place we are in with weather in the 21st Century.

In pictures, I wish teachers celebrated more like this:

... and less like this:

First, these teachers and educators are feeding into the very stereotype they complain about being given: that they chose a profession for the vacation days and not for the joy and duty of educating The Next Generation of American Citizens. They celebrate their chance to be snowed in (even when there's no snow) while 80% of the rest of the adult world drives dutifully into their places of work, from Starbucks to downtown law offices, from hospitals to stores in the mall.

A barista can make it into work, because by God the world needs them. But a teacher? Mmmm not so much, not in a crunch. We don't need education right this minute like we need that cup of Starbucks.

Second, and this goes specifically to this moment in time, in Chattanooga: the way teachers react to these comical days off risks revealing what they might actually feel about their job. When you are celebrating a Get Out of Jail Free card with excess gusto, it suggests you are Getting Out of Jail. And if that's what you think of your profession, of the livelihood you have (in theory) chosen, isn't it fair for those of us who believe in education as a calling and a commitment to be a bit annoyed, a bit angry?

Unfortunately, when teachers barely get paid more than baristas, and when society treats them with less respect than baristas, then why the heck shouldn't teachers be in it for the vacations? It's gotta be hard to cling to a sense of duty that no one else seems to respect you for having in the first place.

No one, and I mean no one on this planet, would accuse me of being a workaholic. I don't put in 70 hours a week (unless being a parent counts, but I'm not going there right now). I don't spend night after night at home answering work emails or wrapping up work projects. I come in. I do my work, diligently, with intensity and focus when possible. I clock out and become a father and a friend.

But I have trouble celebrating vacation days that are neither deserved nor merited. If I can't get out of my driveway from snow (or a fallen tree), so be it. I'm stuck, and that's that. Let's go sledding and drink hot cocoa 'til it comes out of our nostrils. Yay.

But not working one day, for most of the modern employed world, merely means falling behind on all the crap that needs doing. It's only a fleeting joy, a trade-off whose payback is often hell, like leaving a clogged toilet unplunged.

Maybe this is where my marketing background gets the best of me, knowing it's just unsightly to be so brazenly happy to not have to work when others must trudge through the snow (or non-snow), uphill both ways, to work.

I believe it goes deeper than that, however. I worry that it speaks to our modern notions of duty and responsibility, that it speaks to how many of us are bitter about what our employer doesn't do for us while overvaluing what we do for our employer, that we deserve more days off than we get, and Mother Nature is the dispenser of this correcting justice.

And, to be fair, sometimes teachers seem so maligned and under-valued that I can't blame them for cheering their unnecessary days off.


As is has been, so it always shall be. Nothing has changed here. Kids love snow days. Teens love snow days. They love them when it really snows, and they love them when it doesn't. They only stop loving them when it risks eating into their summers through extended days.

Well, there's one difference lately. In the '70s and '80s, no kid expected to know anything about Tomorrow until either (a) the 11:00 news, or (b) the morning news or radio. We weren't itching for an answer before we ate dinner. And we didn't get angry about having to wake up that morning to find out, because being out of school was always an awesome surprise, no matter when we found out.

So maybe kids today are more impatient about it, but that's totally understandable given the nature of our technology. And I don't recall feeling quite so entitled to snow days. But that might just be the kids I'm around. Like my own.


goofytakemyhand said...

I was a fan of WRCB's Snowbird back in the 1990's. Such a catchy tune as well.

G. B. Miller said...

Here in CT, our problems stem not from the snow (we're having slightly above average snow totals for the season this year) but from the lack of intelligent foresight from the municipalities/cities when it comes from plowing.

Robert Berman said...

I remember sometime around tenth grade changing my attitude from "Hey, I'm out of school today! Awesome!" to "Oof, think of the catch-up work this is incurring."