The Block

Ceason Ranson
Ranson Ritings
Jackson Newspapers

As I have no children, my opinions on whether school needs to be open five days a week, two days a week, or never, are completely worthless. I recognize that, accept that, and will move on to topics of which I actually have a vested interest (wouldn’t it be nice if more people had this kind of philosophy?). Well, I’ll move on after I espouse this thought: 2020 was the year we needed to bring back block scheduling.

Unless you had children from the mid-90s to the 2010s, or were a child during the same time period, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Block scheduling was a system of scheduling classes at the Ripley and Ravenswood high schools, where in you went to four classes for an hour and half each day, for one semester, and you got an hour-long lunch. You still had eight credit hours, but instead of say, suffering though Trigonometry for an entire year, you only had to suffer from September to January, or January to June.

Oh, what a lovely time, to live through the Ripley High years of block scheduling. Not only did you only have to deal with a class or teacher you weren’t fond of for a single semester (or in the teacher’s case, a child they weren’t fond of. Let’s face it, that’s a pendulum that swings two ways for sure), because classes were so long, you had time for instruction and to finish out “homework.” I put that in parentheses because I cannot for the life of me remember every taking home any actual work for an entire four years. Maybe the odd term-project here and there, but actual homework? Didn’t happen, and that was true for most of my classmates.

Our after-school hours were free for extracurriculars and after-school jobs. Sports are a lot more easy to concentrate on when you know you don’t have two pages of math problems to get done on the bumpy bus ride from East Bank back to Ripley. You could almost have a full-time job if you could start work right at 3:30 and not have to be home until 10 p.m. You could work a job and school well because you didn’t then have to stay up till 1 a.m. finishing a book report on “Little Men” (which, fun fact alert, only one person in Class of 2000 actually read, but about 200 of us took the Accelerated Reader test for. Don’t ever say we weren’t a group that didn’t help each other, lol).

My point, without knowing anything about education facts and figures regarding traditional scheduling of eight classes all year versus block scheduling is this: block scheduling was awesome, and I weep when I see kids carrying backpacks that weigh eighty pounds after school, knowing they have two hours of work ahead of them after eight hours of school time. Y’all got the raw end of that deal, and while I’m sure you’ll enjoy telling your children how you suffered under your Yeti-size load of books and had to study twenty-six hours a day (I’m told this is the actual correct number of hours in a day in New Math), it doesn’t change the fact that the generation right below is rolling our eyes thinking about how there was time in every block-scheduled class to get your lecture, get your assignment, finish it, and still have time to socialize.

And none of that “We’ll be watching a movie in four, thirty-minute increments over the next four days” stuff. Huh-uh: when Bev Shatto showed us “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” as an ancillary learning tool in freshman year “World Cultures,” we watched that from beginning to end in one sitting, and still had time to talk about why Kevin Costner was the only person in a movie that included Christian Slater without an English accent. Christian Slater, known mostly at that time as possibly Winona Ryder’s boyfriend, got himself a dialect coach to make it happen, but Kevin “Dances With Oscars” Costner couldn’t make the effort?

But back to the subject at hand: I think this was the year to bring back block scheduling, even if just for the year. Think about it: right now, the high school kids alternate going two days a week, so they get almost two hours of in-class instruction time per class, per week. But if they were block scheduling, they’d get three hours of instruction time, and they wouldn’t be changing classes as often (making it easier to contact-trace if a COVID outbreak happens). Teachers would only have to prepare work for half as many kids (thereby lightening the already-massive loads we’re asking them to bear), and would only have to sanitize after four class changes, not eight. High school becomes more like college then, with longer lecture times, and then the assigned work outside of class that doesn’t feel like you’re trying to teach yourself. If COVID continues into 2021 (and, bubble burst: it will), then after January, you pick up four new classes, and at the end of the year, you’ll still walk across the graduation stage with all your credits, and much, much less stress getting there.

Now you may be saying, “Ceason, this sounds like a great idea, but we’re too late to start anything like that.” (I don’t actually believe anyone is saying that, but columns are like a Leslie Gore party: you can write what you want to). That’s where you’re wrong, because it’s 2020, and you can decide to switch things up at the drop of a hat, and all you have to say is “COVID” and everyone goes “Oh yeah.” It’s not too late to put the high school on a temporary block schedule, and see if that helps not only with sanitizing, but with keeping everyone’s sanity (is that a pun, Mike Ruben? Feel free to hit me with a pun penalty.)

So to the parents, teachers, students, Board of Education, and whoever else connected to the school system who is reading this and thinking “Who does this childless, non-parent, non-educator person think she is?” Well, you answered your own question: I’m just a person with zero skin in the “should the children go back to school” game, who just wants her teacher-service personnel-bus driver-and board of education friends to stay safe and be able to work easier, and for the children she knows to be less anxious and more happy.

But mostly, I want block scheduling to come back so I’ll stop seeing sixty-pound children hauling around eighty-pound backpacks. Because if I were out and saw such a child tip backwards because their backpack was too homework-heavy, they will have to lay on the ground like a turtle in a flipped-over shell, because I will be laughing for three minutes straight, at least, before I can help them up. I’m one hundred percent in favor of helping the children, but if they’re turtling around on the ground, I give all of us permission to take a three-minute laugh break before you pitch in. Because, you know, COVID.