Streams

Should Kids Miss School for Family Opportunities?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 07:51 AM

11:47 a.m. | Updated I'm just back from nine days in Israel, my first visit in 20 years. The trip covered some predictable highlights –- the Old City of Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea, the Bahai Gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, shopping and strolling along the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv.

I wandered down some less-well-beaten paths, too: Sabbath dinner in the dining hall of a kibbutz that still offers collective meals; navigating a rowboat in a Crusader-era underground cavern in Ramle.

And I did it all with my 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, who missed six days of school to join my wife and me on the trip.

We've been parents for 24 years, and this was the first time Pam and I made the decision to pull any of our children out of school for more than a day or two. As I recall, the previous occasions mainly were family funerals.

This time, I was invited to speak at a conference, my hosts offered to subsidize the airfare and the choice presented itself squarely: Break the rules and offer our kids if not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, at least an eyeopening one; or follow the rules, keep life simple and miss out on what educators would label a serious bout of experiential learning.

We weighed the complications. Would either Naomi or Ben be rattled by the missed classroom instruction? By the volume of work they would have to make up?

Would their teachers or school administrators take out on them any frustration they might harbor toward us for taking them out of school a week before winter vacation? What if one of our children really couldn't catch up?

Ultimately, we concluded that we were over thinking something that was really quite simple. Naomi and Ben were going to learn more by spending time in another country with its multiple cultures, seeing and touching and hearing things they had only read about, than they could possibly learn sitting in classrooms -- however good their teachers are and however important the curriculum they would be missing.

Did we make the right decision? The kids' teachers seemed to endorse it, going out of their way to provide work in advance; a couple of them pretty much told us we were crazy to have hesitated for even a second.

We certainly had a great trip, filled with learning both formal (a great guide taught us more in a day about the history of Jerusalem than I have gleaned from a lifetime of casual reading) and informal (you pick up a lot of Hebrew from road signs and conversations with your Israeli aunts and cousins at mealtimes).

Naomi and Ben went off to school on Monday morning jet lagged but without seeming trepidation, though there were a few moments last week when the anticipation of the effort involved in catching up weighed heavily on their shoulders.

I know we're not the only family wrestling with this at this time of year -- and this isn't an issue only for the privileged. December is a significant time of year for immigrant families to take their kids out of school for trips home. I can't help but wonder if my kids' teachers in the suburbs are more tolerant of this than the teachers of immigrant children.

I guess we'll see in the next few days if there are any immediate negative consequences of our choice. The benefits are likely to be of the more lasting variety.

What do you think? Should a child be taken out of school for a family trip. Respond to the query below.

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