Seat time matters. But only for long bike rides.
I’m going to stand on a soapbox.
Actually I’ll sit on it.
This month, I went on a 100 mile bike ride with some friends. It sounds more difficult than it actually is. I've done it four times now. In my experience, seat time is key. As long as I’ve had an average level of aerobic fitness and have completed three or four 50-70 mile rides in the weeks before, riding the century has been a mostly enjoyable experience. I just had to get my body used to sitting for the number of hours it was going to take to complete the ride.
So, seat time matters. For long bike rides.
The same principle doesn’t apply to learning. COVID-19 made it clearer than ever that statutory requirements that students spend a specific number of days and hours in grades K-12 in order complete coursework and graduate are ridiculous.
Here's one example of how COVID-19 proved the point. Our local high school started the 2020-21 school year fully remote. In January 2021, students went back to school for a condensed school day, from 7:30 to 12:30, with no lunch period. They got through the year just fine.
So, why, students reasonably asked, did they have to go to school for two additional hours in the fall of 2021? If they were able to complete course work in five hours at school and additional time at home last year, why couldn’t they do that this year?
I’ll admit, some wisdom gradually distills over time. As we spend more time on some tasks and/or do them repeatedly, we gain insights that we wouldn’t gain from limited exposure. But, that wisdom distills as a result of action and familiarity with a tangible task. It doesn’t come from sitting listening to someone talk about something in the abstract.
Of course, for many children, school is essentially day care. That’s a service families value. But, we can still provide a safe place for young people while parents work without seat time requirements for completing coursework. A 1994 report, Prisoners of Time, on time and education offers suggestions about how to make that “school day” into a much richer experience untethered to seat time requirements for course completion.
It's been 30 years since that report came out. Young people have been prisoners to seat time for 100 years. It's time that changed.