ITEM: President Obama Calls for Longer School Day, Public Education for Toddlers, & the Abolition of Summer Vacation

RESPONSE: The fire captain in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: “Heredity and environment are funny things…The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.”

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Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.


  1. Puts a body to thinking about year-round schools. We no longer have an agrarian economy, so there’s no need to keep the kids at home in June, July, and August. Solution: keep them even farther from the soil by sending them to school all summer long, because nine months of prison isn’t bad enough.

    Earth to “Experts”: revive an agrarian economy, and give the kids something useful to do in the summer.

  2. In a positive note (faintly tinkling), several year-round schools in Louisville have gone back to a more traditional calendar, due to increased costs.

    It would be interesting to see what the Obama girls’ school calendar is. Many private schools have significantly shorter terms than public schools.

  3. I have to confess, I liked much of what President Obama talked about in his speech on education. Charter schools, merit pay for teachers, etc. It depends on how it’s delivered, of course, but these are good ideas. As for longer school years, well, I’d like to see a revival of the agrarian economy as much as anyone, but even if it can be done–a debatable proposition–it’ll be primarily focused on mid-sized farms, rather than small ones run solely by families making use of their children to handle the work, and that means Jason’s issue about “giv[ing] the kids something useful to do in the summer” remains. Unless, of course, we are talking about peak oil and the complete collapse of an oil-based–and thus farm-machine dependent–economy…but if that’s the case, then the timing of public education is the least of our worries.

    Given a choice, actually I probably would vote for school year around, so long as we had vacations of about three or so weeks scattered throughout all the seasons in the place of one single summer break. Deer season in much of this country already results in an unofficial “fall break”; why not make it a reality?

  4. It takes an awful lot of work, regimentation and flash cards to drum every ounce of self -directed imagination or independent thinking out of these harried youngsters and so opportunities that might encourage the bad lessons they learn over summer break must be reduced or next thing you know, the Great And Cheerful Kafka Society might be endangered.

    After all, now that we have achieved a generation of publicly schooled children who have the creative thinking and writing abilities of an Opossum, well…who needs a summer break? Best to keep them plugged into the vicarious agora where they shall feel the comfort and full graphic display of the electronic hive and not be confronted with the crushing burden of time spent outdoors scheming how to pull off a good burning doorstep bag at the nosy Mrs. Barth next door. This kind of activity breeds group awareness and common cause and we cannot have that standing in the way of achieving a full realization of the Federal Godhead. Furthermore, any awareness whatsoever of the hostile out-of-doors, without benefit of a sanctioned yet unfunded “No Child Left Inside” program is to be avoided because , well…because. Liberty, if it is to be orderly must be planned, tested and approved by the proper authorities.

    Leave it to these low fat World Improvers to think more time spent in school is going to result in anything more than simply more time spent in , ahem… Anyway, if any teacher had to actually spend all year with the little darlings, they’d go stark raving mad. Perhaps this shall serve to bust the pernicious influences of the Union.

  5. The exquisitely initialied Russell Arben Fox suggests: “Given a choice, actually I probably would vote for school year around.” Well, you do have a choice (at least in America… while it lasts): home and/or cooperative education!

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