On August 14, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom held a press conference that received little notice, even from those of us paying attention to these things. In it, he laid out the state’s next plan for supplanting parents and establishing itself as the primary caretaker of our children through something called the 9-hour school day.
Many working parents might hear “9-hour school day” and want to cheer as they scramble to arrange after-school childcare and strive to get their kids to sports practices and arts programs on time, not to mention help with their homework. Newsom’s plan is surely intended to bring relief through additional hours on campus, which would centralize most kids’ after-school activities.
But what of the consequences? I’ve heard it said that for children, love is spelled t-i-m-e. Time is that scarce and sacred commodity of which most of us have too little. But for kids, it’s what they need most from us — their parents. We don’t need to be sociologists or child development specialists to extrapolate what will happen to family time when the 9-hour school day arrives. Probably a lot less l-o-v-e, by which I mean the kind that only comes with physical proximity: the swift little hugs, impromptu conversations and unexpected but meaningful shared moments. When we reflect on our childhoods, aren’t these the things we remember with the greatest fondness — and perhaps the things that do most to shape us into the adults we become?
At the center of all this are children — malleable little humans who are shaped by whomever they spend time with.
Think of what a departure a 9-hour school day would be from history. Not long ago, children were raised in their parents’ shadows. They followed their mommy and daddy around, spent time outside in nature, and built forts or played dollies with friends. When public school came into existence, childhood underwent a huge shift. Hours a day were now spent under the tutelage of teachers. More recently, extracurricular activities have carved even more time from kids’ days. The simple sweetness of home life is gradually being whittled away.
I’ve broached this subject of a 9-hour school day with several of my teacher friends, therapist friends and social worker friends. From each, I received the same response: disbelief. According to their shared understanding of child development, Newsom’s proposal flies in the face of all professional training and common sense, which says that children need more time with family, not less.
As a mother whose ear is to the ground on social trends and shifts affecting kids, I can tell you the state essentially wants to take over childhoods. AB 130 makes Transitional Kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds. SB 274 makes it illegal for schools and daycares to send home, suspend or expel children with behavioral challenges, including violence. Family Code 6924 and Health & Safety Code 124260 give kids 12 or older the right to mental health services without parental notification or consent. SB 384 relaxes the terms of the Megan’s Law sex offender registry. Just last week, I learned that kids now must have a dental exam to enroll in school (Education Code Section 49452.8).
As legislative leaders try to transition Californians away from a home-based society and toward one based on institutions, common sense and integrity are being replaced by rules handed down from on high in a place known as Sacramento. Often, the situations mitigated by legislation are of the worst-case variety. For example, it seems the reason schools can no longer expel violent and disruptive kids is because these kids may not have someone to go home to. So the state, in all its well-intentioned benevolence, solves the problem by keeping the troubled child on campus and offering counseling. How’s that working?
Not long ago, children followed their mommy and daddy around, spent time outside in nature, and built forts or played dollies with friends. When public school came into existence, childhood underwent a huge shift.
I’ve come to the opinion — gracious, I hope — that most of California’s woes are good intentions gone bad. For example, one of my friends led the charge for getting the sex education curriculum Teen Talk into Conejo Valley schools. When I asked her why she wanted such a broad range of graphic sexual content introduced to kids, she had a curious response. She said she’s not so concerned about the sexual education of her kids or mine because we’re (apparently) well-educated, non-abusive, involved parents. Her concern is for the kids who may not have parents who talk to them about the realities of STIs, consent, and sexual identity. Her intentions are good. They’re also inherently patronizing. Assuming that a parent has to be well-educated, well-adjusted and “involved” in order to have the right to determine his or her child’s sexual education is a form of discrimination of the worst kind. It’s a lesser version of the attitude that took Native American children away from their parents to be “educated” in California’s missions. That, too, was the result of good intentions.
At the center of all this are children — malleable little humans who are shaped by whomever they spend time with. Their welfare is being decided increasingly by the state and less by their parents. How much ground we choose to surrender is up to us, but if and when the 9-hour school day arrives, I’m determined to put up a line of defense, a prophylactic against bad ideas and indoctrination.
If and when the 9-hour school day arrives, I’m determined to put up a line of defense.
It’s called family t-i-m-e.
Leigh-Anna Bivens is a former music teacher and (nearly) lifelong resident of the Conejo Valley. She lives in Newbury Park with her husband, a charter school teacher, and their 4-year-old daughter.