By John Auchter
Michigan schools are now back in session, many starting classes up to two weeks before Labor Day. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it has been oppressively hot and humid. Can you imagine what the learning environment has been like in classrooms with no air conditioning? I can almost hear the chorus of students and teachers reply, “It was miserable!”
Turns out miserable has consequences. NPR had a story not too long ago, “Heat Making You Lethargic? Research Shows It Can Slow Your Brain, Too.” It revolved around a new study from the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard, which found that high temperature can muddle our thinking.
Students were observed living in college dorms during a summer heat wave in Boston — half lived in buildings that had air conditioning, the other half lived in dorms that did not. They were all given the same tests. Even with a slight temperature difference, students in the non-air-conditioned buildings had 13% lower performance on basic arithmetic tests and nearly 10% reduction in the number of correct responses per minute.
I was thinking about this as I listened to gubernatorial candidates Gretchen Whitmer and Bill Schuette answering questions posed to them by Michigan Radio about their plans to improve literacy rates among Michigan third-graders. Their answers were fine — general goals addressing the big picture. But I hope in the course of campaigning these next few months, they are curious enough to ask students and teachers what they need specifically. That way they’ll find out what’s really going to help.