I read with dismay the editorial supporting longer school terms {"Japan-243, United States-180," Oct 15}. Money spent on air-conditioning schools, paying staff, busing students and running schools in summer would be much more wisely spent turning as many schools as possible into magnet schools.

Sitting glassy-eyed through an extra month of much of what students are getting now in schools would be a waste. We need creativity, flexibility and energy in our schools -- not longer hours and more rote drills.

We are not a homogeneous culture that prizes conformity. American ingenuity will put us ahead, not copycat efforts to become mathematical automatons. Our diversity can be our greatest strength if we examine the strides students are making in magnet schools across the country -- schools for the arts, science and mathematics, the gifted and just regular students.

We must treat teachers like professionals and pay them for time to plan and create. We must stop teaching to the middle and allow teachers the flexibility to reach every student in a class. We cannot standardize learning, and we cannot standardize our students.

Historians have regarded the move away from treating children like small adults as a major advance in Western culture. Forcing children to attend school all year is a step backward. Childhood is a precious gift of time. In "One Writer's Beginnings," Eudora Welty wrote that during the summer days that she spent as a child lying on her stomach watching ants she was learning everything she would ever use in her writing. She was accumulating memories and knowledge of her world while honing her powers of observation.

We already force our children into hectic schedules. Adults today are so harried and pressed that we have classes on creating and using personal time efficiently. Childhood is the only time left to daydream, play and explore friendships, books and sports. Let us not rob our children of their childhoods by keeping them in school any longer. Like life, holidays are already too short. PADDY B. BOWMAN Alexandria

The editorial "Japan-243, United States-180" stated that the only valid reason for not lengthening the school year is cost. Well, there is another equally valid reason, which everyone prefers to ignore for fear of being considered behind the times, defeatist or apathetic. The thing that everyone seems to forget is that we are talking about little kids.

For heaven's sake, they are just kids, not miniature adults or weapons to be used in competition against the Japanese or anybody else. Kids are entitled to a childhood, but more and more often they are not allowed to have one because it is no longer considered important in this society.

Anyone who has watched a high school senior go through the college application process realizes what tremendous academic pressure and competition today's students are subjected to, and this pressure is being put on kids at a younger and younger age. The emphasis on standardized test scores, quantity instead of quality of knowledge and the pressure to teach kids advanced math and foreign languages at early ages are typical of this.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that an extended school year will improve the quality of American education. What schools need is not more time but more efficient use of time. Teachers should not have to act as psychologists, social workers and surrogate parents, which take away from actual teaching time.

No, we are not an agrarian society where kids are needed during the summer to work the family farm. We are a post-industrial society that views any inaction as laziness. This is unfair to kids, who work hard during the school year and deserve a couple months off to play and have fun and relax after all the pressure that the adult world has put on them all year. PAULINE ARNOLD Arlington