Monday, August 5, 2013

School Days- My End of Summer Lament

“One hundred and four days of summer vacation and school comes along just to end them.”  Makes me wonder how long ago that song was written for Phineas and Ferb or where.  Here in Arizona, if it hasn’t already, school is about to begin.  That gave us a whopping total of seventy-three days of summer vacation.  An entire month- 31 days- missing.  At least if you go with the song.   
 I don’t know if it is early indoctrination from the Nursery Rhyme and I am Mistress Mary quite contrary or just how I am wired but unlike many of my friends and fellow mothers I am not excited or happy that summer is coming to an end-at least as far as school is concerned.  The temperatures are not going to cool down significantly for a while yet but now the pools are closed.  Kids will soon be sweating along with playground teachers in long pants or uniforms, some are lucky enough to have shorts or skorts, on play grounds all over the valley. 

I grew up in Wyoming and I remember summer being long and filled with fun and boredom, and I think at least a little of both is good for kids.  How long do you really have to be a kid anyway?  Every kid who has run out of things to do for the summer should hear from their mother at least once in their life time, “Only boring people get bored.”  Boredom can be good.  It gives opportunity for thinking and problem solving in a real life situation and appreciation for learning opportunities.

Last school year my children were given a writing assignment on an article written by Peter R Orszag.  The article is entitled, “How Summer Is Making U.S. Kids Dumber and Fatter.”  When I heard about it I have to admit it made me angry.  The title is a bit incendiary.   The article referred to a couple of studies that show how children go back to school a month or so behind where they left off at the beginning of summer and that they gain weight.  The studies and article all showed that lower-income children were at greater risk than middle to upper income children.  One of the studies made the great claim that learning loss is cumulative over time because some children lose what they have learned then need more time to actually learn the new stuff so they never catch up and therefore get further and further behind each year. 

  I have news for you ladies and gentlemen who teach though I am sure you have discovered it already, kids forget a lot of what they learned immediately after the test is taken, or over the weekend or when they can finally smell a little bit of freedom.  That in my probably not humble enough opinion is normal and applies to all people- you included.  It is also per the same opinion, at least partly because a lot of the learning in school is not inspiring- there is no reward to retain. 

I disagree with the article and the study that implies that learning loss is cumulative.  I do agree that there is some skill loss due to lack of use, and that some kids have a harder time learning.  I have two that have dealt with developmental dyslexia.  Both by the way are voracious readers and one of them a promising young author.  I believe that there are valuable things to learn that are not academic that can only happen in the long boring days of summer.  I also have no problem with review.  There is nothing wrong with review.  In fact if more people spent time on review perhaps there would be fewer mistakes made in other areas.  Not a thing wrong with review.  I don’t believe that learning loss is cumulative.  I believe that if you can’t remember something you haven’t really learned it yet.  So the notion that a child has lost something that they just can’t get back in time to learn the next new thing means that that child did not learn it in the first place.  The idea was presented, perhaps played with and used a little, and maybe there was success once in a while- a good guess on a test, but the concept was not really learned.  That is not cumulative learning loss, that is learning not happened yet.  You know what I think?  I think that is o.k.

I have not yet met any two children or adults that learn, think or process things alike.  There were concepts that I did not learn when I was supposed to in elementary school.  In fact to some of my teachers I was a helpless idiot.  For a lot of years I felt that I was too.  You know what?  I got over it.  I learned something in those long boring days of summer that had nothing to do with my inability to comprehend fractions in third grade.  I learned how to get along and have fun with my family even when we were bored.  I learned how to grow strawberries and petunias and that garlic grows under the ground.  My mom and my dad taught me those things.  Mom also taught me the concept of square roots and how to count money back to customers when I got my first fast food job- took about two seconds per lesson.  I learned I wasn’t a helpless idiot.  In fact given the chance I learn pretty fast- just not always in a class room.    You know what else, I have learned all those things I didn’t learn “when I was supposed to.”  I learned them when I was ready.  Kids do if you don’t make it so unpleasant that they don’t want to. 

The bad news in my same, I will add unapologetic opinion, is that I don’t see the shorter summers, longer days- except when they are shorter for teacher meetings once a week, improving the education of our children.  I am not blaming teachers by the way.  I respect and admire most of the teachers I know and consider them caring and exceptional people trying to make a difference.  Kudos to the valiant men and women in the trenches! 

 When I asked an educator why they keep shortening summer, she told me it was done because the fall and spring vacations were made longer, something that parents wanted.  Someone forgot to ask me!  I LIKE spending time with my kids AND having them home- all nine of them and I like a long summer! 
Actually, I am rebellious enough to disbelieve that imprisoning kids in a class room six to eight hours a day for most of the year makes them smarter.  In fact in some cases, I really believe that it does the opposite. I also believe that data on education quality in recent years backs that up. 

That is kind of inflammatory, I realize.  I will just say it is my opinion and I am not apologizing for it.  So since I am complaining, do I have any better ideas?  Well, I believe I do.  They are of course untried on a grand scale but I believe that is kind of the point.  I would say my parents got a better education than I did and I got a better one than is currently offered- back in the days before No Child Left Behind or Core Standards, when teachers had more freedom to just teach and kids had more freedom to be kids.  Those were also times when parents took the time to be involved with their kids and encourage discovery outside (or inside) rather than alien annihilation in the living room.     So perhaps my lament for the end of summer is also a lament for the end of other precious things, things that really ought to be lamented when they are lost. 

My sympathies to those wiggling masses about to begin another “year” of studies, my sorrows for your summer adventures and boredoms cut short.  I do not sympathize with moms who are ready to march you out the door onto the bus so they can finally get the house clean again and have some peace and quiet- it won’t really happen anyway Mom.  Remember the meetings and class room volunteering and homework and…  Well, I think I am beginning to get preachy, or maybe I have been all along so I will stop, dismantle my soap box and get to work. 
Good bye summer!


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