In my limited experience with writing I know that an article is like a three year old in a crowded mall, it can get away from you in a hurry. What you intended the article to be, turns into something else completely. In the case of David Von Drehle’s article in this week’s TIME Magazine, “The Case Against Summer Vacation”, at the outset appears to be another entry from over zealous math teachers everywhere in their conspiracy against summer vacation, but in the end becomes something else entirely. Either the article got away from him or he brilliantly sucked in over zealous anti-summer math teachers to read a well written apologetic for education reform.
The subtitle caught my eye as it called summer vacation, “An outdated legacy of the farm economy” and goes on to loathe the tradition by saying, “Adults still romanticize it (I am guilty here). But those months out of school do the most damage to kids who can least afford it.” The gut reaction of a guy who grew up camping, playing sports, and going on church retreats to the beach is that David Von Drehle needs to jump in a lake; not in a way to do himself personal harm or injury, but rather the man needs to loosen his tie and have some fun. Anytime I read an article that I don’t like I immediately picture the writer wearing a shirt and tie, with pasty white skin zapped of pigment due to long exposure from fluorescent lighting, who is in desperate need of 15 minutes of fun. Ironically, when I judge others, I see myself; how Biblical! Yet summer vacation has seemingly always been under assault by slowly lengthening school calendars leaving me to an almost apocalyptic vision of empty lakes, deserted pools, and overgrown baseball diamonds. I fear that it won’t be long before summer is gone.
For those who assault summer, the line of thinking is that we need more school to have kids who are smarter, more skilled, and have a better opportunity to succeed at life in adulthood. These ideas come from the philosophical pool that espouses education as the answer to our societal ills. While I agree that education is a critical component to society, I think we have more than proven that our current version of school is not the entire answer. I believe this is also a subtle conclusion (intended or unintended) of Drehle’s article. He quotes a study from Education Sector that “highlights a problem with relying on public schools for summer enrichment.”
“In the best schools, there would be an ample increase in academic learning time,’ author Elena Silva wrote.’ ‘But in poorly managed schools, with inexperienced teachers and a host of other challenges,’ a longer school year just means more lost days. If school districts fail during the traditional year, what are the chances that competence and creativity will suddenly blossom when the weather turns hot? In the best summer only programs, bureaucracy is lean and change is easy.”
The article goes on to applaud the success of the summer programs highlighted by saying that the environment in which the summer programs work “fosters easy innovation and rapid improvement.”
My reservation with shortening summer vacation and lengthening the grip of public education is that it will be more of the same. Summer affords kids to learn something else from someone else. The assumption is that during the summer, kids fall behind. Yet in Drehle’s article he calls attention to some cases in which kids actually excel and pull ahead academically due to summer programs that exist outside the reach of public education. Summer does not have to be time lost. With the right opportunities and involvement summer can be quality time for the expansion of the soul.
Drehle’s article calls attention to something I feel needs to be recognized in this era of government standardized education, one size doesn’t fit all. The world of my daughters and the world of inner city children is not the same. I don’t want it to be the same. It does not need to be the same. Children at different income levels, different geographic locales, and from different cultures need creativity and innovation, not standardization. When everything is measured by the lowest common denominator, there is only one direction to go, down. Standardization is a utopian ideal, a mirage in the desert of impractical solutions, a social experiment of the elite that hurts instead of helps.
For Christian kids summer is a retreat of the soul. Church camps and Vacation Bible School allow opportunity for children to learn lessons that have been exiled from public education – namely that there is a God who has sent His son to save the lost soul. For some kids summer is an opportunity to spend time with the family. In other areas summer affords children time with mentors and coaches. In the lives of those who spend three seasons of the year in the negative, summer is an opportunity to expose them to something infinitely positive. Drehle here does a brilliant job of drawing attention to the beauty of summer programs, they meet personal needs. Yet I am not blind to the problems. They need to be addressed. Summer can be cruel reminder to some children that they have no family. This can be the case for the monetary elite or the impoverished – kids are abandoned in streets and in mansions. Yet again, I would make the case that public education, in its current standardized version, has little to no solutions for these sorts of problems.
As with anything the key is funding, more funding, and greater funding. Another key component is involvement. As a general rule, churches do a great job of creating child focused opportunities that are either cheap or free. Vacation Bible Schools and church camps are generally offered for all, but you can’t force people to take advantage of the opportunities. Whether it is an inner-city youth club or a suburban arts camp, there is a constant need of evangelization. Our local library offers a great summer reading program that is well attended, but there is always room for more. While it is true that parents and kids can make summer a complete waste of time, government can do the same with an entire school year. Honestly, I wish that the passion driving the summer programs Drehle highlights would be allowed to flow again in the local school systems. If we do with summer what we have done with public education, summer is in danger of indeed becoming a major educational stumbling block. There are a lot of organizations in many geographic locations, throughout every economic strata, in various cultures, who are doing a great job with summer. Drehle celebrates them. Why not invite churches, youth clubs and camps, and other summer innovators to the table to address the government education monster? Maybe local innovators can teach the impersonal government system how better to use the minds and the time that we are giving to public education in the fall, winter, and spring.