Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The Case Against Summer Vacation
I was cleaning out the pile of magazines that had accumulated next to the couch, when my eyes landed on a Time magazine featuring a story entitled, "The Case Against Summer Vacation." Since I really didn't want to be purging the living room of old magazines, and this seemed like an interesting title, I stopped to read.
This quote by the author - David Von Drehle caught my attention, "But those months out of school do the most damage to the kids who can least afford it." Who were these kids who can least afford it? Here is how Von Drehle described them:
"Deprived of healthy stimulation, millions of low-income kids lose a significant amount of what they learn during the school year. Call it "summer learning loss," as the academics do or "the summer slide," but by any name summer vacation is among the most pernicious-if least acknowledged- causes of achievement gaps in America's schools."
Although I find it impossible to really understand what it means to be a poor child in this county, as I was fortunate enough to be raised in a middle class home, I have to wonder if this is really what is causing the most damage to our lower income children. Don't all children suffer from "summer learning loss?" Mine do. As a matter of fact, this is the reason I try to keep math lessons going in the summer months, even if it is only twice a week.
Of course the solution offered, included decreasing the summer break. I don't understand this theory. Why do we suddenly need students to stay in school longer than we did forty years ago? I had recess and we learned to read, write and eventually graduate.
When we cut recess out of the public school, in order to have more learning time, I nearly exploded with rage. In colleges all over the country long classes include a break. Instructors recognize the need students have to stretch their legs and breathe in fresh air, and they are adults. But our young children who are bundles of energy, no longer need recess to learn affectively?
Then there is homework. Not only do they attend school for a complete day, but they come home with an hour of work to complete. What are they doing at school? I fail to understand why all of 2nd grade cannot be completed in class. I'll never understand it and again it cuts into the child's free time, which could be spent learning in a much more natural manner - outside riding a bike or playing with a friend.
Recently my nephew was asked to stay after school for an hour each day because they felt he was falling behind. He was in the first grade! If you cannot teach a child of seven years, everything he needs to know in eight hours, I don't think you deserve an extra hour of their day.
I continued reading the story in the Time Magazine wondering how it would play out, and this is what I learned.
In a few areas all over this country private industry is paying for private summer school. And in many cases they are seeing that the summer slide is vanishing. In some situations the children are actually gaining ground on their education during these extra weeks of education.
I finished reading and concluded that the real reason these programs are exceeding is not because they are adding more hours to the school year, but rather how they are choosing to teach during these summer months.
"For some 80 elementary-school children in this low-income neighborhood, the summer of 2010 is as close to world travel as they've ever been. The all-day program at the East 10th United Methodist Church is built this year around a World Cup theme. Each week the focus turns to another country, and while the kids are exploring foods and landmarks and cultural traditions, they are, unwittingly, doing math as they measure ingredients and learning science as they raise vegetable garden with plants native to each land."
I couldn't help but recognize this as a unit study in which children's natural curiosity and desire to learn is turned on.
And how about this condition that the creator of Summer Advantage, another privately funded summer school, used in choosing teachers for his pilot program.
"Phalen hires only certified teachers and chooses them on the basis of talent, not seniority...the consistent element is strong teachers working in small groups with excited students."
Excited students? Have you seen any of those in our country's schools lately?
Could it be that maybe we should quit stealing more time from our children with shorter summers, more homework, after school tutoring, and days without recess, and rethink how we are teaching?