Summer break is greatly overrated
This isn't what kids or teachers want to hear, but you guys have too much time off every summer. (We pause here a moment for a collective cacophony of boos and hisses).
The world has changed, I beg to point out - in very dramatic ways.
We don't write letters; we text messages to friends and family both near and far, at any time of the day and, in many cases, hundreds of times a day.
Friends and business associates don't call our home phones (if we still even have them); they direct their voice messages to our cell phones, and if we're not immediately accessible, we check those messages umpteen times a day.
Fewer and fewer folks go to the trouble of mailing payments to creditors. Bill-paying is easy (and perfectly safe) online. You can dispose of practically every penny from your paycheck while sitting around the house in your skivvies.
Yet we still consider the late August/early September-to-early June school year to be sacrosanct, even though it is largely a leftover from America's agrarian age. In an era when everybody goes nutso over schools making Adequate Yearly Progress and students scoring well on standardized tests (as if that actually proved anything) and, most especially, when we are concerned about the U.S. maintaining (or regaining) its competitive edge, it's time to rethink the logistics of "school."
It won't be easy. I know it's the most exhilarating feeling in the world to have the dismissal bell ring on the last day of the school year. It's the sensation a lifer gets upon being informed that because of new evidence, he has been completely exonerated and can walk out of the slammer a free man.
Ten to 12 weeks of nothing but days off - who wouldn't love that? It makes you want to bust out in an exuberant rendition of Alice Cooper's "School's Out for the Summer." There was a student in a suburban high school who once responded to his science teacher's last-day wishes for a fun vacation with the pithy rejoinder, "What will make my summer happy, Miss Refracto, is if someone throws you in the Delaware River." Not very tactful, but many of us have had similar (and, fortunately, non-verbalized) thoughts about our own teacher nemeses (substitute "Susquehanna" for "Delaware").
Kids obviously need some time - well, to be kids, and to enjoy quality experiences with their families. But do they benefit from having all that free time blocked off in one big chunk? There's a lot you can forget in 2 1/2 to 3 months when nobody is standing over you reviewing what you've learned or challenging you to master that information or apply that knowledge.
An organization called National Association for Year-Round Education favors balancing of school breaks throughout the year instead of having a long summer vacation. For some school districts, that could mean a 30-day summer break, and smaller breaks of 10-15 days in the fall, at Thanksgiving, around the Christmas holidays and in the spring. There would be the same 180 days of instruction,
And who says all "school time" has to be in school? Instead of competing with and complaining about cyber schools, brick-and-mortar schools should embrace cyber learning. During the summer break, students should be required to complete online assignments as a prerequisite for moving on to the next grade level. Work could be done at the students' pace, and in this wonderful digital age, teachers could easily monitor their progress.
The biggest problem with summer breaks has always been that students get the idea it's OK to take a vacation from learning. Actually, learning should be encouraged for its own sake, not just so students can pass tests. Thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever to learn new things. There are websites that help you learn a foreign language, free of charge, and by accessing the Khan Academy site (used by many teachers as a valuable educational tool), people, whether they're 17 or 97, can brush up on finance, geometry, biology or art history, again at no cost, or even be introduced to these disciplines for the first time. Parents and grandparents need to set an example for today's elementary, middle and high school students by demonstrating how anyone's life can be enriched by trying something new, even that means experimenting with 25 new chicken recipes, learning how to change the oil in your car, painting landscapes or teaching yourself how to do the rhumba.
Kids themselves prove the point when they start lamenting, around the fourth week of June, that there's "nothing to do." They are wise enough to know (although they'd never admit it) that life without learning is unchallenging, repetitious and humdrum.
(Jake Betz is assistant editor of The News-Item.)