two thousand twenty
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The cover of TIME magazine this week trumpets a story about summer vacation being a waste of time for kids who should be staying in school and forging ahead in their educations. Summer is “downtime…making our kids fall behind.”

I was a kid. I was a teacher. I was a guidance counselor. I am a parent and a grandparent.

The article is claptrap.

When No Child Left Behind legislation fell onto the American educational landscape, it made the teaching of our kids a corporate function. Big Business attitudes and philosophies came to the classroom. Schools became industrialized.

Ask teachers what’s really, really important today? For their kids to do well in standardized tests whose results are reported to federal authorities. Teachers’ jobs depend on those test scores being high. Administrators’ careers are hinged on the success of their schools in keeping off federal lists which show that adequate yearly progress hasn’t been made.

To squeeze every blessed ounce of achievement out of little Courtney and Jacob, teachers are being taught to use all kinds of assessment tools, clever little tests that show if a kid is straying in math or fumbling in language arts. Kids are channeled from Day One in Pre-K or Kindergarten, like rats in a maze. As they go through their educational careers, they’re prodded and probed, and if they stray from the chute, someone gets active and pushes them back in line.

Honest, it’s no wonder kids drop out of school. The ones who leave may just be shouting, “I’m human! Stop treating me like a can of peas on an assembly line!” But we can’t hear it.

I can see the argument about using summer for more school classes. All teachers know that kids forget things during the summer, and you start the new school year off with review. I also remember coming back from a pleasant vacation as an adult and needing a little time to get back in the swing of things at work. It’s human nature.

So if we keep kids in school, making them work on their Three R’s during the warm months, the kids will forget less, won’t require all that tedious review, and their learning can accelerate right on through graduation.

As a former teacher, that kind of logic gives me heartburn. It’s applying sweatshop principles to education. “If you can’t make your allotment of running shoes in eight hours, little girl, you’ll just have to work more hours. And if you continue to fall behind, you’ll have to come in on weekends, too.”

I was a YMCA camp counselor for three years while I was in college. All the other counselors were college guys, and we all had the same goal for our kids: we wanted them to explore. We didn’t have to tell a kid to read. We said, “If you want to learn something more about this neat thing, here’s a book.” Or we said, “Here’s an article about how to draw that.” And, “Those kinds of clouds mean the weather is changing. Here are some pictures and information about other kinds of clouds.” We never told them they had to read something, we just offered it.

And not once did we test anyone. But the results were obvious in the things the campers took home with them – the models, artwork, writings, clothing, skills – and in their heads.

Summer is precious. It gives you a chance to breathe, to sleep late, to dive deeply into things with your friends, and to explore. So much education today is leading kids down a road, following a state-mandated curriculum, and manufacturing students who will leave school to live in boxes, little boxes made out of ticky-tacky. Sameness. Herds of sheep.

For kids, summer is eight weeks where each day can be completely and totally different. It’s when your best friend becomes a lifelong friend. It’s when you discover a hobby or pastime that will stay with you for the rest of your life – or that you’ll remember fondly as long as you live. I learned how to fish in the summer. To play chess. To make lanyards and ash trays. Swim. Canoe. I kissed my future wife in the summer (and she is still a great kisser).

I think if I sat down with a pen and paper I could list a thousand things I did in summer that have made a difference in my life today. Take that away from future generations of kids?

That’s stupid.


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1 Comment to "OUT OF MY HEAD"

  1. Videomark Said,

    "I never let school get in my way of education" Mark Twain

    Yesterday, a child came out to wander
    Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
    Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
    And tearful at the falling of a star
    -Joni Mitchell

    Not on the test- Tom Chapin

    Posted on Tue Jul 27, 09:49:00 AM EDT


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