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The End of Summer?

Wendy Sachs
Aug. 19, 2010

Like many people, I am a summer romantic.  I can rhapsodize about the sweetness of late summer nights sipping Chardonnay with friends as the kids frolic, flip flops flopping and chasing fireflies.  I could write poetry about the beauty of a summer camp sleep out roasting marshmallows and singing ballads around a crackling camp fire.  And I could feel kinship with Michelle Obama when I heard while touring camps for my own kids in Maine that First Child Malia was off to New England for a gloriously liberating month of overnight camp.  

For the nostalgic me, summer smells of woods and beach air and feels ripe with possibility, adventure and a little canoodling behind the camp cabins.  For the grown-up mom in me, it also means no carpooling, no homework, no nagging my kids about projects and book reports, and blissfully no after-school scheduling chaos.   Let's face it summer is now my school break too.   But a recent Time magazine cover story, "The Case Against Summer Vacation" could crush the summer fun right out of all of us.   

Critics argue that we're foolishly holding on to what had started as a 19th century agrarian model and persisted into a now outdated 20th century concept of a long, summer lull. The reality, educators say, is that this hiatus is hurting our children academically. They argue that the highest performing countries in Asia and Europe keep their kids in classrooms up to a month longer than American schools.  Simply, the summer vacation is a luxury that many children can't afford, especially children of low-income families who don't have access to the enrichment programs or summer camps that can provide growth and stimulation.  So for these children, the summer months are not just endlessly idle weeks of boredom and inactivity, but seriously detrimental to future success. 

We've always accepted that with a break in school comes a summer slide.  But these days that slide is proving less acceptable, particularly as our education system continues to woefully underperform dozens of other countries around the world.   This is why many schools today, including my children's elementary school, arm the kids with packets of "summer material."  When I first reached into my kids' backpacks on the last day of school and found lengthy calendars that plotted daily reinforcement exercises for each day of the summer, I got tense.  While I was impressed by how organized my teachers seemed, I also cringed.   I wanted to whine along with my kids that I just didn't want to do the school work because didn't everyone know...it's SUMMER! 

I am a summer slacker I suppose.  I remember summer reading lists as I child and tackling the classics as I sat by the pool, but I don't remember my mom pushing me to practice long division.   

I guess I just don't have the nag in me this summer - I used up a lot of my capital on spelling and science tests last school year and frankly, it was exhausting.  So truth be told, I haven't a clue where I put those calendars since retrieving them from the backpacks in June.  And aside from shouting out a few multiplication facts to my son during a drive to the beach recently, I've been shamefully negligent in keeping up on his "minute math."    

Do I feel guilty?  Absolutely.   Am I doing my children a true disservice and potentially harming their future, I hope not.  But while America still hangs on to its retro idea of summer vacation, I plan to enjoy it, along with my children. 

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