This blog focuses a lot on education for a simple reason: it is the place where the vast majority of people spend close to a quarter of their life. As I recently told myself, kids have a fulltime job before they are even old enough to work!
Time to unmask what otherwise passes for one of the school system’s most enjoyable perks: summer vacation. Many might be wondering: what could possibly be wrong with taking the summers off? Don’t the kids (and teachers) who worked so hard during the year deserve that time off? (Quick note: the reason teachers work so hard is BECAUSE OF summer vacation. But more on that later).
Quick History: How Did Summer Vacation Come to be?
Two entire months off! Where else do you get such free time in the real world? That’s right: nowhere. Many believe school summer vacations arose out of the agrarian times when kids were needed to tend farms and crops. I did too. I haven’t researched the subject extensively but what I’ve found thus far tells me that the creation of summer vacation was more a matter of class and geography.
Cities, as hubs of commerce and culture, feature large populations. As cities industrialized and created work opportunities, people naturally moved into them. However, the more crowded they became, the more problems arose. Living conditions weren’t the greatest. During the latter half of 19th century, moneyed people and a growing middle class had the ability to move into more rural parts of the country.
Unlike today, schooling then wasn’t mandatory. Classrooms began to dwindle, prompting legislative action. A recent Mental Floss article notes some other interesting contributing factors: a cultural shift toward leisure time; labor unions and the eight-hour workday which provided adults with more free time; the notion that the brain, as a muscle, simply needed time off; and the simple fact that air conditioning was still years away (nobody wanted to be in “miserable, half-empty ovens,” as they note.)
Four Reasons Why Summer Vacation is Bad for Students
1. The “Summer Slide”
Educators and policymakers have long recognized what is called the “summer slide,” defined simply as the “tendency for students, especially those from low-income families, to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year.” Research has noted that while the slide downward happens for poor and minority kids especially, the opposite thing happens for kids from wealthy families: they gain an educational positive as their education is reinforced by parents, family and environments conducive to learning (and I’m not talking about reading and memorizing; education is far more multifaceted). The “achievement gap,” thus enlarges.
The summer slide makes it harder for teachers the following school year as they are playing “catch up,” given too the fact that its hard for many kids to get out of “vacation mode.” Think of the rest of the school year calendar. Teachers play catchup for the first two-three months, Thanksgiving and Christmas come along, they are off again for a good while, and the same vicious cycle ensues. They learn something; take extensive time off; they forget it; relearn it, and on and on. Any wonder why even college graduates have been reported to be worse off academically AFTER they have graduated?!
Nowhere else are you interrupted so frequently and needlessly in the real world but at the place where you are supposedly being trained for the real world interruptions are within and without, nonstop, and unquestioned. Olympic Swimmers train year-round; adults work 40 hours a week. Students go to school roughly nine months of the year—and dread them at that.
2. They Reinforce the Idea That Education Happens Only in School
With weekends, federal holidays, special school days, Christmas, Spring, and Summer Breaks off from school the wrong message is sent, even if only subconsciously. Education, especially self-education, is a lifelong endeavor, a journey, a passion, something that comes from within, not an arbitrarily designed school schedule you follow for eight hours a day, five days a week.
When students take a summer break, and completely distance themselves from books and learning at periodic intervals, they are essentially stopping their growth and hurting their true potential. A life lived successfully requires self-reflection, risk taking, a voracious desire for knowledge, an ability to learn independently, an ability to learn from mistakes. Schooling takes the realness of life away and confines students to one place for almost two decades, misleading many into thinking that academic accomplishments are the end all be all.
To follow the full-time work analogy mentioned previously, it is no wonder that the school system has its metrics to follow: bubble sheet standardized exams. Schooling essentially is a matter of memorizing and test-taking. This is the labor the students perform. I guess their “senioritis” is justifiable, after all. Who wouldn’t get sick of that needless chore?
3. Vacations Further Perpetuate Dependence
Just look at our culture of dependence. Little to none of the modern economy would exist if people established their lives on the principle of independence. Just look at the vast majority of jobs available today: its mainly retail and fast food. If people started cooking their own food (or simply eating out way less) what would happen to the thousands of fast food stores banking on you remaining dependent?
When you sit passively for up to two decades as a state-approved “expert” drills information into your head you are more than likely going develop a behavioral pattern and lifestyle of dependence. Think about it: kids crack open books, maybe write a paper or two, because they are assigned “homework.” Many students memorize formulas and equations only because an exam is coming up, never mind the fact that 90 percent of students will never use such things in the real world.
Can we expect them to engage in educational material during the summer without a teacher telling them to? How many students realistically read and write and study at their own motivation? The fact is, in the school system, as in most of adult life, we do things because we are told to do them. Talk to any self-made millionaire; read Rich Dad Poor Dad: formal schooling is overrated, and in many cases, an obstacle. Many older people with real life business success routinely talk about taking the C student over the A student.
So kids slacking off during summers and having no interest in educational things is to be expected. It’s even worse when parents have a similar attitude that teachers are responsible for their kids’ development and success. This dependence has deep historical origin; the school system was designed primarily to keep the masses in perpetual dependence—first as farm laborers, then factory employees, and now retail clerks. As usual, big business capitalizes; the small people get in line.
4. Only the Rich and Privileged Benefit From Summer Vacations
Now think about what happens in the homes of the wealthy and privileged when they have two months at their disposal? Unlike poor and minority kids relegated to their specific neighborhoods, wealthy folks are able to travel extensively, inculcating in their kids valuable experiences, life lessons, connections, and unique opportunities.
This is the time for Daddy to “school” his son on how the real world works: he introduces him to the world of men, business, investing, leadership, exposing him to associates, future colleagues, and business partners. While the rich kids are being “groomed” to take their preestablished place in the world, those without such access and opportunity depend on summer camps that, while well-intentioned, only offer an extension of the year-round school curriculum. Summer vacations are, in essence, the time for the well-to-do to develop their personal statements/resumes for their later entry into powerful arenas of society: the future lawyer goes overseas to learn about a conflict in another country; an aspiring doctor volunteers in third world hospital; a future politician vacations with the right family, etc.
BIG BUSINESS basks in the cash cow that is summer vacation. Think of all the summer vacation packages, airliners, hotels, retail establishments, travel agencies, and every other player that upcharges during this time.
I get it; we want fun; we need a break at times. But this is all on the basis of an artificial creation: select policymakers mandating two months off from school. While enjoying this time, certain important things – a child’s education and development – are on the line. Most young poor minority students are relegated to the TV and social media during their two months off. This could be time to develop themselves through the power of apprenticeship, summer jobs, and mentorships programs. One thing is for sure: the same system that fails to educate while it is in session is certainly not going to provide anything beneficial to students while on break.
The fact that the system only comes up with more schooling as an alternative to the “summer slide” that many students experience only begs the question. It’s the equivalent of teachers decrying the fact that they don’t get paid enough and don’t have enough resources to do their job. “We need more money,” they exclaim. “We need more summer programs,” others cry out. Both, again, while well-intentioned, miss the bigger problem: more schooling creates more problems. Kids are only going to memorize facts in school, nothing more. Any conceivable topic is learned by pushing buttons on a device in their pocket. Access, affordability, and resources are not the problem; the system is.
–Stay tuned for a continuation on what the system keeps doing to essentially fail kids. I’ve explored this theme in other posts. Read those too.