In my time studying to become a teacher of high school social studies, one issue in has been of particular interest to me: school summers and how to address them.
As most everyone knows, in the United States of America our schools (elementary, middle, and high) have a lengthy break of about three months during the summer. In the past, this existed because boys and girls were needed back at the farm to help work the fields and livestock alongside their families. Currently, its unofficial purpose is to give children a break and allow them to go on vacations with their families.
But is this summer necessary? Is it good? In this post I will attempt to argue that we should have full school years (with some caveats) and that free summers are unnecessary, outdated, and hinder the ability of children to acquire knowledge.
Summers were made no-school zones so that kids could go home so as to have everything ready and taken care of come fall and wintertime. This issue no longer exists, with maybe a fraction of a percent of children still utilizing the summer break for this purpose.
Studies have shown that kids lose substantial amounts of their garnered knowledge when left to their own devices for so long. This is learning decay. Over the summer, kids have no desire to study or learn, and thus the information that they worked for over the previous year is often lost as soon as possible. This would be fine if the knowledge snapped back into place at the beginning of the new year, but it often fails to do so. The first month or two of the new school year almost always is spent repeating lessons from the previous year. This wastes precious hours intended for new teachings and serves to cripple the class as a whole.
Free summers are a significant reason why American kids do not compete well when measured against students elsewhere. The United States is one of the only nations that continues to follow such an outdated method of teaching and there is little reason for it. Consequently, if we were to spread school days out across the year, we would prevent the effects of learning decay. Even now, school days are being lost due to the recession, which will only exacerbate the loss of student knowledge over the summers. But, if the school year were stretched out, even the loss of a day or two here or there would not overly affect a student's ability to retain knowledge. After all, school would occur the following week, almost always without fail.
This is not to say that children (and, for that matter, the teachers) do not deserve a break, however. We all look forward to the summer and its promise of free time, even when it proves to be an illusion. In response, I would point out that adopting a full school year does not equate a kid in class every weekday for twelve months. Holidays would still exist and the spread of days could potentially create a three to four day school week, along with the occasional week off for vacation time so that the school can recover, get new supplies, etc.
The biggest hurdle to pursuing such a change in policy is the tradition. Students would howl screaming in all directions if they heard that their free summers would no longer exist. Parents would say that the stress of the school year needs to be broken up by months of time off. However, there are easy answers to this. Stretching the year so that it includes summers would result in a regular occurrence of three to four day weekends. There would still be the occasional week or two off so that schools can recuperate, have time to hire new staff, and prepare for the next session. This would give kids more than adequate time to rest between days of classes.
Another big hurdle is the fact that, to a certain extent, our economy is shaped around the concept of summers being off for the younger folks. Part-time summer jobs exist because of it. Amusement parks and entertainment centers would lobby against it. There are probably a host of other business interests that would find the idea abhorrent; a change like this would affect more than just those involved in the education field. The all-powerful teacher's unions would go up in arms over it, as they do for any suggested change to the profession. The only way to handle this is to be strong in the face of said opposition. In the beginning, this would appear a radical departure from the norm but, in the end, it would be beneficial for every child in America.
Eliminating summers and stretching school years out across the months is arguably necessary and good for the kids. Time will still be had for fun and relaxation; if anything, they will have consistently have more time to recover with this plan than with our current approach. By keeping kids in school throughout the year this will substantially reduce learning decay, kids will be less inclined towards bored delinquency (a common problem for kids whose parents work full-time), and kids will have more opportunities to catch up with their education if they fall behind. School years will no longer be packed stress-fests where the teacher is desperately trying to cram an entire subject's learning into a short time period. More time will be available for reading and studying for tests. Time will no longer be spent on catching up except on an individual basis through tutoring.
However, the hurdles will be difficult to overcome, and such a plan will likely not see daylight for years. Given the times, people will complain about the cost of rearranging school years like this, even though it is essentially a one-time down payment on organization and education that will pay off for the rest of the kids' lives. On a year-to-year basis, the only increase in costs will be relatively minor; keeping the school's lights on where previously they would have been off.
I hope that this outline of this current dilemma was informative for those interested in education, and I hope that eventually America will be able to adopt such a plan that will reduce or end summers entirely. Time will tell and I have my fingers crossed. Are yours?