Thursday, January 16, 2014

Summers in Public School is a Small Minded Idea

It is rare that you find an issue where the Governor Christie and the Trenton Times Editorial Board are in agreement, as is the case with extending the school year. Unfortunately, both parties found agreement on an issue where they are wrong. Talk of extending the school year is a great political platitude and yes, the initial rationale for having “summers off” is no longer relevant, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a good idea.

I’ll leave aside the issue of school buildings that are equipped to handle summertime temperatures, repair work that would be made problematic, and salaries that would need to be increased (teachers are not paid for 12 months work- only 10- and would want to be compensated, though each of these are valid arguments against summer school. The real issue is with people who seem to think that education only takes place in schools, and that students “shut off their minds” for 2 months. Granted, research does show that a lot of what is learned in the previous year is forgotten over the summer, but that is because of the lousy way that the students received the instruction in the first place. I don’t mean to lay the blame directly on the teachers; the issue is much more complex and involves the onerous state curriculum mandates and other external influences on a student’s ability to actually learn subject matter rather than just be exposed to it.
Summertime is an excellent time for learning, learning that can to a great extent be directed by parents and their kids towards areas of particular interest. My summer vacations were wonderful learning experiences as we traveled through North America. My son has gone to engineering workshops and camps, as have thousands of kids, whether they be the more generic summer camp or camps geared towards educational enrichment. Spending time at my dad’s office over the summer was a great experience and a wonderful form of mentoring; there is no reason that some creative entrepreneurs can’t come up with similar type of programs for inner city kids that are otherwise unable to get that exposure to professions. Kids go with their dad the painter to learn the craft. And on and on. Each event is a learning experience and something that will contribute to that young boy or girl’s emotional, social, and intellectual development. All without stepping foot in a school. Hallelujah!

Teachers can also benefit from the summer break. Most contemporary studies of education in countries like China and Norway, countries that we seem to revere in terms of academic output, show that their teachers spent MUCH MORE TIME involved in professional development rather than in the classroom during the school day. If we are not going to make the changes necessary to align our schedules with theirs, than we will need the summer time to provide that opportunity for improving their work product.
Now of course summertime learning is much more accessible to those with the financial and other resources needed to pay for and attend summer enrichment events. Something definitely must be done to help those with limited resources in the inner city, which is why I have been pushing the idea of creating “micro-credit centers” to help urban families help their kids. The bottom line is that summertime need not be wasted time, and that some creative thinking, along with some financial support, can be put to work to create enrichment programs that can potentially provide far greater learning opportunities than a child might ever get in the school. Do not force students and teachers back into school over the summer. Summer school is a small idea for small minded people. It lacks any creativity or thought. It is a bad idea.

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