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OPINION: In defense of summer

Mitchell Superintendent of Schools Joe Graves has a well-known desire for year-round school. As he has done in the past, he publicized that desire in a recent column for The Daily Republic.

Mitchell Superintendent of Schools Joe Graves has a well-known desire for year-round school. As he has done in the past, he publicized that desire in a recent column for The Daily Republic.

He makes some fine points. Children regress educationally over the summer, while taxpayer-funded school buildings sit empty and publicly paid employees sit idle. Beyond that, it makes seemingly little sense in this modern information age to maintain a school calendar based on an outdated agrarian tradition of summertime farm work.

Though I recognize the validity of all those points, I instinctively recoil from the idea of year-round school.

The concept seems to spring at least partially from a notion that children are raw materials needed to fuel the machinery of formal education. Offshoots of that notion include the presumptions that teachers are best qualified to impart knowledge, a classroom is the best place for learning to occur, and the subjects taught in school are the ones most essential to happy and successful living.

That kind of outlook, while grounded in some truth and pure intentions, dismisses much of the role that parents and non-school experiences play in a child's life.

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Just because a kid forgot the definition of a gerund over the summer, that doesn't his parents allowed him to sit in front of a TV and eat Doritos for weeks and months on end (it also doesn't mean the child is going to be a colossal failure as an adult). While such regression could be the result of negligent parenting, it could also be the result of great parenting -- the kind that enlivens kids' summers with wonderfully enriching activities that have nothing to do with gerunds, isosceles triangles or the periodic table of the elements.

These enriching, non-scholastic activities include camping, sports, family reunions, vacation Bible school, jobs, chores, gardening, travel and good-old-fashioned, spontaneous fun. Some of these activities teach lessons that cannot be taught in school, and some reinforce lessons already learned in school. I learned a decent amount about the Lincoln assassination from teachers and textbooks, for example, but my parents added a new and more powerful dimension when they took me to Ford's Theatre during a summer vacation to the East Coast. Had there been no summer break, it's doubtful we would have made the trip.

Just as valuable as the summertime activities we arrange for our children are the ones they arrange for themselves. When I was a young elementary student, the summertime was a vast realm of possibilities waiting to be explored. Some days were planned for me, but there were many days when I chose to play baseball, ride my bike, go swimming, build forts or engage in other adventures of the imagination.

That may sound like a colossal waste of time to some educators, but I believe there is great value in occasionally letting children bloom on their own, away from constant watering by adults. School days are scheduled with military precision, and as students we learn to follow orders. That's important, but so is the summertime experience of being out from under the thumb of adults, with the freedom to make decisions and take life by the reins.

Lest they forget, educators should be reminded that students only remain students for so long. Eventually, all students are released into that long summer break known as adulthood. When they get there, they'll have to figure things out for themselves. There will be no teachers to schedule and direct their every move. What better time to get conditioned to such a reality than during a summer break from school?

And, speaking of adulthood, it'll come soon enough. We don't need to rush it by changing childhood into a year-round profession.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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