In the last week or so, as my fellow edubloggers (is that the term now?) and I prepare for the annual rite of summer vacation, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of posts about summer homework, whether it be the summer reading that I and my fellow English teachers prescribe or math work that teachers like my late, great calculus teacher prescribed. The posts seem to be clearly in one of two camps: there is the “here’s some reading suggestions” group and the “summer work steals their time” group. I wrote a post in the former a couple of weeks back, sharing books that I loved and thought my students might like. I’ve read plenty of posts in the latter, which tend to have the same sentiment: by asking students to read a book over the summer, you are “stealing their learning” or something like that.
I can’t tell from personal experience whether or not that’s true. I was always a student who did his summer work and never felt that it intruded on my fun, unless I procrastinated until the very end of August and had to cram it in to a day or two, in which case that is my fault more than my teachers’. I remember summer recreation at the old junior high school where I would make crafts, play dodge ball, and basically be babysat for the better part of 6-8 weeks when I was in early elementary school. I also remember two years’ worth of summer enrichment classes at my district’s junior high when I was in the fourth and fifth grade, learning about video production and computers (and going to see that godawful Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, Starlight Express). But I also remember summers spent sitting on my ass up until my father more or less forced me and my sister to leave the house by turning a dehumidifier on in the den and therefore making it hotter than it was already. And then, when I was a teenager, getting a job.
But … learning? All the time? I never really looked at it that way, and now as a parent I do have to wonder if that is a challenge I’m supposed to accept. Do I make sure that every single day of my son’s summer vacation is spent learning something, or can we just play with his action figures (I seemed to do plenty of that when I was on summer break as a kid, btw)? Do we, as teachers, knowing all–or at least some–of the ins and outs of educational theory, put too much pressure on the summer even if we have a disdain for summer work? Do we really assume too much of what learning will happen on its own? I mean, I had plenty of “learning-filled” summers, but I also had plenty of “lazy-assed” summers … so which was it?
Plus, for those of us who want summer to be an enriching experience, it might not be that easy. My son is attending a summer day camp through his school and it was not very tough to get him enrolled–we just asked him if he wanted to go and then signed him up–but Dana Milbank in today’s Washington Post points out that if you really want your kid to have a full experience this summer, you should have taken care of it six months ago (“Welcome to Camp Competitive,” WaPo 6/3/12):
It was Jan. 27 — and already too late for summer camp.
This called for handling the matter in a uniquely Washington way: paying to play. The Smithsonian’s camps, it turned out, would give a one-day head start to register for their camps if you “become a donor to the Smithsonian Associates at the Contributor level ($300 or higher).”
Eleven hundred dollars later, including $800 for the camp, and an hour waiting in the call queue the moment the registration period opened, my daughter was accepted for two weeks of camp. It was Feb. 8.
When you have a culture that is dedicated to giving kids as much as possible and not letting students miss any opportunity available, the side effect is cutthroat competition, especially among those who can afford such things, and before another blogger writes another polemic about summer work, I think he or she should think long and hard about who is stealing from whom.