I suppose it’s the time of year when we’ll start hearing about “summer learning loss” again, and about how kids “lose so much ground” when they’re away from school for two months. The argument always strikes me as more an indictment of school than of summer vacation. If all that “learning” that we’re cramming into their heads has a shelf-life of less than two months, that doesn’t bode well for what will happen when they’re finally done with school.
There is so much discussion about “retention of learning” over summer break, but it seems like nobody wants to talk about what gets retained into actual adulthood.
The “summer learning loss” vision of education seems awfully questionable, not to mention dismal: as if education is like inflating a raft that has a slow leak, only to launch the leaky thing out on the ocean when schooling is finally done. Is that really how development, change, and growth occur?
Why not start with the recognition that, as adults, what we really know well is usually either (1) something we’re interested in, or (2) something we have to do regularly to function in the world. Look how many people in my generation have extensive computer skills, without ever having learned them in school. Look how many people have encyclopedic knowledge – and often a deep understanding, way beyond just memory of facts and figures – of their favorite sport. Meanwhile, look at how little algebra or trigonometry the average adult knows, despite having sat through it in school and crammed for tests about it.
Why not give kids time, space, and opportunity to pursue subjects they’re interested in? Why not give them the kind of autonomy that will begin to familiarize them with what it takes to function in the world? Funny, that sounds more like summer vacation than like school.
Many parents report that during those first few days of summer break, their kids are bored and at a loss for what to do. The kids aren’t used to having large blocks of time with no one telling them what to do and what to think about, and they aren’t used to making their own choices about how spend that time. Deciding how to spend your time: it’s the central challenge of life, and the activity through which you discover who you are. By mid-summer, the kids have started to get the hang of it, and the boredom dies down. They aren’t necessarily doing anything that looks profound, but it’s usually at least a little unexpected, revealing, or creative – and after all, they’ve only been at it for a few weeks.
Then it all ends, and for ten months they’re back to the forty-five-minute periods, the courses and “units” chosen by others – God forbid your sixth-grader should not study the Industrial Revolution – the “expectations,” and the Common Core Child Improvement Machine. How will they ever make up for those lost ten months?