Rising slowly from bed at about noon, a typical teenage student makes him or herself some cereal before settling on the couch. This day will play out as a rinse-and-repeat of the one before it and the one to follow: a mixture of television, video games, friends and other non-academic things. Summer reading lists and chores will likely remain untouched.
Everyone has summer memories they cherish, but most people must also admit that they waste far more time over the summer than they invest – time that could be better spent improving themselves or the world. Students shouldn’t get such a large chunk of time off. Americans need to focus more attention on school, not less.
Each year, the public gets more bad news about American students’ test scores falling further behind those of their global peers. Instead of learning year-round to prepare for conditions in the workplace, American children are let off for three months. Many teachers complain that they end up spending the first few weeks of every school year reviewing last year’s forgotten lessons.
In a fit of nostalgia, some parents might feel bad about taking away the glory days of summer. In reality, by doing so they would be arming their children to excel at school and succeed in a difficult and highly competitive future job market.
To mirror the conditions of most work environments, summer vacations, like any time off, should come from the students’ time budgets.
Imposing long vacations on everyone is an outdated, misguided concept. Many people believe that back in the old days, kids would work the fields with their parents during this time, but this just wasn’t so, according to historians at Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum in Massachusetts that recreates life in New England circa the late-18th and early-19th centuries.
Families, including children, planted in spring and harvested in fall despite the school year. Urban families in the early 1800s often had an 11-month school year. This helped immigrant children learn English and also provided an ad-hoc day care while parents worked.
Times have changed. Students of all ages need more personal responsibility. If a student needs time off for a religious observation, it should be granted, but other students should be able to continue school during that time and use that opportunity to go further. The current state of affairs has the whole class moving at the speed of its slowest student.
The path to learning needs to be individualized. There should be a cafeteria system in which students can pursue basic academics along with personal areas of interest. Excellence would be rewarded, and problems could be addressed on a case-by-case basis by the teacher.
If certain students can afford to lose the time, they should go for it, but the process shouldn’t be slowed down for all.
Time away from traditional school settings can provide great assets, such as the values learned while working or the education that accompanies exploring other cultures or American heritage sites. These experiences should be interwoven with buffet-style education, instead of leaving kids at home to rot their minds for three months and expecting the United States to retain its position as a global leader and innovator. The future of the country depends on it.
Jason Olivero has received a bachelor’s in anthropology from the University of Florida and is pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.