Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Inequality of Summer

I hope the kids about to be set free from school this week enjoy these two and a half months of summer bliss--because that extended time off may be going away. 

I'll admit that I have been a proponent of year-round school for some time.  The modern school calendar is still rooted in the agrarian schedule of the 19th and early 20th centuries--when large farm families that filled public schools were needed to help at home during the summer.  But how many kids are needed to help on today's mechanized, automated and corporate farms?  Here is Wisconsin, we've altered start dates in order to appease the tourism industry as well.

Summer vacation means teachers have to cram in a bunch of information and concepts before the end of the school year--and then to spend several weeks in the fall recapping what kids learned in the previous grade--but never used over the summer.  Continuous schooling reduces the need to offset "summer brain drain" and also teaches kids at an early age a work ethic of "be here every day".  But academics will not be the reason that public schools drop summer break.  Instead, year-round school will be instituted to ensure "social and economic equality".

The Sunday New York Times included a feature on the families that "cannot afford" to have their children anywhere but in school all year.  It details the single-parent and low-income households with no babysitters or daycare options who must now provide two more meals a day for their kids as well.  This is contrasted with the well-to-do families that can afford to have a parent stay at home with kids during the summer--or send them off to an arts, robotics or athletics camp for the summer--enriching their education as a time when poor kids are probably just wasting time watching TV or walking the streets.  And that is angle that will bring about year-round school in the US--it's required for "social justice". 

When I was a kid, Summer School was for kids that failed subjects and were falling behind their peers.  Then schools started charging for "enrichment courses" like art and foreign languages during the summer.  Eventually schools became summer soup kitchens--offering "feeding programs" where kids could still come to get two meals a day.  "Many of these kids are still dependent upon their school during the summer for basic services, so we may as well continue to teach them while they are here" will be the argument of administrators and teachers unions (who will of course expect higher wages for doing "more work").  You could just provide a reduced schedule of services for those low-income and underperforming students during the summer months--but that would create a "stigma" and possibly traumatize a child--therefore, ALL students will have to go ALL year.

It won't be long before kids in the high school production of Grease get to part where Sandy and Danny sing about "Summer Nights" and wonder "What the heck are they talking about?"

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