I’ve seen this before. Summer Vacation is once again under attack in the U.S.
There is no question that formal education is broken in the U.S. (To be fair, it isn’t so hot here in Canada either, but it IS considerably better here than there). Americans wonder why they keep slipping down the ranks when it comes to college enrollments, science scores, high school completion, and so on. Of course, the logical result of these things is that the U.S. is also loosing its superiority when it comes to science, technology, and engineering (some would say they already lost their superiority years some years ago, but Americans have a hard time admitting they are not the best at something that matters to them).
The answer to these problems does NOT lie in forcing kids to spend more time in school. I recall a discussion that went on in my former department when they decided to offer two 1st year programming streams: one for students who had prior programming experience and one for students with NO prior programming experience. Both would consist of 2 regular courses. Their answer to making sure those with no prior experience ended up in the same place as the others? Why, more lecture hours of course. As if talking at them for an extra hour or two a week is going make the difference. We already know that students will learn something, even if the teacher is lousy, which many of us have known for years (based on first-hand observation of our, shall we say, less than dedicated colleagues).
The answer lies in improving the quality of education. It means, among other things:
- giving teachers the time they need to prepare their lessons
- giving teachers the time they need to do professional development
- making sure the teachers actually know the subjects they teach
- making sure the kids that need help, get it
- making sure the better students get the enrichment they deserve
- making sure all the kids get a decent meal
- making sure kids don’t get shot in school
- making sure kids don’t even have to THINK about getting shot, or stabbed, or beaten up in school
….and so on. All of these things COST MONEY. Education is neither cheap, nor efficient. Contrary to the typical American sentiment, more and bigger is not better. When it’s done right, less is in fact more. Quality is more important than quantity.
Ultimately, one of the best investments a country can make in its own future, is to ensure that its population is well educated. It is well known that the three things a government needs to do to keep its population under control (read: oppressed) is to keep it sick, scared, and ignorant. It takes a government willing to trust its own people in order to create an environment where people are healthy, secure, and educated.
Back to summer vacation. Kids NEED downtime. It is essential for creativity and imagination, which in turn are essential for innovation. Those places where kids go to school almost all the time create good parrots, not good thinkers. Getting rid of summer vacation will have the net result of making things worse. It will stifle imaginations and drive many of your best students away.