We’re already four weeks into summer vacation and my children are off with their Mom on the annual few weeks at her family’s house at the Lake of the Ozarks. A few weeks where I am suddenly a bachelor and, as always, it’s a mixed bag of freedom and missing my minions.
It’s also a time for me to be able to think about how our lives are going, how they’re doing on their individual journeys towards adulthood and to generally assess the state of our nation and the world they’re heading towards.
And, as I have for many years, I am struck with how darn long summer vacation ends up being.
Let me state that differently: Summer vacation is too darn long.
These three month summer vacations are a pain for parents and a bit of a disaster for our children. American children have the least schooling annually of any of the industrialized nations and it’s really affecting our long term economic prospects, not to mention their ability to succeed in an increasingly global future.
Some data: There are 260 week days in a year. In England, 192 of those days are spent in school (that’s 73%), in Israel 216 of those days are spent in school (83%) and Japan’s at the top of the heap with 243 school days (93%, but that’s not quite right because Japanese children attend half-days of school on Saturdays).
In the USA? We’re at the bottom of all industrialized nations with a mere 180 school days annually (69%).
Look at those numbers differently and it means American school children spend 180 days in school and 185 days at home each year. Yup, they spend less days at school than they do on holiday. Bet you never realized that, did you?
We wonder why our economic future isn’t looking great and why it’s not uncommon for young adults to come to America from other countries and get jobs as scientists, researchers, engineers over locally grown talent? In 12 years of schooling an additional 20-30 days/year can add up to an entire additional year of schooling, a spare “13th grade”, and that can make quite a difference in overall academic achievement.
There’s another side to this argument too: summer break puts a tremendous burden on parents, either to find thing for their children to do or to pay for summer camps and other activities to keep the children occupied. Clearly three months of laying around, watching TV, playing video games and getting into mischief might sound like nirvana to our children — though most are bored after a week or two — but it’s a huge pain for parents who are stuck footing expensive camp bills, hosting other children on extended sleepovers or going on long trips. A month? Okay. Two months? Maybe. But three months? It’s just too long.
But wait, there’s more to the issue. The mythos around summer vacation is that it was due to rural school schedules and that the children would be helping on the farm in earlier, agrarian times. That might be a sweet vision of nostalgia, but it’s incorrect: The reason summer gets the big school break is due to more mundane urban reality: In the summer it’s hot and humid, and prior to widespread air conditioning, classrooms were beastly for children and a health hazard. A reason that, of course, is now moot.
Talk to teachers about the weeks they waste when school does finally start up again, the weeks of reviewing subjects and reminding students who still have their heads in the clouds about what they learned the previous year. It’s a sure bet that whatever’s covered in the last month or so of school will have to again be covered in the first 3-4 weeks of the next year after such a long break, so really that 180 days of school reduces further, to 159 actual teaching days. Out of 365. That’s not much, is it?
I’ve written previously about how us parents secretly hate summer vacation, but didn’t get into the academic side of the issue, because it’s a pretty grim picture. Our kids deserve a brighter future, a better chance to be among the smartest, most well-educated and ultimately most successful young adults of the future, the people creating our future. And our current school schedule isn’t offering that.
It’s time to change. Summer vacation is too long and the school year is woefully too short.