The issue of summer learning and “student achievement” has popped back up in the news. Yesterday, President Obama gave an interview and said he favored lengthening the school year (and of course, shortening the summer break from school). He suggested American kids were falling behind because other developed countries go to school more of the year—the assumption here being we all would be smarter and achieve more if we stayed in school for more classroom learning.
Apparently quoting his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, Mr. Obama also cited studies showing students “losing what they learned” after taking the summer off, with the effects being particularly significant for poorer children who don’t have opportunities to learn when away from school. “A longer school year makes sense,” he concluded. Here’s an article where you can read more and see the video.
Of course, it’s impossible to convey the full complexity of this issue in a 30-second answer, and while easily debatable, it’s clear that making a “longer school year” the centerpiece of education reform is a direct threat to the American tradition of summer camp. The American Camp Association was quick to say as much and question the President’s opinion. According to the ACA, children receive crucial educational benefits from their experiences at camp; they learn things they can’t learn at school, and if we are concerned with educating the “whole child” we shouldn’t extend classroom learning, but instead broaden the opportunities for all children to benefit from camps and other summer experiential programs.
Many questions are yet to be answered. Should we model our school calendar on the values and assumptions of other countries and cultures? Should we sacrifice the benefits of non-classroom learning that can occur in the summer for the enhanced academic/intellectual learning gained from more school time? Do we really value science knowledge over resilient self-esteem, and mathematics over caring, compassion and teamwork? Could the expense of extending the school year be better applied to fund summer camps and experiential outdoor programs?
In education reform, let’s not be too quick to adopt this kind of simple solution that carries too many negative consequences for our children. Instead, let’s be creative with the whole child in mind. Let’s start by recognizing “multiple intelligences,” and from there seek to encourage every child to explore all of their talents and hidden abilities. Let’s remember that education is so much more than what school provides.