*On a recent network evening news broadcast, I watched a segment about summer school. The benefit of summer classes, said the TV reporter’s voice-over, is that kids learn more in a shorter amount of time, and thus leave the school system earlier. And, summer school keeps them out of trouble.
The down side, the voice said, is that the amount of homework kids are assigned is stressing them out.
Nonsense, countered a well-dressed, well-to-do stay-at-home mom in a sound bite. “These kids,” she declared with an authoritative lilt, “need something to do. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean children have to stop learning.”
I couldn’t agree more.
It was a summer of my childhood that I finally learned how to pop a wheelie on my silver stingray bicycle. I’d been trying for weeks, and one day it just happened.
That’s not all I learned during summers. In the pool of Oklahoma City’s Washington Park, three lazy blocks from our house, I learned how to swim like a fish.
Gazing up into the heavens on still, humid nights, I learned how to pick out the Big and Little Dipper. We could stay outside in our front yard with the neighborhood kids way past my school day bedtime, because summer is when I also learned the divine joy of sleeping late and, aside from my chores, not having a damn thing to do or a place to be all day.
School year ’round. What a concept. How do you rob a kid of summer? These people take the J out of joy. What’s next? Giant fans to rid the sky of unsightly rainbows after a midday summer shower? Make it a crime to laugh so hard that your sides ache? Summer is the universe’s idea of a confection. If you could taste the four seasons, summer would melt in your mouth. If at all possible, every child deserves to know this flavor.
In the Stone Age of my youth, summer school was for kids to make up a flunking grade. And even then it didn’t last all summer. Class itself was only half a day.
To be sure, a formal education is paramount. The opportunity to learn is a gift. Youth should know the importance of moving forward. Academia as a great and rewarding adventure to be treasured. But summer is when a child learns the vital, dying art of doing, just occasionally, absolutely nothing.
A child’s seemingly endless days of summer can breed personal independence and nurture the ability to make wise use of time–time that, for once, is their own–and make valiant personal choices.
From wholesale daydreaming can emerge spectacular, breathtaking future reality.
It’s not like my own young summers didn’t bring responsibility. It was up to me and my best friend, Don Minnis, to see that the snow cones sold down on Fourth Street were ice cold and that the lady running the shop didn’t skimp on the dyed strawberry syrup that left our lips red.
It fell to us two spindly kids to make certain all the little corner stores within our general neighborhood had penny candy in stock. We tested the massive trees along our beat for reliability in supplying sufficient shade against the unrelenting noonday sun. We gave a serious workout to whatever toy Wham-O had out that summer. Our rigorous studies revealed Slip ‘n Slide, grossly misrepresented in those exciting TV commercials, wasn’t nearly as wide and long in person, but that Mr. Wiggles was true to his moniker.
These things and others like them had to be done, and we took the deed upon ourselves. Self motivation–another lesson to be learned during the leisure months of summer.
To take away a child’s summer is akin to the music video sapping a music lover’s privilege to concoct their own images to a melody. Memories created during summer have to last a lifetime. They need to be remembrances of wonder, discovery and sheer fun.
Summer is about biology you can’t learn in a book. One fateful summer I discovered the tender rapture of a girl’s soft lips pressed in earnest against mine.
After that, my summers would never be the same. The passion, butterflies, the euphoric giddiness, the cliffhanging expectation, the nagging yearn and the extraordinary exploration of something called love–most of us have been chasing the elusive sensation of that initial thrill ever since.
They don’t teach that kind of patience in a classroom.
Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]