*On the evening news, I watched a segment about summer school. The benefit of classes year round, said the report, is that kids learn more in a shorter amount of time and thus leave the school system earlier. Summer school, it was said, keeps them out of trouble.
The down side, said a therapist interviewed, is that the amount of homework kids are assigned is stressing them out.
Nonsense, countered a well-to-do stay-at-home mom. “These kids,” she declared in her sound bite, “need something to do. Summer is for learning.”
I couldn’t agree more.
One summer of my childhood, I finally learned how to pop a wheelie on my silver stingray bicycle. I’d been working on it for weeks with little progress, and then one day it just happened.
During another magical summer, at Oklahoma City’s Washington Park, I learned how to swim.
Gazing up into the heavens on amazingly still, humid nights, I learned how to pick out the Big and Little Dipper and the one that holds a bow and arrow. I stayed out in our front yard with the neighborhood kids way past my school day bedtime. Summer is when I learned the divine order of sleeping late.
School all year. Some people take the J out of joy.
To be sure, a formal education is a gift. Indeed, many kids want to attend school all summer. They LIKE school. Nothing wrong with that.
But when I was a youngster, summer school was for kids to make up a flunking grade. Even then, the class lasted only half a day, and it wasn’t all summer.
It’s not like my summers without school didn’t include responsibility. Don Minnis and I took it upon ourselves to see that the snow cones at the candy shop down on Fourth Street were brain-freeze cold and that the lady didn’t skimp on the sweet Number 2 dye strawberry syrup that left our brown lips red.
It fell to us two spindly kids to make certain that all the little corner stores within our general neighborhood had penny candy in stock.
We gave a serious workout to whatever toy Wham-O had out on a given summer. Our rigorous studies revealed that Slip ‘n Slide was grossly misrepresented in its exciting TV commercials. Water Wiggle was only a little better.
When we weren’t making sure the Tastee Freez ice cream truck maintained its daily schedule, we tested the giant, stately oak trees along our beat for reliability in supplying sufficient shade against the unrelenting noonday sun.
These things had to be done; fearlessly, we took on the task. Self motivation–another invaluable lesson learned during the leisure of summer.
To take away a child’s summer is akin to the invention called the music video which, like a thief in the night, robs its viewer of the privilege of attaching their own images to a melody. The memories created during summer have to last a lifetime. They shouldn’t be remembrances of textbooks, but of sun-drenched wonder and unabashed fun.
And, discovery. One enchanting night in July, I kissed a girl for the first time. After that, nothing in my life would sound, look, taste or feel the same ever again, especially balmy summer nights.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].