For many students, like my sons, today is the last day of school, an event they look forward to with immense excitement. For many parents, like me, today is the first day of summer break, an event I look forward to with equal dread. As I scroll through week after week in Google Calendar, sheer panic sets in. So many dead weeks to fill, so many camps to register for, so much child care to arrange.
Which brings me to my point: it’s time to get rid of summer vacation. It’s hell on parents. Sure, those months of sun-dappled freedom were something we adults look back on with fondness. At least I do. I went to camp and spent long afternoons in agenda-less hanging out. It was salutary.
But now with two kids of my own, it’s literal hell. From a pure parental perspective, summer is a logistical nightmare — not to mention really fucking expensive.
So far, to cover the three months for which the Department of Education has abdicated responsibility, we’ve cobbled together a few week-long day camps, used most of my vacation days, and recruited my mother-in-law to cover. But between Circus Camp, Little Ninjas, Battlelab, and some shit called Nature Days, where you basically just leave your kid in the park minimally supervised and get charged hundreds of dollars a day for it, it’s costly. The high cost of these activities means there’ll be no family vacation this summer either. My family is by no means alone: According to a recent poll, one-quarter of American families, lack the resources for a summer vacation.
There are two reasons given for the persistence of summer break. Both are obsolete. The first has to do with the idea that children are meant to work in the fields during the summer. Fields, ha! We lost agrarianism long before we lost manufacturing and now both are gone. The only fields my kids see now are autocompleted and have to do with signing up for Cat Sims. The second is that children can’t learn without air conditioning. My answer to that is, yes, but there’s air conditioning.
Meanwhile, arguments against summer vacation, reverting to a so-called Year Round Calendar are compelling. According to Charles Ballinger, the executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education – who I don’t know, might be a little biased but still – “There is a disconnect between the way that students learn and forget and the currently-used school calendar, which has little relationship to that understanding.”
The three-month period of off time leads to summer lag or summer fade, a phenomenon noted by Harris Cooper in the 1996 article The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review, are real. “As much as three months of academic setback can occur per grade level,” noted researcher James Pederson. This phenomenon is most pronounced in groups from lower socio-economic groups, so it is almost like a regressive educational tax.
We, as Americans, bemoan our lackluster educational performance as compared to the rest of the world. But then like a bunch of tomfools, we still give our kids three months off while countries like Japan, China, and the Netherlands — which don’t have cripplingly long breaks — sail by us. Could this bald-faced stupidity be, I wonder, the long-tail effect of generations of summer break? Perhaps.
But look, I’m an open-minded guy, not a killjoy at all. My solution is simple: Either keep my kids in school year round or give everyone – adults included – the summer off too. Let us spend time with our children instead of paying to have them spend time with someone else.