Christmas or Winter Break. Spring Break. Holidays off. “Teachers’ Inservice” days. And, last but not least, the mother of all vacations: the Summer Vacation.
These are the hours that students find themselves enjoying as they receive their education. But if the true role of education is to prepare students for the world ahead – a world in which there are no summer vacations unless you’re either extremely rich or go back to school in the form of a teacher – why are things this way? If educating children is as important as we all know it is, why are do students get so much danged time off?
If the rest of the civilized world doesn’t get to enjoy such a time-friendly schedule, perhaps it’s time we start wondering why students – who are training for the civilized world – and teachers both get to enjoy so much time off.
Summer Vacation: What Gives?
Anybody who’s familiar with the U.S. school system will take one glimpse at a regular class schedule and notice a gigantic black hole in the middle of it: there is no work in the summer! For the three hottest months of the year, students and teachers are not required to work, study, do homework – heck, they’re not required to do anything at all.
Why does that gaping hole exist?
Originally, many children in the 19th century were actually let out during Spring and Fall (planting and harvesting seasons, respectively) in order to help back at the house. This was especially true in rural settings – far different from the more regular, year-round schedule of children who were attending schools in cities.
Eventually, a merger was proposed: unify the school calendar in order to make sure that everyone is receiving the same amount of education. The obvious choice for a long vacation? Summer, when the sun is out and the edge of the spring and autumn plant/harvest seasons are still somewhat met. That tradition has carried on over 150 years until the present day.
Of course, that begs the question: why does this schedule still exist? It’s apparent that the tradition is around still simply because it is a tradition, and that so much has already been invested in the summer vacation system that it would be difficult to find enough support for changing the traditional school year. Summer vacation is, in fact, deeply embedded. After all, if your job had a summer vacation every year, would you take it?
Other Days Off
Of course, while summer vacation counts for most of the days through which students chalk up their free time, it’s worth noting that most school years are in fact about 180 days – or less than half of a year. This means that students get a lot of time off (admittedly, more than teachers do) even in the intervening periods in which they’re actually attending school.
When you take weekends out of the equation, you’re left wondering what kind of vacation days might happen during the weekdays. There are the obvious holidays, of course. But many schools also schedule a number of free days in which there are no national holidays taking place. Many times these happen because of teacher conferences, teacher “in-service” days, or other days related to school protocol.
While teachers do not often get the day “off” on these days, the students themselves do – after all, there is no one to teach them – and that leaves us with the question: what if students simply had to go to school more?
Would it really be so wrong?
Getting Students in School More
The central premise that education is important for the development of children as they grow into adults would not be refuted by anyone except on the fringes of political belief systems. Yet for how important many supporters of a nationalized education system claim education is, they continue to support a system that has children in school for less than half of the year.
Children are not like adults, of course, and so the argument could be made that they simply need a break. But it is precisely the rigors of a more involved education system that could produce better results for the children – and, in fact, many people blame the current amount of school days for American children for their inability to compete with student scores around the world.
In South Korea, for example, summer vacation starts in July and ends in August, just about six weeks or so of total summer vacation, or about half of the length of summer vacation in the United States. In Scotland, summer vacation runs about the same duration over approximately the same period of the year.
Since few people would agree that Scotland’s children are suffering needlessly as a result of a longer school year, it’s apparent that having a longer one in the United States would not be tantamount to child labor. In fact, when giving children days off, there may be a point of diminishing returns in which they are overly rested and under-challenged. Fostering this kind of climate in an education system invites stagnation and an overall lack of growth.
Is More Discipline Needed?
While American adult workers are among the hardest working in the world – with fewer days off than many of their European counterparts – it’s noteworthy that American students do not tackle nearly as arduous a schedule. Perhaps both ends of the spectrum need to find a better balance, with children being more challenged during the year and more adults being able to receive more vacation days to relieve the constant stresses of their jobs.
Since the role of education is to prepare children for adulthood – and for American students, this represents an American adulthood – it’s clear that there’s additional room for more school hours, more progress, more challenge, and ultimately more growth for our kids.
If the education system is going to improve, it needs to challenge old paradigms – such as those from the 19th century – and discover just how strong kids can become.