Lamenting the End of Summer… Or Not

I must begin this post with a confession: I love the summer and everything about it. I love simmering days lolling on the beach, long evenings on the porch sipping tangy lemonade, early mornings playing tennis as the heat of the day starts to build and cooling off later at an outdoor pool. Most of all, I relish that invigorating feeling of relaxation and rejuvenation that floats effortlessly through the tepid air. To me, summer is far more than a season—it is hope fulfilled.

I suspect many of you feel the same, and so why I do feel some shame in admitting this very human longing? Well, it is simple. This attitude toward summer is as much a cultural construction as it is a function of the warmer weather. Those who can enjoy summer’s slower pace are those who have access to activities and resources that derive value from that shift in the daily routines of life. But there are millions of Americans for whom summer is instead a time of struggle against the heat and countless hours with little to do. Children in poverty feel this potential emptiness most acutely, for when the school year ends, there is often nothing to take its place. For them, summer is less about renewal and more about boredom and lost opportunity.

So, because I know how much schooling in America is organized in a way that no longer serves all children well, and because I know that the long summer break, specifically, can be so detrimental to the learning careers of disadvantaged children, I do feel a certain amount of guilt that I want to preserve the cultural institution of summer as a distinctive break from the ordinary, a break that includes one from formal schooling. Indeed, I sometimes feel as a divided self – on the one hand seeking to hold on to the languid days of summer that I grew up with and continue to enjoy today, but, on the other, promoting ways for schools to reorganize themselves to do away with this cultural artifact that undercuts our educational goals and, as some research suggests, is the primary driver of a widening achievement gap.

How to reconcile? I don’t have an easy answer, honestly, but I can say that as much as it brings me pleasure to think about (and experience) an “old-fashioned” summer, I’m even more heartened to see the spreading success of schools that, frankly, have had the courage to buck the norm. One recent account of the constructive value of year-round schooling—an approach to organizing the school year with more evenly spaced breaks throughout the year and, thus, eliminating the long summer disruption—comes in School Administrator magazine. In this article, Superintendent Joshua Talison of Beecher Community School District in Michigan sums up what a growing number of districts have seen, “At first we had an undercurrent of people not wanting to try it because it was something new. Now, the staff and students love it, and the district would never go back…. It’s been the best thing we’ve ever done for my at-risk population, and we’re seeing the results.”

As this telling makes clear, students and parents who have the opportunity to benefit from a school schedule that takes into account the real learning and life needs of its population is not an imposition or threat to their way of life. Instead, spending much of the summer in school is, for them, an overwhelmingly positive, rejuvenating experience. Indeed, year-round schooling might just be their own version of hope fulfilled. And, after all, isn’t that the real purpose of education?