Jeff Smink's New York Times essay, ?This is Your Brain on Summer,? about summer learning loss, makes me think of my childhood summers in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, where I am now vacationing. ?Our summers then (a few decades ago) began in late May, when we were let out of school to help bring in the local strawberry crop.? I can't recall if there was an age limit, but seven-years-old was not too early to begin your summer job, especially if you had older brothers and sisters to lift you aboard the flatbed trucks (or the idled yellow school buses chartered by some of the farmers). ?It helped that some of the same people who worked in the schools were there to chaperone our endeavors -- these were field trips with a purpose. Our mother was up at 4:30, making sack lunches, would wake us at 5, feed us our Cheerios or pancakes, and hot chocolate, and hustle us out the door by 5:30 to meet the truck (or bus), a half mile away. ?We worked the fields, generally, four to six hours a day, four or five days a week for four to six weeks.? We had fun ? and made some money. After the strawberries were harvested, the taller kids among us ? those who could reach five foot high ? would help bring in the string bean crop.? That took you through August. ?Back to school in September.
Smink, the vice president for policy for the National Summer Learning Association, is right to worry that many children, especially low income ones, ?lose? reading and math skills over the summer, and I'm sure us berry- and bean-pickers lost ground to somebody somewhere as we brought in the harvest. But I wouldn't trade places with today's crop of Tiger Mom kids for all the tea in China!? I don't want to sound like David Brooks here, but it is too bad we have so narrowed our views of education that it can't include something other than reading or math "skills."? Sleepovers?? Berry-picking?? Why not?
And tagging the ?American ideal of lazy summers filled with fun? as the culprit for this learning loss is misguided.? In fact, the last time I checked, most American workers had fewer paid vacation days than workers in other nations.? We work hard in America.? Most of us. What we don't do is educate our kids when we have them in the classroom.? Worrying about lazy summer dreams -- or even the end of the agricultural roots for long summer school holidays -- doesn't help get to the source of the summer learning loss problem, which is much the same as the loss incurred by tens of thousands of children during the regular school year. ?Winter, summer, spring, and fall: we keep blaming the victims instead of fixing our curriculum and instructional practices.
I am not against summer ?enrichment? programs ? ?good summer programs with individualized instruction, parental involvement and small classes,? as Smink describes the need.? But doesn't my berry-picking have it all?? And if we don't teach reading, writing, and 'rithmetic during the regular school year, how can we expect to do it in July and August?
--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow