Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ready to Grow Young Again

It is almost incomprehensible (but as they say "If I had $1.00 for every thing that I was unable to comprehend...") that today heralds the arrival of the final full week of the Summer of Aught-Nine. We are but eight short days removed from September and while I shall concede the point to all of you "it is summer right up until the Autumnal Equinox" purists out there (and you know who you are) as to when Autumn officially begins on the calendar, for any number of school-age kids in these United States it is either in mid-death rattle or already consigned to the scrap heap of history.

I read the Boulder Daily Camera on-line daily and I saw the item in the paper this week regarding the fact that the Boulder Valley School District has already started its academic year - at least in its elementary schools. For years we have all heard the lament about the "dumbing down" of America and how our school-age kids are not keeping up with their European and Asian counterparts. I see far fewer articles that address the question whether that has always been the case - whether a generation or two ago when those of us who now occupy full-time positions in the adult world were the ones with the freshly pressed clothes and brand spanking new Buster Browns - were also lagging behind our fellow madmen across the water.

I know not the answer to that question: whether American kids today are doing nothing more or less than treading water in the pool of international academia in the same manner as their moms/dads did a generation ago and in the same manner as grandpa/grandma did a generation before that or whether as time has gone by they have fallen further and further behind. I suspect that somewhere along the line, some forward-thinking administrator (that's what we call sarcasm boy and girls for those of you who have not yet gotten to that point in your English studies), having determined that American kids were not keeping up also determined that the root of that problem must be the kids themselves - they simply are not working hard enough.

Whether any empirical data existed to support such a conclusion matters little - in the larger scheme of things. What matters far more is that once we identify the cause of the problem we can fix it. And, of course, we can take credit for having fixed it. In my experience it seems to be the latter that takes on greater significance as time passes with solving a problem running a distant second to being able to claim credit for having solved it.

Unless and until someone points to data - a generation from now - that documents an uptick in our kids' ability to compete with their international colleagues that is tied in to the nationwide epidemic of starting the new school year 2/3 of the way through August, I remain unconvinced that it is necessary to start the academic campaign for 1st through 12th graders two to three weeks before Labor Day.

As a kid, I embraced the waning days of summer at Harvey's Lake. As the final days of August are peeled away from the calendar, you usually catch a day or two in which you can see what is coming in September and October - a day in which the mercury does not rise to inferno and the air is not quite as thick as usual so you can only breathe it, you cannot chew it as well. When I was a boy, those days at the Lake culminated annually in the Labor Day Regatta. A number of the Lake's residents would join their motor boats together and cruise all around the Lake one final time before moving to a spot in its center and kissing the summer goodbye in a display of fireworks.

Once upon time it seems we had a bit more faith in the power of a 3-minute record than we presently do. A bit more faith in the power of a child's imagination and self-motivation. Perhaps we should find our way back to there, back to the time when we realized that just because we were not sitting inside of an oven masquerading as a classroom on the 20th of August did not mean we were not learning anything. Back to a time when the notion of working smarter trumped working harder as the credo for teaching our children.

And back to a time when August was a summer month and not some half-assed hybrid that signaled the first day of school. If as a parent it is our goal that each of our children lives a long, healthy life then it follows logically that we anticipate they shall spend most of that time as an adult.

What is wrong with allowing them to have a couple of more weeks each summer to enjoy being kids?

-AK

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