by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper 8/2009
The “Back to School” sales are in full force, despite the face that kids were out of school for just a few weeks and the last Independence Day fireworks had barely fizzled.
Now, there are many that would argue that school should be a year-round event and that summer vacations tend to dull students. There is more than a grain of truth to that notion — after all, two months of brains baking in the sun tend to cloud even the sharpest minds, and September can be a difficult readjustment, sort of like a month of Mondays.
Many also argue that our students must be aggressively prepared for our rapidly changing, internet-savvy, seven-by-twenty-four world, and that the summer breaks can’t be afforded. These people — and there many of them — echo that business commercial a few years back that said, “Business as usual will put you out of business and nine to five isn’t good enough anymore.”
I don’t buy it. Back when I was a kid, we started getting summer assignments around 7th grade. My dad was very unhappy by the phone-directory sized book I brought home one June. This was Baron’s guide to the High School Aptitude tests, and the assignments were lengthy. Dad was one of the most intelligent people I ever met, was a voracious reader, and encouraged us to learn, but he was not happy I was assigned so much work over summer. Dad believed that kids deserved to rest and enjoy their summer, and well, be kids.
When I got to Boston College High School, I had to read a few books each summer. Some we were tested on, some not. Some were good reads, such as the excellent “Dove” by Robin Lee Graham or Mildred Pace’s “Wrapped for Eternity,” about the Egyptian mummies. I enjoyed both, and neither impacted my summer very much. But other assignments — Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Henry Fielding’s “Tom Jones” were long, lingering mind-numbing experiences. Great literature, yes, but interesting to a 15 years old guy in August? No way.
We were already assigned numerous remarkable books during the school year, many of which I’ve gone back and read years later. But the summer homework assignments — well, they always rubbed me the wrong way, almost as bad as the aforementioned “Back to School” sales in July. I could certainly have done without stressing about “The Odyssey” for the entire summer of 1979.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying kids shouldn’t read over the summer. The benefits of reading are too numerous to count. I’m simply trying to eliminate summer homework, and assignments that create worry and burden (and boredom).
I still remember the joy of summer, especially the golden days of August. I remember family vacations to North Conway, trips to Savin Hill Beach and Castle Island, and seemingly endless days of kickball, bike rides, Frisbee, staying up late, movies, dates, being out riding with my friends, and yes, reading books. Books I chose, books I read when I wanted to. It was freedom. Not every day was memorable and many were boring, but those days seemed downright magical. Then, and now.
Reading should be encouraged at all levels. It just should not be homework during the summer. Can’t we just let kids be kids and enjoy two precious months a year without summer homework?
Kids read during the summer anyway. I just believe — and I am not alone — that during the summer it should not be required as HOMEWORK.
Let’s get rid of the mandatory summer reading lists, summer homework, and projects. If the kids will be bored, and their minds get a little soft, that’s really okay. They’ll have the opportunity to play, to be with family and friends, to rest, to date, and just be kids. So many kids already have jobs that they have very little rest time as it is.
The summer memories that will be created, the family events, sports and daily life, the friendships formed and solidified — those will be the things kids will remember years from now. Those will be the events and experiences they will cherish.
Some of my best memories of my entire life took place during the summer. I’m betting that’s true for many people reading this column.
Let summer be a time of rest for kids. Kids do have stressful lives too, and the endless frenzied deadlines of the real world will be upon them soon enough. Come September, they’ll be back in school well rested and ready to learn.