Thursday, August 26, 2010

Betty's boys savor summer

Betty Kaiser

Josh chillin' at the pool
Betty’s boys savor summer

Time magazine recently published “The Case Against Summer Vacation,” in which David Von Drehle addressed summer learning loss and how it is (theoretically) causing us to fall behind other countries academically. My grandsons and I disagree. We know there is value in summer vacations.

According to the article, Education Secretary Arne Duncan views today’s school calendars as being old school, a holdover from not only the 19th century agrarian society but also mid-20th century Donna Reed-style parenting. Duncan is quoted as saying, “”Our children are no longer working in the fields. Mom isn’t waiting at home at 2:30 with a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. That just doesn’t happen in many American families anymore.”

The object is to give kids more hours in school and less summer play time. That point is well taken for some students but not all. Generations of students (including Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”) have been educated on a standard 6-hour school day with vacations and that includes the Einsteins and Bill Gates of the world. Is this generation less capable of learning what they need to know in the same time frame as those geniuses? I don’t think so!

Some California school districts already address what is perceived as a summer brain drain problem and routinely assign homework over the short vacation period. Reading and book reports are the most common assignments. As an avid reader, I say, challenge the kids to read for fun and save the reports for school time.

But hey, what do I know? I’m a behind-the-times senior citizen. So, I pooled the most trusted, reliable sources available, — my grandsons. The five boys range in age from 7 to 19 years of age and are the children of educated (and one educator) parents. They excel in school. And they unanimously look forward to a solid two months of summer vacation. Here’s what they had to say when I asked them if they would like shorter summer vacations:

Josh is an old soul in a seven-year old body and very articulate. He shook his little blond head and said, “No, I need time to relax and get away from homework and schedules.” Really, he said that.

Robby is 12 and his answer was accompanied by a disgusted sigh. “I think they’re short enough anyway. I’d rather have longer school days (add an hour) than shorter vacations.”

J.D., at 15, is an old-timer in the school system. He said, “They’ve shortened them already. We used to have three months when I was in Middle School!”

Matthew, 16, is very succinct: “Summer is waaaaaaaaay too short!” At 19, his brother Paul’s vacations are already virtually non-existent.

I found the article confusing and contradictory. “Dull summers take a steep toll,” the author said. He cited case after case of poorer kids falling behind in school and talked about the romance of summer as being a sham.

But ordinary middle class kids don’t feel that way. They are not the underprivileged students being addressed in the article but it seemed as if their progress was being ignored. Their education future would be linked with those who were on a different page and that isn’t fair.

I wished that the author had spent the summer at our house or in the many towns around the country where ordinary kids in ordinary families are enjoying family time. They aren’t bored at all.

Our three Kaiser grandsons and their parents just left after spending their annual summer vacation with us. I asked them to share with you how they spent their days. I think you’ll be surprised that these city kids happily put away their electronic toys and gadgets to have an Ozzie and Harriet summer experience: whittling, guitar playing, chicken fights at C.G. Lake, family baseball, watching movies and trying to beat grandpa at ‘Trouble.’

Their five responses had many things in common. The first thing that everyone appreciated was — sleep. They slept and took naps most days to recharge their batteries. Eating was also high on their list, testing grandmother’s ability to keep up with their voracious appetites. Another daily event was swimming in the lake every afternoon. Josh said, “We usually swim in the ocean but here the water is warm and there aren’t any waves. The lake is awesome.”

One day the guys had a “manly day.” It began at the Country Donut before moving on to the UO to check out the new athletic buildings. They were most impressed with Hayward Field. Avid athletes all, they appreciated the history, feel and appearance of a dedicated track stadium. Autzen Stadium was a drive-by so that John could beat his boys at put-put golf. After hamburgers and milkshakes, they checked out Summer’s Hot Rod Museum where they were dazzled by hot rods and muscle cars. They all agreed it was a great day.

Everyone loves Cottage Grove. Son John said, “We come here to relax in the peace and quiet. It’s somewhat like Mayberry, the stereotypical All-American town. The people here are genuine and have time to talk to you about a myriad of subjects. Sunday at church we heard a cool clarinet solo by Bob Dill, came home for mom’s brunch and took a nap.” Another great day.

Betsy, my daughter-in-law said “When we get to Oregon, we all stop and spend time together without the distractions of electronics or the demands of a ringing telephone. It’s such a drastic change to be able to slow down, visit, watch the boys run around, ride bikes and swim in the lake. Sometimes we did nothing! Family time is the most precious gift of all and the best summer vacations are here.

As the kids headed home, I realized that our time together had been spent eating, chatting, laughing, relaxing and playing. In other words, sharing summer. These intangibles are also life lessons. That’s why I will continue to advocate against the demise of summer vacations. Some things take time. They have to be caught. They can’t be taught.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.
Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel

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