Don't take summer away

Mark Miller

September 15, 1993|By Mark Miller

IT'S mid-September, summer's nearly over and the kids are back in school.

I remember being a kid, remember the euphoria of that last school day in mid-June, when summer was a golden carpet stretching as far as young eyes could see. And I remember, too, the depression of that final day of summer, the day the carpet did end and nine months of aggravating regimentation lay ahead.

My childhood is long gone, and from what I've been hearing lately, I'm glad of it. Gov. William Donald Schaefer is moving fast on his proposal to convert Maryland schools to year-round schedules. He says spreading the 180-day school year through 12 months instead of 10 is a more efficient (read less costly) way of using school buildings, especially in light of a projected 15 percent increase in statewide enrollment (much higher in some subdivisions) over the next 10 years.

Other supporters of year-round schools say they will help American students catch up with their European and Asian counterparts, whose school year is up to 40 days longer.

I say these people want to take summer away.

My daughter Jackie, a near straight-A student who just entered the fifth grade at a public school in Montgomery County, agrees. She looks forward to summer and all its pleasures: camp and field trips and swimming; homework-free nights catching fireflies, telephoning friends, staying up late.

Sure, she loves to learn. She looks forward to the challenges of math and science, history and social studies. But she loves to play, too, and, as do most kids, she embraces the summer break as she would a good friend.

Summer is what childhood is all about, or should be: a magical, carefree time of doing what only kids can do for as long as they can do it without guilt, without puritanical adults urging them to devote leisure to "higher" purposes. Take summer away from kids, and you take part of their childhood with it.

But sentiment aside, summer break is just plain healthy. It invigorates and replenishes and makes room for learning and discovery outside the classroom.

Extend the school day an hour or two. Hire better teachers. Require competency tests for teachers and students. Strengthen the curriculum for all students. Explore various teaching methods. Try everything and anything to improve kids' academic performance.

But for crying out loud -- and I would cry out loud if I were threatened with the loss of my summer -- leave the June, July and August school break intact and let the kids be kids for those 11 or 12 weeks.

It's the least we can do to preserve childhood's most cherished season.

Mark Miller writes from Baltimore.

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