Sunday, August 16, 2015

Summer School

Lately, my teenage daughter has been complaining that she isn't having much of a summer. I have a mixed reaction to this.

On the one hand, I want to say "Welcome to my world, princess." My work doesn't stop over July and August. In fact, many of my ad agency's clients want their marketing campaigns out in September, so we are typically extra busy at this time. If there does happen to be a lull, I don't enjoy it because I'm too worried about grownup things like income and revenue, mortgage, retirement and college savings.

On the other hand, I have to concede that my daughter has a point. With what felt like countless snow days (six in reality), she was still in school, finishing classes and taking final exams, until the bitter end of June. She started one of her jobs, counseling at an equestrian camp, the very next day. She's had horse shows nearly every weekend, some of them out of state. These are all good things, but it's been too much.

And, speaking of too much, what a perfect segue to the point of this post.

My daughter, and every other high school student I know, has too much summer homework.

She has to read Heart of Darkness for Honors English. (Not too long but a guaranteed snore-fest.) She has to read A Brilliant Solution by Carol Berkin and write a paper on it, plus analyze two essays on Locke and Hobbes for Civics. And, finally, she has to read and take copious notes on chapters of her larger-than-life AP Bio textbook.
We weren't exactly blindsided by the assignments. And, this is nothing new for her; in fact, I've written about this before. But it still boggles my mind. I went to a super competitive high school and an elite university. I can only remember one summer assignment from either distinguished institution.

We were asked to read the novel 1984 prior to starting college. We would be the class of 1984, so someone thought it would be a good choice and would give us a shared literary experience to discuss during freshman orientation week. I had already read it in ninth grade, but I dutifully re-read it (Can you say "geek?"). Apparently, I was in a distinct minority. I think just two of the ten kids in my orientation group had bothered to read it at all.

Today, most high schools assign work in an attempt to reverse what's referred to as the "summer brain drain." Teachers will tell you (and research and test scores support it) that students lose as much as six weeks of learning when they shut down for the year. So, much of every fall semester is taken up with re-teaching what was taught the previous spring. There is definitely a strong case for continued learning.

But, and I really want to type BUT here, just because something makes sense in theory doesn't mean it will play out in reality. Since when do teenagers automatically buy-in to what's good for them? Here are just some of the issues as I see them ...

Teenagers are excellent at procrastination. I think it's the very odd over-achiever who actually starts a summer assignment at the start of summer.

The assignments are long and dull and dry. My daughter and her peers would be far happier to pick up a book if it was actually interesting or entertaining.

There's virtually no support from the teachers. Don't get me wrong, each of my daughter's instructors has posted his or her email address and invited questions and comments from the students. But I'm guessing that very few (or none) of said students are taking them up on it.

Summer homework takes teens away from other important activities. A lot of teenagers, including my daughter, work or volunteer. With better weather and more discretionary time, the summer months should also be used for socializing and physical activity.

And, perhaps, most importantly ...
Year-round schoolwork means year-round stress. Even though my daughter still hasn't started her assignments, they've been on her mind. And, not in a good way. Junior year was stressful enough, believe me. 

A break would have been welcomed and deserved. By me, as well as by my daughter.

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