In Defense of Summer
When I remember my childhood, I first think of summer; for summer reminds Americans that they are free.
I read a horrid little article this morning entitled How Summer is Making U.S. Kids Dumber and Fatter. The author, Peter Orszag, is apparently a big deal; not only is he a Vice President for Global Banking at Citigroup, but he is also the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama.
Mr. Orszag is very troubled by summer vacation. He cites “studies” that show that American children not only get dumber during their blissful summers away from the watchful eyes of teachers, but apparently the kids become porkers because government planners aren’t around to tell them to eat celery and do some deep knee-bends in gym class.
Like most nosy-parker control freaks, Mr. Orszag is not just complaining about the horrors of summer – he has a plan to fix summer. His plan? Pretty simple really. He wants to lengthen the school day and lengthen the school year. Mr. Orszag simply cannot sit idly by while kids frolic and play, without rigid instruction from responsible members of society, namely school teachers, counselors, and administrators.
Kids need to spend more time in the classroom, according to Orszag, in order to avoid dreaded “summer learning loss.”
Imagine a nation of children swimming, fishing, and playing with friends on joyful summer days – and each day they are forgetting the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite; kids enjoying popsicles and sunshine but not a thought of a scalene triangle; and the tragedy of afternoons of Wiffle Ball with friends but not a single discussion of Egyptian mummification techniques.
Mr. Orszag has it completely wrong.
There is no recession of knowledge in a child’s summer vacation. In fact, kids learn a lot of incredibly important things in summer time. They learn to catch bugs and climb trees. They get together with friends and form teams, make up games, and somehow kids figure out how to apply rules to those games, without umpires and most importantly, without meddling adults to govern everything.
Kids in summertime learn that sometimes the lawn needs mowing before they head off to the fishing hole. They learn to settle arguments, make a rope swing, ride a bike, and throw a curve ball. Some days, usually when it rains, they learn how to overcome boredom without the endless orchestration of school administrators, by reading a comic book.
Are those not worthwhile things to learn?
Mr. Orszag doesn’t think so. He’d like to see year round school – and of course large salary increases for teachers (as a former director of OMB, I’m sure he’s convinced himself that higher salaries and year round school will save taxpayers money). He’d like to see more organization; more programs; more rigid direction. He’d like to see children shepherded daily. No need for those kids to get an antiquated summer break. Mr. Orszag would much rather the institutions keep a sharp eye on the lazy American butter-balls and stifle them with more hours of diagraming sentences.
Summer and the State of Nature
John Locke in his Second Treatise on Government wrote, in the state of nature all men are “free to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature.” This is a bedrock principle of the American Way. That ultimately, individuals are free to act and interact without the oppressive coercion from others – particularly the coercion that comes from governments and tyrants.
Ultimately, what Mr. Orszag is peddling is coercion and control. He wants your kids’ summers. Why? Because he and his planners know better. They know exactly how to structure your kids’ lives. Your children don’t need to be free to explore the wonderful land of summer. They need to be in school – and they had best better listen! Because Mr. Orszag and his friends have a lot of important information these children need to accept and memorize.
Locke’s brilliant treatise was something I studied in college – but Locke’s principles on freedom I learned long ago on summer days far from the governance of school. Summer is a kid’s state of nature.
Let it always be so. Let our children have summers without structure in order to learn other important things. Allow them freedom to learn that they don’t always need an adult with a clip board and a whistle ordering their existence.
In his classic book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis writes of a sad, totalitarian world where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.”
Let us not have a world where it is always school time but never summer.
Note: Let me head off complaints that all kids do is play video games; we parents can fix that without destroying summer. Once summer is given to government – it’s gone forever.