Education only happens in school, does it??
Oh joy, oh bliss, it’s the northern hemisphere summer holidays. Well the joy is not universally felt, tis true. There are some Scrooge-like individuals who would have school holidays, if not banned, then severely limited. Michael Gove, surprise, surprise is one of them.
Like one of those old familiar songs that some people love and others just can’t bear to hear anymore, we have the refrain of holidays go on too long, are detrimental to the economy, to student learning; what are parents expected to do and teachers have too much time off – why should they be out and about for the summer? Well, in this part of the world it will most likely not be that hot anyway, and the economic arguments swings around wildly. We should also be aware that the summer holiday varies in length around the world and there are no hard and fast rules about how long the school year or the school day for that matter, should last. Check out the Wikipedia list of the varieties in summer vacation across the globe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_vacation
But there are some compelling reasons why students need a decent break – oh, yes and teachers too.
1. Institutional education – that is, education in school – is a pretty intense thing. Students spend their day being quite restricted, in terms of physical movement and activity. They have to sit in desks, concentrate, follow instructions, co-operate, think, problem solve, answer things, write answers/essays, read, discuss, engage, behave. They have about an hour for break and lunch altogether and the PE allocation for the week is about 2 hours – give or take, depending on the school. They are then expected to do homework – 1-3 hours a night depending on school and age; and there’s often after school classes, commitments etc. The normal educational week is a bit full. If you’re a student who’s doing it right, there’s not a lot of time to just be, to hang out, do what you might like to do.
2. Social life and interactions at school can also be intense. Children learn how to become adults at school (as well as at home, we hope) through forming friendships with peers, working in groups and teams in class, and getting on with their teachers and other adults in the school. But friendships are very tricky things – bullying is endemic in many schools and all some children want is to be away from school and their ‘friends’ for as long as possible – being free of them on a daily basis can help students to be free in the social net-working sphere too (can’t see them, can’t worry about them or feel the need to check out what’s being said). The long break gives children the opportunity to hang out with other kids, family members; kids who have the same interests as them but not at the same school – mercifully. Time away from a group that is not on your side is very necessary for the child to regain their sense of self, bolster their defences and enable them to return to school empowered to ignore those who seek to damage them and enable them to make new friends.
3. There is more family time. Even if mum and/or dad are still at work, then the compulsion for homework is not there – evenings can be more family oriented, as can weekends. Small trips can happen, even if a big holiday can’t. There’s no excuse not to have dinner together, or to stack the dishwasher, or to cook. Domestic skills can be learnt – cleaning, mowing, sewing, cooking. People can learn how to talk to each other, how to interact on topics other than homework or detentions, or GCSE’s! Take school out of the equation for a while and a lot of family tension evaporates. Families need this, especially for the key years of GCSE’s and A levels, when teenage hormones are at their worst.
4. Students can read and read and read. They can read books that have nothing to do with subjects at school. This is central to my mind, in terms of broadening the mind, knowing more, being able to make connections and learn more. The school year is so busy and crammed with the need to assess and prepare for exams that there is precious little time for recreational reading, reading that truly enriches a student’s life and the chance to talk about books for the joy of it, not so we understand them to write an essay on them or refer to in the exam. No, summer should be for reading, widely, eclectically and just for pleasure. And yes, for watching interesting and well made films, as well as going to performances.
5. Students can indulge their interests in other areas. This is where music and art and other special interests can be indulged through the range of courses on offer around the place. Here students can play with people as interested as them in making better music, in increasing their mastery of the piano, the saxophone, the flute – they can spend a whole day, a week even, just playing music. Or doing Art. Or going on a sporting camp. I guess, the equivalent of the US Summer Camp idea. Longer holidays allow for intense explorations of areas of interest and passion that normal term time and short breaks do not allow.
6. Travel, of course, for those lucky enough to be able to take off. A long holiday means you can go anywhere. In Australia it means you can get to Europe and justify the horrendous price of the air-fares by spending 5-6 weeks on the Continent. It means you can camp, back-pack; stay somewhere as a traveler, not a tourist, and get to know the place. You get to learn about the place, the people as well as yourself. And traveling with others. It is one of the truths of life – travel broadens the mind. You learn when traveling – all sorts of amazing and interesting and incidental things.
7. Work. The long vacations are ideal times for students – usually at the end of high school, or on the way through if need be – to work and make some money, either to help out at home, to buy themselves something special, to travel or to save for Uni. Real work, be it at Maccas, picking fruit, working in someone’s office, is real education. You can’t substitute the work place for teaching young people what the expectations about presentation, punctuality, following instructions, doing the work as set.
8. Re-charge your own batteries. Holidays are about relaxing, recreation and re-charging so you are ready to face the rigours of the new year, of the next step up in expectations. Students need time to clear out their head from the old year, get rid of the rubbish that was collected along the way. Then lock in what was good and prepare the field for the new sewing, for the new seeds of wisdom for the coming year. In order to grow children need to rest as well as play. We all learn at different paces, we find different things to be important; we learn in different ways. We all need to play, to be unrestricted and unfettered by the school day. For some that means being physical, for some social, for some intellectual, for most teenagers, it means a great deal of sleep.
So perhaps, what falls away in the long break is some of the silliness learnt in school? Perhaps what slips into the child on their long – not so idle – break is the wonder of the world, of education and learning outside the rigid four walls of a school? And then we ruin it all by expecting them to remember things that they’ll only ever use at school, anyway.
We kid ourselves if we believe the only things worth learning are learnt at school. That takes away from the wonder of the world, of us all being teachers, of children being their own teachers; of the rest of us pursuing learning long after school is over. To believe we only learn in school is to give ridiculous amounts of power to teachers, and to discredit the individual’s own journey to knowledge and understanding about themselves and the world, and what is worth knowing.