I just finished reading a very good book called The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The author discusses some very interesting data that correlates with extreme success…indicating that simply hard work is NOT enough to raise a person to fame and wealth.
In one section of the book, the correlated data revolves around cultural and ethnic differences. The cultural difference that I’m focusing on within this blog post is the American concept of a summer break. These delicious three months “off’ can be traced back to our humble beginnings as an agricultural nation. It just made sense.
Now, however, there are those who disagree. According to the research presented, our poorest students do not make the gains in mathematics and, even more so, in reading that our middle-class and wealthy students make over summer break. And certainly, even these gains do not compare with the gains made throughout the school year by all students. The research actually shows that these students gain nothing—nor do they seem to lose.
Other cultures, particularly those that are out-performing our students, do not take time off for a summer break. In fact many countries require student to attend more days as well as longer days. The obvious question then becomes: Should we have our students spending more time in school?
I don’t think the answer to this question is as obvious as the author suggests.
Every culture, indeed every family, must decide the values that will be reinforced on a regular basis to raise the children to lead the next generation. Is the traditional American education at the top of this list?
Consider the case discussed by Mr. Gladwell within this book. A middle school student is accepted into a year-round school that requires her to attend from 7:30 a.m. to after 5:30 p.m. with 2-3 hours of homework before bed. The student described often goes to bed after 11:00 p.m. These students, however, have tremendous success—as defined by the American culture.
My question is: Where are they getting their values?
Do we really want the public education system raising our children? What responsibilities do parents have in the raising of these kids if they are actually seeing them only for a few hours on the weekends?
Some would argue that there are parents out there who just simply are not teaching their kids an ethical value system. Since they are not, the government must. There are no easy answers in a society that wants all children to have opportunities.
I, however, want my evenings, weekends, Christmas vacation, and, yes, summer break with my children. I want to raise them with a value system that corresponds to my religious beliefs. I want my students to experience the rewards of being successful—even if that has absolutely nothing to do with financial rewards.
Summer break provides me with an extended period of quality teaching time with my kids. Hmmm…I hope the school year doesn’t decrease our annual gains.