Swickard: Harming students with summer vacation

© 2017 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.   If we know allowing academic skills to go unused causes those skills to atrophy, why have three-month summer vacations in public schools? And, why is there the notion that after high school graduation people don’t need to use their academic skills to retain them?
            The reason some high school graduates cannot read, write coherently or do math to an adequate level is not because they haven’t been taught these skills. Rather, it is that the students have allowed their academic skills to degenerate by not using those skills.
            The students are victims of the gap between being able to use a skill and the subsequent loss of the skill. If a skill such as writing or math is not used in a certain amount of time it will be lost. Some lose their skills slowly, but everyone will lose their skills if enough time passes without the skills being used.
            Summer vacations are harmful to students since most do not continue to use their academic skills, in fact, most do not open a book the entire vacation. When the students come back to school, the first two months are getting back to where the students were before the summer vacation. What a waste of academic time.
            The benefits of three months off are: janitors can leisurely wax floors, teachers get summer jobs or return to college and parents can send the kids to relatives. Students work on their tans, play video games late at night and sleep until noon.
            The three months off looks like everyone gets what they want. In the short term that is true, but the tragedy is that in the long term, students are short changed their proper education by these summer vacations.
            At high school graduation, students are told in glowing terms that they have achieved a great wisdom. They are finished developing their skills and no longer have to use these skills regularly. Many high school graduates believe those graduation speeches.
            The truth is they will achieve wisdom when their kids graduate from high school and not before. Their high school skills have a shelf life, like bread has a shelf life. They must use the skills regularly to retain those skills. If, at age twenty-five, the former students lack skills, most often these skills were lost from lack of use rather than never having been developed.
            Students must use their academic skills during their days in school and during the rest of their life. Summer vacations are one of the biggest threats to their ability to progress in school. It isn’t the vacation per se that harms the student, it is any time that months pass without the person using their academic skills.
            When that happens some people ask, “Why didn’t those darn schools teach them anything?” The answer doesn’t matter. Whether they had those academic skills and then lost them for lack of use or never had those skills, it’s all the same in the end.
            They do not have those skills.