- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It’s hard to believe that school started yesterday for some students and some folks — guess who? — haven”t even been on a real vacation. It seems that summer school had barely ended before I had a chance to misplace my prescription sunglasses and had to head back to class to hit the books again.

Where did the summer go in workaholic Washington? I didn’t feel too alone when I read somewhere that more people are forgoing the annual weeklong respites this summer and opting for extended weekends instead. Even if we manage to go on vacation, studies indicate, we take our work with us.

Raise your hand if you”re guilty. I don”t know about you, but we have to have a high-speed computer connection in any vacation home we rent these days. Forget a private pool. I can”t remember how long it”s been since a screened-in porch and a hot tub were our “must-haves.”

Too much technology, you say? Talking to a harried friend the other day — someone else who hasn”t been able to tear herself away from work this summer — we teased each other about how hard we work to try to relax.

If adults are so wound up all the time, what about our over-scheduled children?

“Multitasking” is our 21st-century watchword. Far too many of us have become so busy trying to live three lives in one. Everything we do for our children or with them has to lead to a larger goal for their future. No such thing, for example, as learning for learning’s sake.

Still, I wonder if I”m not alone in wanting to reclaim summer, summers now shortened mainly by anxious educators trying to raise test scores. Why in the world do children need to go back to school during the dog days of August? What”s the rush?

I’m so glad Virginia etched into law that bygone tradition of ringing the school bells after Labor Day. A few years back, Virginia parents raised a ruckus about the trend toward the earlier school years that cut into their family vacations, reunions and enrichment activities such as summer camp. Remember fun-filled summer camp? Now camps have themes — computer camps, foreign-language camps and even weight-loss camps for adults — all designed with a serious mission in mind.

Truth be told, educators haven”t lengthened the school terms to prepare our children for their workaholic lifestyles; they just shifted the dates on the 180-day academic calendar from August to April or early May instead of September to June.

No one can provide a cogent reason for this cosmetic shift, although they will babble about getting a running start on the unimaginative, uninspiring curriculum developed to drill students mindless so they can become better scorers come the crucial standardized testing season.

I used to be a staunch advocate of year-round schooling because students tend to forget a lot of their lessons, not to mention their study habits, during what used to be the steamy summer recess. And every teacher knows it takes longer than they would like to review before they can get each new class ready to receive new material. But hopelessly longing for that elusive lazy August afternoon spent lounging in a hammock with an IPod, a copy of Coastal Living and a tall glass of sun tea, I”ve begun to rethink my stance.

Don”t get me wrong. I believe in lifelong learning and the value of a good education, especially for increasing earning potential. Yet even I realize the folly of trying to get students of any age to concentrate in claustrophobic classrooms when it”s 90-plus degrees outside.

Part of my lament is that I barely got to “kick it” with my goddaughter or my younger cousins this summer, mainly because I was in school myself, attempting to accelerate my own degree requirements.

Still, we tried to make up for lost time with a few stolen hours of “girlie gab” before I reluctantly pushed her to pack up — miniskirts and all — and head back to class in North Carolina early last week.

Do college administrators realize that the August start dates, which are getting earlier each year, can have an unintended economic effect on struggling students? My goddaughter was barely able to find a summer job to help defray the high cost of textbooks and all the accouterments a collegian needs before she had to quit it.

On the other hand, the summer-school class I was scheduled to teach was canceled along with three others, and I would wager the reason is because fewer students have the financial luxury of spending those short summer weeks in a classroom instead of behind a cash register or in a cafe kitchen when the demand for seasonal help is at its highest.

So much for summer musings. I was jolted into reality yesterday as I watched those cute kindergartners wearing new outfits and backpacks being dropped off by prideful parents in Prince George”s County.

August or not, I can”t ignore those welcome-back-to-school e-mails from my department chairman asking for my overdue syllabus and book order. Now, if I could only find my sunglasses.

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