Saturday, February 28, 2009

What I Learned on Summer Vacation.

How to catch frogs. (By watching my brothers do it, and then running away when they tried to touch me with them.) That the north sides of trees and rocks have moss on them. How to build a fort. How to capture the flag. That crayfish lived in the crick behind the house. How not to make a profit at the lemonade stand. How to make a profit at a carnival my best friend and I planned for my backyard. What giving to a cause felt like. (We donated half the proceeds to the MS foundation.) How to make compost. How to grow impatiens from seed, and then impatiently wait for them to sprout seed pods we could pop. That those “frogs” were actually toads, and couldn’t swim so well. That a snake can be eating a frog [toad] while it is still croaking and alive. (Freaky. I think I might have cried.)

How to take pictures. Fill water balloons without getting blisters on my fingers. How to find those little crabs that burrow in the sand after the wave washes up on shore. What happens when you hit your neighbor with a large stick because he snuck in and destroyed your fort.

That some people are mean. And some aren’t. And I’d rather spend time with the ones who are nice, and make you laugh.

How to write a play. And pretend. How to swing on vines. How far we could ride our bikes. How many times I could fall and break open the same wounds on my knees. How to grow a vegetable garden, and not get too upset when most of it died. That no matter how hard I try, I can’t catch a rabbit.

One of the best things I learned on summer vacation is that if you go back to the woods with a blanket, your brothers and sister, and some suntan lotion, spread that lotion around the blanket to “attract the animals”, and sit quietly, a deer will come right up to you. So close you could touch. And stay there. Until your mom yells for dinner, you don’t answer, and she gets louder.

We need to rethink education in this country. Most of us know that. Some have suggested year round, or at least longer-year, schools. If, by that, they mean to make the kids what they do now the whole damn year, well, I can’t think of a worse idea. Some of the research supports it. Some doesn’t. Most measure “learning” in reading and math anyway, so what the hell do they know what I learned about crayfish and deer on those bubble tests. Not much.

But I’ve seen how cramped the style of learning has become. Teach to the test, get them up to standards. Building time for exploration and inquiry and critical thought is most definitely possible, but it takes work and I’ve seen too many who either don’t have the will to do it or the knowledge to know how.

I’d like to start with summer. Free from standardized tests, curriculum standards, and walls. Almost like we could start from scratch. I don’t want to take away that freedom and joy of summer. But then, not all kids today get that time. They stay inside, playing video games, or watching TV, which both have their place, but have nothing on the woods. Why can’t we create a summer school that provides that? Opportunities for kids to explore their interests and be hands-on and drive learning.

Only let’s not call it school. School’s got a bad rap in kid circles. Call it a club, or a guild, or whatever. Take the involuntary connotation out of it.

Take high school. Kids can sign up for the clubs of their choice during the year. Upper classes get first pick. They can choose from say, Photography Club and Biology Club and the Guild of Naturalists and the Junior Archaeologists and the Music Club [only more types of music, let the kids pick, have a garage band if it suits their fancy], and Art and History and Genealogy and Drama and Anthro and Activism and Business Club and whatever. I could keep going. You get the idea.

Almost every day, either when I’m dropping Jack off at school or on my way to my own, I hear this song. I can’t help but think someone’s trying to tell me something.

*Cross posted at Annals of the Hive.* Image by Flickr User adwriter, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic.

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