I was always very nervous on the first day of school. I remember sitting on the front steps with my backpack, waiting for my carpool to pull up, and having butterflies in my stomach and a lump in my throat. I had the feeling that when I got to school, everything would be different, that whatever place I’d carved out the year before would be gone. It’s funny, because I wasn’t a shy person, particularly, or someone who found school difficult or intimidating, but the transition back was terrifying.
American kids spend more time away from school in the summer than any other children in the world, so much time that it creates two separate modes of existence. There’s a lot of research that shows our summer breaks don’t suit our learning goals, that students practically lose half a year of understanding during the three months they spend away from school. Meanwhile, parents are more often than not both working, and the work days and weeks grow longer. Having to deal with school age kids at home for that length of time gets more and more difficult. Globalization challenges our exceptionalism, forces us to look at who we really are and not who we think we are. We aren’t, in most cases, farmers anymore. Nor do we, mostly, live in small towns. Summers aren’t about catching fireflies in a jar or roving around in feral packs with slingshots and bb guns. They aren’t even really a vacation.
In this week’s feature, administrators, teachers, and students say that creating better schools is about turning them into places people want to be, places to be curious, to learn real world skills, and to find inspiration, not just make grades. Globalization should, as it challenges us, also firm up our confidence in what we do well. Yeah, we need to get better at math and science and our teachers need to be accountable, but testing hasn’t accomplished that. Employers want people who can think critically, solve problems, and write well. You have to be turned on to learn those skills. We’ve always let ambition drive rigor, not fear. More than any time in history, the English language is a competitive advantage, our top-selling export and still the world’s lingua franca. But now you have to understand other languages and cultures to leverage it. Same game, changed.––Giles Morris