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July 10, 2013

The summer schooling of a slacker mom

By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor 

Summer got off to such a promising start.

The sun was dappling ... dappling I tell you! We lounged, poolside, at a 7-year-old’s birthday party; the first Sunday after school let out. Parents sipped lemonade, children howled as they bounded into the sparkling water. I was so joyful. And why not? For the next 2.5 months: no homework! Goodbye, for now, to the grind of getting kids to bed at 8 pm and up at 6:30 am! I was feeling so relaxed, so relieved … until, without warning, a dark cloud eclipsed my bright, sunshiny day.


School's out for ... summer school

“Oh yes, both our girls are starting summer school on Monday for eight weeks.”

“Summer school?” I muttered, trying to stifle any hint of the parental Molotov cocktail of envy, confusion, and anxiety this father’s comment stirred in me. I did a mental inventory of the spreadsheets I’d created for my two children’s summers: sleep-away circus camp, endangered sea animal camp, bike riding camp, cooking camp, and, so they can relax after a stressful school year, a few restorative weeks of free time (aka doing nothing ) at home. My self-recrimination stress level dropped a little when I reasoned that both were continuing their music lessons – piano for my teenage son, violin for my daughter. (Ha ha ha, Amy Chua!) Plus, my second grader is doing a week of science camp. Take that, you showboating parents: I’m pushing my daughter in STEM!

Perhaps picking up on my defensiveness, the father went on, almost apologetically explaining why he was making sure his daughters spend precious vacation months improving their reading and math skills, while my kids will be juggling and making flan. “We have to, really,” added the father who, like his wife, is from Mexico. He explained that since the girls are bilingual, school - particularly in the early years - can be especially challenging. Plus, as good as our school is, he said, it really isn’t preparing them well enough.

I groped for a hostile comeback – What's next, SATs training for 4-year-olds?... We value creativity in our house. … I guess can't kids be kids anymore when they're in training to be corporate drones but the truth is that their high standards have put an uncomfortable spotlight on my slacker standards.

Attack of the summer school parents

Indeed, this seems to be happening a lot lately. It’s as if parents are skulking around, at the ready to remind me that our public school system – at least my city’s public school system – can’t be depended on to properly educate our children and keep them competitive. I keep hearing foreboding stories. At the public library, I ran into Ed, a neighborhood electrician and second-generation Chinese dad, who all but staked a tent in the San Francisco Unified School District office until they moved his then kindergartner from a low-performing elementary school to one of the city’s highly sought-after Chinese immersion schools. “I have her in summer school,” he tells me. “She has to keep up.” Like my other summer-school-boosting friends, he doesn't feel his daughter is getting a strong enough foundation in math and English – even in one of the city’s best public schools. He also has her attending a weekend math program.

Then, at another recent birthday party (A tip for shirker parents: stay away from kids' birthday parties!), a mother – who turns out to be a district-employed reading specialist – confessed she'd been tutoring her son an hour in reading and math every day after school to supplement his first grade education. Right before summer started, she sat him choose the 12 books he’ll read – a book a week – so he’ll be ready for the increased demands of second grade. In every case, these parents have insights I lacked – some came from other countries and cultures, some had the added expertise that allowed them to see the gaping holes in their children's educations.

Education realities that'll ruin even the brightest summer

But what’s my excuse? As an editor at GreatSchools, I’m all too aware of the sobering stats: America’s schools area falling behind and superstar school systems like South Korea, Finland, and Shanghai that make our advanced students look just so-so. I also know that a majority of American parents defy logic in believing that their children’s schools are above average. But the educational disparity isn’t just a matter of one country excelling over another. From school to school, the quality of our children’s educations can be worlds apart, and even some of the better schools are at best mediocre. 

So why haven’t I taken these realities into my own home? Maybe, like so many parents I know, I shy away from the uncomfortable truth that I grew up in a different America, where so many middle-class kids sailed through meh public schools, earned so-so grades, and still got into pretty great colleges. It was a given for the middle-class children of a super power that had the best universities and no other choice than to admit it’s less-than-prepared high school graduates. It’s certainly not a given anymore.


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Ewww, a whole new version of Mommy wars. We all must choose the path that we believe is right. I know plenty of 'kumon' moms, and I have absolutely no interest.

My daughter is in a music camp put on by her conservatory. And we're spending plenty of time being a tourist in our own city--Griffith Park Observatory, car museums, visiting the Endeavour, etc. And we're sleeping in, watching cheesy movies and even swimming and walking the dog.

Her school required a summer online program for her to be in Algebra in the fall, and that takes less than an hour a few times a week.

I'd challenge those Type A parents to match their kids up grade for grade, activity for activity, but truthfully, I don't care.

Mine is happy, knocking out great grades, and she's playing Star Wars/Star Trek music for her orchestra this summer. And for a math/science geek, it doesn't get better than that.

Learn to trust your parenting, and forget the competitive parents. They're not worth keeping up with.

I'm on a mission to ask commentators to stop talking about American schools "falling behind" or "failing" as if schools were the only piece of the education puzzle. We cannot allow the politicians to define the issue as solely educational. The social breakdown of our country is far more profound than in other countries, and we are expecting the schools to fix it with fewer and fewer resources. The one resource we need, stable and secure families, is the hardest to achieve when minimum wage creates paupers and a medical problem can destroy even a "middle class" family. It ain't just schools that's the problem; in fact, I seriously question if it's schools at all that are the problem.

The colleges are still there, but the bachelors in management/philosophy can not get the sought after jobs anymore. Look at the peers in management at your workplace, how many went through rigorous education ? Some did earlier, and some still will now, just the good jobs are getting scarce. Senate just passed a bill to reduce outsourcing, hope that helps by hiring second best people.

It's out of control! Yes, kids do lose some skills over the summer and it's not a bad idea to provide *some* opportunities to maintain skills. But the idea that the pressure needs to stay on all summer is ludicrous! Yes, we are behind Finland - where pressure is definitely NOT a part of the educational system. We are at risk of developing a nation of stressed out test takers.

John Tomas you are so correct in your assessment! Thousands of immigrants who practice "tiger-parenting" also refuse to put their children in private schools. Why? Because public education is just fine! The problem is not schools or teachers, the problem is the break down in family structure and of our middle class. I am a Black American woman and growing up the majority of my parents friends were educated in segregated schools with little funding. Yet they are ALL doctors, lawyers, business owners, professors, etc.. They mostly were brought up by two parents, went to church, and watched television once or twice a week when the whole family sat down together for Good Times. Now your average American kid is raised by his mom, or watches tv 2-3 hours a day, or plays video games for hours on end. And teachers are expected to raise and teach children.

John Thomas and Kristen, I agree! Schools are not failing, society is. Behind every A+ school are involved parents and a community that cares. What are the common factors behind schools that don't make the grade? Parents that can't be bothered with parenting, communities that think they don't need to support neighborhood schools...which leads to a run down, crime centered, drug abusing population.
On another note..
Am I the only one who thinks children need to to be children during the summer? What happened to playing in the sprinklers, blowing bubbles or turning a cardboard box into a fort or castle to defend? Let's take all the fun out of summer and turn our kids into small adults with school 12 months a year.... no wonder we dole out depression and anti-anxiety medication like candy and suicide and school shootings seem to happen more and more.

Many parents are not aware that the immigration bill that the Senate just passed contains plans to grant 22 million more permanent work permits to immigrants (beside the 11 million it eventually amnesties) over the next 10 years. THIS will affect our children's futures more than any other cultural or educational event. Anyone backing this (and it's the least publicized aspect of that bill) is backing extreme competition for American jobs at ALL levels, not just the stereotypical lower end service jobs. Visas will be attached to all graduate degrees and there will be no way to determine the quality of the education or degree that grants them. MANY OF OUR KIDS WILL BE JOB-SEEKING IN THIS ENVIRONMENT! The current educational stats include immigrant's kids and many ESL students, so they pull the curve down. A figure that doesn't factor these in would provide a truer picture of education in America for Americans. I am aware that the Senate bill didn't pass, but scared breathless that the House will add something similar in the bill that eventually passes. As parents, we need to be wide-awake and aware of the future Congress is foisting on us. We cannot rely solely on mainstream media to feed us our "news".

When did swimming lessons and fun not be educational. Why is keeping up more important than health wellness and emotional well being. We compare ourselves to cultures that work less, pay more taxes and sell children to slavery. We aren' t perfect and i am teaching my children to relax and persavere. Life is a long road getting to the end happy is the goal.

John Thomas, Thank you for speaking the truth. Teachers can only work with the students who walk in their room for the amount of time they are there. There is time for teaching, even remediation, but there is not enough time for teaching, remediation and basic parenting. Parents need to parent responsibly. If they don't know how,THEY can take a class or read books to learn.

Great article and I love some of the comments! No summer school at my house! Summer is a break from school. My boys (13 and 7) have mostly been playing video games and watching TV, plus reading, playing, going to the drive-in, occasional camping and swimming, etc. My 7yo voluntarily read over 50 books for a summer program at the library. My kids really do learn a lot just from their play, TV, and games. They both do great in school, too.

John Thomas, Kristen, and others, I agree! Too many parents and politicians simply blame the educational system, the schools, or the teachers. This ignores the irreplaceable obligation of the parents to support and supplement the educational system.
I am a frequent volunteer in my children's classrooms and see first hand, the correlation between parental involvement and academic/behavioral struggles. There are many students who thrive in the same classroom that is blamed for another student's struggles. Parents are required by law to send their children to school but that is where the requirements end. I know that legislating an increase in parental involvement is a slippery slope but perhaps money would be well spent on "voluntary" programs that help parents make positive contributions to their children's education.

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