Lamenting the Disappearance of Kids’ Summer Vacation

Am I the only one, or has everyone else noticed that many kids’ summer vacations have disappeared?

I’m not referring to the trimester system that lacks a summer vacation at all.  I’m referring to the fact that between academics and extra-curricular activities occurring year-round, kids no longer get any time off.  And, if they do take time-off, they can be punished.

I got to thinking about this while reading about the conflict between the Washington Redskins and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins’ highest-paid player.  Haynesworth is not allowed to take part in team training camp practices until he passes a fitness test.  He must pass the fitness test because he did not participate in the Redskins’ off-season conditioning program.   He was, in fact, the only Redskin that did not participate in this program.  Interestingly, the program is not mandatory; it’s voluntary.  Nonetheless Haynesworth is being singled out for not attending.

Haynesworth’s plight (for which I have no sympathy as he pocketed a $21 million bonus check on April 1) is, unfortunately, not dissimilar from situations encountered by school age kids today.  The difference is that Haynesworth is paid to focus on football year-round.  Kids in school are not paid, but can still suffer similar consequences if they decide not to participate in off-season activities.

It used to be that summer school was populated by those that failed courses in the prior year.  It used to be that the football team would start practicing a few weeks before school started, and the marching band would go to band camp for a week in August.  It used to be that only outstanding athletes would play their sports year-round.  Not any more.

And it’s a shame.

Instead of going to summer camp or hanging at the pool or getting a job, more and more kids are giving up their vacations to get ahead in academics or get ahead in sports.  Many times, like Haynesworth, they seem to have a choice, but really don’t.

If Only Today's Kids Experienced What Calvin Did

In our school district, if students want to take advanced electives junior and senior year to have on their resumé for college applications, they must first take the intro courses.  To find room for the intro courses, they have to complete required courses.  When do they complete those required courses?  In summer school.  If they don’t do this and don’t take more advanced courses, they’ve reduced their chances of getting into top schools.

The competitiveness and complexity of sports have driven many schools to have summer practices or camps.  Like the Redskins, these camps are “voluntary.”  Like the Redskins, players can be “punished” for not attending, in that they’ll be well behind the rest of the team.  Unlike the Redskins, however, many of these practices or camps charge a fee to attend because they are off-season.  What a double-whammy for kids and parents!

Kids and parents are then forced to make difficult choices.

What are the implications for not attending those mandatory voluntary hockey practices in July to go on a family vacation to celebrate your grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary?  Will the player fall behind, get demoted to JV, or get banished from the team entirely?

What if your daughter skips the 2nd week of cheerleading practice to attend summer camp with the same girls she has for the past 8 summers?  Will the coach really kick her off the squad?

I understand the coaches’ desire to win.  I understand, therefore, why varsity basketball teams play in summer leagues together, why cheerleading teams have eight-hour choreography sessions in mid-July, and why football teams are on the field all summer.  It’s a zero-sum game.  Once one team does it, they all do.

I also know times are different.  Back in the day, all pro athletes has off-season jobs.  Yogi Berra was once the head waiter at an Italian restaurant here in St. Louis.  Mickey Mantle spent a summer in the mines near his home of Commerce, Oklahoma.  Football star Jim Brown was once a marketing rep for Pepsi.  Now, athletes are paid to focus on their sport all year.

Of course, kids are not paid to focus on their sport or on academics all year.  In fact, they aren’t paid at all.

Let’s give them their summer vacations back and let them enjoy the peaceful summers like we did.  They’ll join the rat race soon enough.  Why push them there now?

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