Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Boredom of Summertime: Low-Income Children Need More Intellectually Stimulating Options in the Summer When Learning Wanes and Sometimes Violence Flares

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Boredom of Summertime: Low-Income Children Need More Intellectually Stimulating Options in the Summer When Learning Wanes and Sometimes Violence Flares

Article excerpt

Last August, I read an article about a group of 13- and 14-year-old boys that beat a Cincinnati man to within an inch of his life. They said they did it because they were "bored, just looking for something to do." It's hard to believe that anyone could show such callous animosity to a person they don't even know. However, it's easy to imagine a group of school children bored in the summer.

While some students head home for the summer and join baseball leagues, take music lessons, or even travel abroad, a larger and generally less affluent group spends the summer being supervised by a television screen and looking for ways to pass time. Millions of young people have few intellectually stimulating opportunities and virtually no adults consistently pressuring them to get out and learn.

Thinking that an engaging summer learning program could have kept these boys off the street and averted this deplorable assault is probably naive. But equally foolish is ignoring the evidence--and common sense--that points to summer as an opportunity for real progress.

Teachers always have days or class periods when they feel as though they could have done more. Sometimes, an entire week passes where they aren't certain many students learned much of anything. These are the times they see as failures, opportunities lost. They work hard to make up for those misplaced moments, to close the gaps they create.

Yet, summer after summer, we send students home for months to environments where we know that mind-numbing monotony or trauma and physical danger are more pervasive than intellectual stimulation and scientific inquiry. Can we do more to seize this seasonal opportunity? Is this not low-hanging, achievement-gap-closing fruit?

During the summer, we know that low-income students lose, on average, one to three months of grade-level equivalence in reading scores relative to where they finished the previous academic year. Meanwhile, their middle-class peers tend to hold their ground or improve slightly over the summer. By the end of high school, low-income students are years behind their middle-income classmates in reading--largely because of these learning gaps that grow and grow each summer. …

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