Monday, August 26th, 2019

Back to school

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Waukesha Freeman August 28, 2014 Page A5 Opinion

Back to school

We interrupt this summer for school. For so many parents and children, the return to the school routine has begun already.

George Orwell wrote of his years in school, “So far as Crossgate goes, it also seems, when I look back, that all of my good memories are of summer.”

Summer, we’re told, runs from the summer solstice to the fall equinox. But regardless of what they’re taught in the classroom, every schoolchild knows summer begins the last day of school and ends the first day of school. In between are the days of bliss and sunshine.

For most adults we tend to think of summer running from Memorial Day to Labor Day. While we no longer have the luxury of lazy days, the warm weather is a welcome relief from the cold. We emerge from shelter to see the sun and play.

There’s work, too, as lawns and gardens must be tended to. However, those are labors in the warm air under blue skies, sandwiched between vacations with the family. It’s time away from it all to renew ourselves.

But summer is fleeting, and this has been an especially short summer. The cold weather of last winter continued to July. Before we knew it, the back-to-school sales were in every store.

Facebook doesn’t help. Your child’s consignment to classroom purgatory might be delayed, but your friends’ children started school last week. Their proud posts online with the forced smiles may as well read, “Look upon our pictures ye children and despair.”

My daughter’s school had “packet turn in day” and the yearbook picture last week. In theory, parents were expected to bring school supplies. But how many were ready to come back to the routine?

It’s particularly jarring when the school year starts before Labor Day. We have not yet had the final picnic, the final dips in the pool or the lake, or the final walk along the trails.

Orwell wrote, “This business of being out for a walk, coming across something of fascinating interest and then being dragged away from it by a yell from the master, like a dog jerked onwards by the leash, is an important feature of school life, and helps to build up the conviction, so strong in many children, that the things you most want to do are always unobtainable.”

When the schoolmasters call, how many of us regret the plans made for summer but were left undone?

It is inherently wrong for school to rob us of our summer days early, especially when there is no need. My daughter’s first day of school was Tuesday and Friday is her first day off. The three days of academic instruction could easily be found in the school calendar after Labor Day. Why begin the torture early?

I’ll grant that my daughter might be the exception of school age children. She actually looked forward to the start of the school year. To her, it’s the start of her social season and of her extra-curricular activities. She greeted school with a singular enthusiasm.

But to the rest of us, it means earlier bedtimes for parents and children alike. It’s the morning routines and the chasing from one activity to the other. Leisure gives way to schedules, calendars and logistics.

There is a partisan defense of summer. Traditionally, Republicans in the state legislature have defended summer against the encroachment of the school year. Public schools start after Labor Day because the tourism industry likes to keep their seasonal laborers through the final summer holiday weekend.

Democrats are more inclined to favor (in this case) “local control.” They would rather have the school boards agree on a calendar with the teachers unions that allowed for more days off during the academic year. Act 10 may have taken the calendar out of collective bargaining, but it’s really legislative Republicans who are giving public school students just a few more days in the sun.

It’s a privilege for children and adults alike that is worth defending. Our autumns are colorful but quickly yield to the blanket white of winter. We’ll be imprisoned soon enough. There is no need to rush it.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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