I can always tell when summer is waning. Back to school advertisements fill the paper and the airwaves. Even the newspaper comics make mention of the annual ritual. And as much as our society would like this to be a positive experience, I'm often left wondering. Many of my favorite strips, past and present, have poked fun at the return to school after summer freedom. Just today, Zits had Jeremy imagining a torture chamber as his father asks his opinion on school supplies. In Rose is Rose, Pasquale warns his cousin that there isn't much time left to by school supplies, sending the cousin into a panic, and not about buying school supplies. Incidentally, Pasquale is often portrayed as being an odd duck among other children in the strip, since he loves going to school. One commercial for back to school shopping mentions, "They might not want to think about it yet..."
Every year, parents diligently spend their hard earned dollars on school supplies. This has become such a boon to our consumer-driven society that stores consider it as important as the Christmas season. You "need" to get them the coolest binders and folders, the latest fashions, the best gadgets. I tend to shake my head at it all. I think I bought a few pens and a couple of spiral notebooks for my college student. As a homeschooler, I'm not only taking funding from teachers, administrators, and other school staff, I'm probably destroying all of the secondary businesses, from test generators to textbook manufacturers to department stores, that make their money from students and parents.
And yet, in spite of the good cheer of parents, I don't know of many children who are excited at the premise of giving up their summer freedom for school. Especially since summer freedom isn't what it used to be. Around here, we see kids out playing the first couple of weeks of summer vacation and then again--maybe--the week before school starts. Many parents have their kids enrolled in so many programs during the summer, they never experience the true freedom of doing nothing. In our area, camps begin signing up in January or February. If you wait until May or June, it is likely you won't find any openings anywhere. There are summer enrichment programs, music and arts programs, nature programs...the list goes on. All are designed to make sure your child does not have too many idle days. Could this purposeful? If you have a tight schedule in the summer, are you less likely to balk at returning to the school routine? Are parents worried the universe might implode if a child has nothing to do?
Our own summers are only slightly less busy than the rest of the year. Marina is responsible for most of our scheduled activities, because of work and college. Chase and Sierra keep busy between meeting with friends, reading and projects. Chase is works with his cardboard and duct tape creations, practices taekwondo in the yard, or designs characters for his online games. Sierra has been on a crafting spree with various media, helps sort books with me for the library's annual book sale, and spends lots of time outside looking at plants and spiders and birds. If they get bored, it wouldn't bother me, but I have yet to hear them say the are bored. Usually, they complain they don't have enough time to do all they want to do.
Back to school seems to imply there is a beginning and end to the effort of learning. The end is something children celebrate, while the beginning of a new school year is often met with a sense of sadness. Perhaps Pasquale is right to find that kind of thinking backwards. Because when children are given the freedom to learn in their own way and according to their own schedule, amazing creative things happen.