Dear schools, let the kids have August

Dillen Gilmore, 6, is first in line in his first grade class, on the first day of school at Fair Elementary School, in North Hollywood, CA August 13, 2013.
Dillen Gilmore, 6, is first in line in his first grade class, on the first day of school at Fair Elementary School, in North Hollywood, CA August 13, 2013.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

We test them almost to death, we make them play sports till their arms fall off and their knees implode. Now we’re taking away our children’s summers. Do we not like them anymore?

Mine went back to school Aug. 12, along with students in many other local schools, which are just now catching up with other parts of the country, where some classes started Aug. 1.

Which is just insane.

I’m not the only one who’s angry over these stolen summers. For parents, August is the only idle month left. In June, there is summer school, or soccer clinics or basketball in gyms toasty enough to bake bread.


In July, children are booked up with summer camp, or Mandarin lessons or baseball and softball in far-off places.

All good. A busy kid is a happy kid. Keep ‘em moving, I say. When both parents work, such schedules are a necessity. For us, a three-month summer break is a burden as much as a relief. The endless activities are how we cope.

But we all need August … sweet, idle August.

August is when we would pack up the family car and head off to lakes at their warmest, sweet corn at its sweetest, s’mores at their s’moriest.

With the world in neutral, we’d head to family reunions and anniversaries and Grandpa’s 75th birthday bash.

If you carve away at August, you carve away at childhood. It’s just one more way we’re inadvertently undermining the needs of the American family.

As it is, kids aren’t outside enough. They grow thicker around the middle, and their retinas fill with the flickering images of cellphones and computer screens.


In a world like that, what are your fond childhood reference points? The seven hours straight you once played “Call of Duty”?

If I had more hair, I’d pull more out.

Summer used to be a stage light, a calling, a beckoning. Even my older kids had more summer than this. They would emerge in the morning, stumble out into the driveway, scratch their noggins before squinting upward at the sky.

“What is this?” they asked. “Some sort of sun?”

The way we treat our children today, you’d think they were prize livestock.

Each year, the standardized testing gets worse and worse. It freaks out the teachers and parents; it freaks out the kids.

“My iPad crashed twice,” one of my son’s buddies told me when I asked how a practice test had gone.

Yeah, they don’t fill in little circles with pencils anymore. Under a new system known as Common Core, much teaching and testing will be computer-based. So not only are we throwing new teaching methods upon teachers, we’re expecting them to be IT experts as well.

When it comes to teaching methods, Common Core is a mess as well, a growing target for wing nuts and more sensible people from all sides.


“My kids used to love math,” comedian Louis C.K. famously said, in a rant against Common Core. “Now it makes them cry!”

Know how much I care about standardized testing? Not at all. No, wait, even less than that. And why are schools starting so ridiculously early? In part, because of our worries over standardized tests, particularly the Advanced Placement tests taken in high school.

But I digress.

In the bathroom, the little guy is brushing his hair for the first day of sixth grade. He is brushing his teeth, one at a time — this side, then that side, till they’re as white as piano keys.

“I combed my eyebrows,” he announces.

Could a dad be more proud?

He returns home with a backpack so heavy I can barely lift it myself. I weighed it with one of those scales you use for airline luggage, and his backpack came in at almost 20 pounds — about a third of what he weighs. It would be like you or me lugging 60 pounds around work all day.

Today’s children are beasts of burden, carrying all of our outsized worries and concerns on their backs.

Tell me, do we not like them anymore?

At the very least, give ‘em a few weeks to dig for goonies in the dirt and stare at the way the sun glints off airplanes.


Give them these juicy, sweaty last weeks of August, when they get so stinky that you have to throw a little more detergent in the wash.

As a buddy likes to say, these are the same people who will one day pick our nursing homes.

And, yes, we still really like them.

Twitter: @erskinetimes