Summer: Time to turn the brain off |

Summer: Time to turn the brain off

Alex Miller

School’s out, so it must be time for the kids to reach inside and flip off the big switch that says “learning.”Or is it? Like tourists coming through the Eisenhower Tunnel, putting the brain on “idle” is a simple thing; requires no thought at all, really. Sure, some kids may have summer school or camps that require some modicum of cerebral activity, but there’s something about warm weather that tempers learning as surely as a PS2 game or a marathon.My own father couldn’t abide physical idleness, and in summer we learned early on to keep any outward manifestations of sloth carefully hidden. That meant either flopping on the couches at the homes of friends or, at the very least, staying out of sight when he came home from work lest he put us to work cleaning the garage (that most dreaded of tasks). I’ve carried some of that over, but mostly its intellectual inertia that bothers me. As I’m learning, though, it’s not easy to countermand – especially since I lack the dictatorial approach my dad used. When I suggested to the 13-year-old that we come up with some kind of project for her to work on over the summer, she looked at me as if I’d just asked her to surrender her curling iron.”Why?” she asked, at which point I launched into the kind of annoying parental homily that she could later recount to friends with mirthful indignation. It had something to do with keeping one’s brain engaged, how learning was a 12-month pursuit and may even have contained the phrase “…if you’re ever going to get anywhere in life ….”The two older boys are working on longer works of fiction this summer, which tickles me at the same time I hope they keep it as a hobby and get JDs or MDs for their day jobs. The 4-year-old is going to work on shapes, the alphabet, numbers and techniques for sitting still (a consummate wiggler, this child can rub paint and stain right off chairs). To inspire them with solidarity, I’ve pledged to finish a stage play I’ve been working on, and in my mind the household will be a beehive this summer of intellectual activity.Even if the reality falls somewhat short of that, I’ve been guiltily reassessing my own level of engagement with our kids’ educations. I can’t say I’m thrilled with the curriculum the local schools offer, and when I ask them questions about what, exactly, it is they’re learning, their shrugs and vacant expressions make me wonder what the hell is going on at school all day long.And these are kids who get grades ranging from good to excellent. But can they find Turkmenistan on a map or identify the secretary of state? Does that matter? Should we start home-schooling them? When would we do that? While they’re playing Tony Hawk III, are their future jobs already being purloined by people in Bangalore? Why are they learning French instead of Mandarin? How can I interest a teenage girl in exploring Stalin’s purges or Cubism if she has five friends online IM’ing each other about a new top one of them found on sale at Old Navy?Hard to say. Summer brain slump is nothing new, of course, but I could make a case that intellectual curiosity among “kids today” is on life support. If anyone has any suggestions on at-home jump-start programs for keeping kids’ minds in gear during summer, I’d love to hear them.In the meantime, fallow brains make for perfect slaves, and we’ve got a raft of dandelions in the lawn that need picking.Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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