Schools and our disappearing summer vacations

Is there a reason why schools are starting earlier and earlier each year, cutting into the summer vacations of our children and families? Is it about money, education or school union convenience?

By Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

There’s something sacred about “Summer Vacation” that we don’t respect today the way we did when we were kids.

If you haven’t figured out my logic from past columns, Baby Boomers are the smartest and best people in the world. It’s a fact. I’ll prove it some other time.

When we were kids, we had a real “summer.” And we could take “summer vacations” with our families that were. They helped us mold our character and gave us time to bond as a family.

They didn’t involve expensive vacations we couldn’t afford flying to an exotic beaches. The best vacations were when dad got us in our cars and we drove around the country on a road-trip, collecting window stickers from the places we visited.

As dad drove, we sang, we talked, and we relaxed together. We even brought along the dog.

National Lampoon's Vacation

National Lampoon’s Vacation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I think the whole idea of summer has been destroyed, sacrificed to the failure of our leaders to manage our budgets and the economy.

Part of it has to do with our schools.

I don’t want to get into the whole debate of how many days should students be in school, but vacations were a timing issue that had to do with being off of school.

Amazingly, many schools started this week in Illinois. It’s only the middle of August.

When I was a kid, we were off in mid-June and we didn’t return until Labor Day at the beginning of September. We had 10 weeks of vacation or 50 summer days, not including 15 other days for Easter/Spring Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

And when we didn’t go on a summer road trip, we hung around the house with our friends, without the pressures of homework or the distractions of computer.

Today, a lot of families are not really families at all. They don’t want summer vacation, in-year holidays or days off. School is a daycare center. Working is a bigger challenge for parents, including those that are single.

It’s really a shame to see our children have to report in to school so early and miss the chance to build their friendships and bond with their families.

Vacations with the family are the things that build character. Your family vacations will stay with you for years as you age and your parents depart this world. The best family bonding starts at the dinner table but is reinforced during family vacations.

I hate to see so many kids miss that.

America’s love of vacations was depicted in Hollywood’s Vacation movie series. It starred Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as parents taking their kids, Rusty and Audrey on vacations. They went across the country to Wally World, to Las Vegas, to Europe and experienced Christmas vacations twice.

The new Vacation movie picks up with a grown Rusty wanting to do what his parents did, bond with the family.

Sadly, the hilarious new Vacation movie is filled with so many bad words, it was hard to enjoy.

Am I missing something in all this? Do understand what I’m trying to get at? We had a better lifestyle when I was younger and I am not sure why it has changed.

The world has gone to pot, families are falling apart, and we have less and less time to enjoy ourselves as families. And all I can do is wonder why.

Follow-up: After speaking with some high school superintendents recently, that had some interesting, and disturbing issues that they raised.

First, the main criteria as to when a school starts has to do with whether or not the schools in a district do or don’t all have air conditioning. That’s why most Suburban schools started early this year in mid-August and why Chicago Schools don’t start until the beginning of September.

Air conditioning.

Also, school districts are starting earlier so they can coordinate the end of a semester with the start of the Christmas and New Year holidays, the two weeks most students at the end of the year. In many cases, schools that start late in September, for example, don’t end their semesters until after the students return from the end-of-year holiday vacation.

What that means is that the students don’t finish the semester when they take the Christmas Break, have two weeks of fun, and then return to school unprepared to finish the semester and do better on the end-of-semester testing.

If students do bad on testing, the schools lose money.

State money is linked to two things, student performances and total days in school. Most schools have students in their classes at least 176 to 182 days each school year. (State’s vary around the country and the number of class dates are often changed by the state legislatures.)

Personally, I think summer break is very important and when you disrupt the summer break period, you challenge the student’s foundation. They need family time in the summer. Not every student gets it, but changing the system to start school sooner takes it away from everyone.

I think that’s wrong.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at [email protected])

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Blogger, Columnist at Illinois News Network Online
Ray Hanania is senior blogger for the Illinois News Network news site. He is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist who covered the beat from 1976 through 1992 (From Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley). And, Hanania is a stubborn and loud critic of the biased mainstream American news media.

Hanania Chicago political beats and Chicago City Hall at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992). He published the The Villager Community Newspapers covering 12 Southwest suburban regions (1993-1997). Hanania also hosted live political news radio talkshows on WLS AM (1980 - 1991), and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM, WSBC AM in Chicago, and WNZK AM in Detroit.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. He currently is syndicated through Creators Syndicate. He has written for the Jerusalem Post,, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star of Lebanon, the News of the World in London, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, The Saudi Gazette, the Arab News in Jeddah, and Aramco Magazine.

Hanania's Chicagoland columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald, the Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News and the Palos Reporter newspapers.

He is President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

His personal website is Email him at: [email protected]
Ray Hanania

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  • Ray Hanania

    Readers write:

    Loved this week’s column, Ray. “Gone to pot” is one of my favorite fun phrases from days gone by. It sure describes the state of just about anything these days. Maybe some younger readers haven’t a clue what it means but I sure do.

    You wonder why. Me,too. May I share some thoughts with you?

    One thing for sure, we live in a complicated world of over choice. Your childhood and mine ( I am a bit older than you I suspect) were so much simpler. One kind of Oreo, Ritz cracker, Silvercup bread, bologna and maybe about 5 or 6 TV stations. ( If the rabbit ears and horizontal/vertical adjustments worked.) I don’t have to point out today’s big box store shelves and the bazillion choices offered. Every time I see a “new” version of an oreo or cracker I just take a deep sigh and wish for simpler times. It’s that way with everything manufactured today. Over choice!!

    My best times with family were taking rides to the lake, looking out the window and reflecting. I was actually thinking about what was out there. Imagination! Driving at night my Dad would make up stories about the man in the moon following us as we drove along. And yes, we sang, too. So simple. Today, while riding in cars, kids are plugged into hand held iPads and tablets to watch movies or play ridiculous games. They’re sure missing a lot of wonder aren’t they? Even in restaurants, look around at the number of televisions to replace any kind of conversation. And I even see toddlers plopped into booster seats with a small screen placed in front of them. They are deprived of the opportunity to learn, all in the name of keeping them quiet (and out of the way.) Nothing simple anymore. Complicated! Technology took care of that. (I do appreciate some of the functions, however, like sending this to you by email.)

    The summer was endless for me as a child. Especially August, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. The adults didn’t organize my childhood and play time. We had rules to abide by, some chores and expectations but when it came to play, well, we were on our own. Nowadays, every possible activity for children is organized by adults from “playdates” to camps and mini workshops for any imaginable skill or experience. You must “enroll” your child to experience childhood. Help me Rhonda!!!!!!

    You are right. Many families today are not families. Too often they hardly even have a dinner together because the kids are scattered with activities, parents are working or busy on Facebook letting everyone know how perfectly busy their life is. And then there is the decision of which carry out food to get. Too many choices. (We ate what was on our plate. And if it was fried Spam, it tasted delicious. No choices.) Also, today’s families feel they must plan super sized events for their kids so the world can be impressed. Look at what has happened to the birthday party. Now it’s an industry! Millions of dollars spent on themes, animals adventures, bouncy houses and more. Again, excess. And the insecurity of “what will they think.” Imagine the plight of the parent who has a home party with hot dogs, cake and a few games. It’s all too much.

    I hear so many parents say that they cannot wait for school to start. Some parents just don’t want their kids around. How sad. As a parent, I loved the summer days when my boys were at home. Sure they got on my nerves, isn’t that what kids do best? But they played and had fun……outside even!!

    So it is in part the complicated, over choice, too much stuff world that we live in which has caused it to “go to pot.” Our children deserve better. It is not their fault but they are the ultimate victims. We boomers, at least, have the memories to console us as our planet spins out of control.

    By the way, I am retired from teaching 3 years now, and do occasionally substitute. It is there that I witness children who are frantic most of the time because they don’t know where to turn first. Their personal resourcefulness does not exist because adults have constructed childhood for them, solved all their problems, and they are just simply overwhelmed by too much stuff and too many choices.

    Gosh, Ray, I’ve gone on too long. Thanks for your computer ear!

    Keep up the columns of good thoughts and ponderings………..

    Cynthia M., Palos Park