Summer was a mixture of long, hot days working in the vineyards and cool nights under the stars by the river when I was a kid. School let out in June, and my buddies and I turned our thoughts and our hands to work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mind remained engaged in the geometry of carpentry, the science of irrigation, and the cultural studies that presented themselves in the interactions I had with immigrant fieldworkers I labored beside each day. I wrote some of my best poetry rumbling back and forth through the vineyard rows on a tractor. Evenings, my friends and I plumbed the depths of philosophy as we sat around campfires or lay out on smooth rocks by the river and deconstructed the world as we knew it. Our hands were worn, but our hearts were full.
Looking back on these summers I realize now just how important they were to my growth as both a student and a human being. It wasn’t just that I had the chance to apply the academic knowledge I had been developing throughout the school-year, it was also that I was learning the value of hard work, perseverance, and the ability to solve problems. I had the opportunity to step back from the academic world of school and let my mind wander and ponder the wonder of the world around me.
I could have spent my evenings and summers taking extra courses at the local community college or attending SAT prep courses, but instead I studied life, and in the process, developed a lot of the skills they couldn’t teach me in school. In his book, “Most Likely to Succeed,” Ted Dintersmith writes, “When you fill up every waking hour of a teenager’s life with these drills, you don’t have time for what really counts. And you produce disengaged kids doing the most mind-numbing tasks, rather than developing the skills they’ll really need to take on life’s biggest challenges.”
I’m not advocating there is never a place for additional academic study in the evening, over the summer, or to improve a specialized interest such as music or art, but I hope that our students will choose not to completely fill their time with academia at the expense of getting out there and experiencing life. In the end, it won’t be the extra 50 points on an SAT that helps them succeed at university or in their career or marriage. It will be the time they spent learning to put their hands and head to work, the time they dedicated to nurturing relationships. These are the things that transcend the academic and prepare us for life.