Make summer a season of creativity, discovery

‘Because I Said So’ column for The Commercial Appeal

May 22, 2014



There it is, the school bell. The last one of the semester and another year is in the books. It was the first for a unified Shelby County School system, though “unified” may be an optimistic adjective.

Still, the ground didn’t open up. Hell fire didn’t rain down. Teachers taught and students learned. Parents signed papers, made lunches and purchased a tree’s worth of poster board.

Next year the municipal schools depart the mother ship for what they believe to be a better universe. Good luck to those teachers and administrators; it will be another new and unknown frontier, another testing ground.

But that seems a world away because after tomorrow it’s summertime and there is no testing. So let’s turn off the alarm clocks, pack away the uniforms and prepare for hours spent doing nothing. It’s a glorious time for lounging about, running the neighborhood, eating lunch at a normal hour and maybe staying up just a bit past bedtime. Read what you want, kids, talk loudly and at will, make up games and go fishing.

At a recent end-of-school year ceremony, White Station Middle School principal Shawn Page made a point to mention two people he admires. They aren’t titans of industry. They aren’t politicians. They aren’t celebrities, not in the contemporary sense. They are a composer and a poet — Ludwig van Beethoven and William Blake.

Mr. Page told the assembled students and parents that he admires the men for their work ethic and perseverance at creating something that comes from within.

Though he didn’t say so, art is woefully undervalued in public school systems, unified or otherwise. So this summer, let’s take a page out of the principal’s book and read up on the old masters of arts and letters. Let’s put that page down on a flat surface and spend some time painting or drawing on it. Write a story, a poem, an essay just for you. Write and direct a film on your mother’s iPhone. Noodle with that dust-covered piano or your dad’s guitar.

Indulging creativity is a pathway to learning, but don’t let that scare you away. You won’t even notice it’s happening at the time, trust me. You won’t necessarily be learning about the landscape you’re painting or scales on sheet music or metaphors and similes. The lesson you learn will be far more important.

You’ll be learning about you, who you are, what you’re capable of and where your talents lie.

There is no test at the end. Unlike the proposed Common Core Curriculum or the brain-scrubbing TCAP exam, there is no way to teach to the test of summer. It’s not a season for standardization; no good climbing tree or firefly swarm is quite so common.

The summer break from school seems shorter and shorter every year, so soak it up while you can. Don’t let the idle hours go to waste, but learn what you like simply because you want to know more about it. There is no grading, there is no standard. There is only good music and the poetry of days that stretch on and on.

Permanent link in The Commercial Appeal