Banks County Opinions...

JULY 9, 2003


Column

By: Jana Adams Mitcham
The Banks County News
July 9, 2003

Is summer becoming ‘outdated?’
Ah, summer. Those long days, those long weeks upon weeks of freedom — freedom from the early morning commute to school, from classes, from homework. Months and months that flew by quickly, of course, but at the onset seemed like they must be endless.
I remember — way back when — being upset at the thought of having to go back to school on August 27 instead of our usual post-Labor Day start. What a travesty! What was the world coming to? And after we’d had to stay in school into the early days of June, at that.
Now, in looking back, I wonder if I idealize those summers. Was I bored? Was I restless? Was a long summer with days at the city pool as nice as I remember? And would such a summer even be feasible now that most households have both parents working?
Now I look forward to summer because there is a lull in the rush of newspaper work — we are still working, but the intensity level of school and sporting events drops off for a brief respite. Leaving work at 5 o’clock most days....Ah, summer.
I was startled last week to realize that school would be starting up again in a month. It seems like we just finished graduation coverage and typing end-of-the-year honor rolls and already we are talking about the back-to-school guide and the pigskin preview. If I feel like that, how do students, parents and educators feel?
I should stop right here and say up front that I am not writing these thoughts down because of any changes in the current local school schedules — they have changed gradually over the past few years, but are not making any drastic changes for the coming year. I’m just looking around here and there and all over the country, and it’s true that summer isn’t what it used to be; some say it shouldn’t be and some say it should.
Summer is gradually being whittled away across the country, there’s no doubt about it. What used to be a three-month break is now down to a two-month stint or less and will most likely be cut down over the coming years into a scattering of weeks here and there across the full spectrum of the year.
The trend is a growing one nationwide; there are “year-round” or extended-year schools in 44 states now. While most still stick to the 180 days of school, with “off’ days interspersed throughout rather than en masse in the summer, there are some systems that are adding days on to the school calendar.
A couple of schools in Cinncinati, for example, have added on for 194 days or even 230 days of school. One such extended-year plan follows a schedule of school starting August 5, 11 days off in October, 10 days off in December, 11 days off in April and school ending on June 26, with a couple of additional holidays.
There are valid arguments on either side of the equation — long vs. short summers.
Those who support an “extended” year, alternative calendar, diminished summer, year-round education, or whatever you care to call it, say that a shorter summer leads to less “regression” and need for “re-learning” when school starts back in the fall. They point out that there (typically) are no more school days, just a restructured calendar, a distinct “plus” for students who are “at risk” and potentially a test score and learning retention booster for others.
They argue that the agrarian society is no longer the norm and that the initial need for summers “off” from school and “on” for farm work is a thing of the past. In short, that a long summer is an outdated idea that results in bored and restless kids who have to be re-taught the basics in the fall and whose learning curve is interrupted by the months away from school. The shorter breaks interspersed throughout the school year give students and staff needed rejuvenation and prepares them to continue onward with learning, they say.
There is another issue at work for year-round schools — not here, not yet, but elsewhere — and that is overcrowding. Some school systems are trying out year-round schooling, with multi-tracks of on and off sessions for different batches of students, as a way of avoiding building additional schools.
A different life in a different time.
But some things just shouldn’t be different, those who are opposed to diminshed summers say.
For those, the arguments include that summer offers a “different kind of learning,” one that doesn’t require testing, but may include enrichment camps and outdoor activities. Plus, they say, summer gives families a chance to spend more time together (not to mention the issue for working parents to find child care for breaks of two or three weeks), offers teachers a time to go to school themselves, and gives teens summer job time to earn money for the school year. What about seasonal communities and the economy surrounding that? they wonder.
Students who participate in athletics may be involved in pre-season training camps, as well, they say. And rather than bored and restless kids, the proponents of longer summers see refreshed students and staff ready to face the classroom again. Students reach a “saturation point,” they say, when learning just won’t be optimal. Some who oppose diminished summers say they haven’t seen proof of educational improvements of a more continuous school year.
Having said all of that, I’ll say this — I don’t have children and my own experiences as a student date back years, and were, of course, from a young student’s point of view, rather than an academic one. In other words....free time? Yes!
Now I look at my niece and nephew and wonder what it is like to have a more ongoing stream of school, or how I might feel about that if I had a child myself.
So I am curious about how local parents, students and educators feel. Year-round or not? Long summers or diminished summers? Is the current local balance of a shorter summer, but more days of break throughout the year a good one? How would you feel if a more true-to-definition “year-round” school ever came to Georgia schools, as it is elsewhere in the country? elsewhere in the country?
Jana Adams Mitcham is features editor of The Jackson Herald and a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. She can be reached by email at jana@mainstreetnews.com.

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Column

By: Adam Fouche
The Banks County News
July 9, 2003

Battle between man and
machines may never happen, but...
So maybe the imminent battle depicted in Terminator 3 between man and machine for control of Earth and the survival of the human race will never happen. It is a far-fetched idea.
But the concept that we may be producing machines that are too powerful and too smart warrants more than a passing thought.
As the culture, especially in America, has spurned a lazier society, we have built machines and computers to do our work for us and make our life easier.
Nearly every computer in the country has a connection to some server that connects to some larger server that, through the intricate Internet network, practically connects every computer to one another.
These connections put tons of information about each of us within reach of any smart high school hacker.
Our credit card information, medical history, social security number, bank records, maps to our homes and even lists of the items we most often buy at the grocery store (they track that through your bank card or supermarket discount card) are stored on databases just a few point and clicks away.
Sure, there are protections set up to keep private information private and limit access to these databases.
But remember, firewalls and other security blocks are developed by humans. And given the time and opportunity, other humans will always find a way to compromise computer security features.
Of course, this is all a trade off.
I especially love the ease of online bill payment and the ability to make a call with a cell phone smaller than my wallet.
And as a reporter, my job would be much more difficult without the ability to pull a world of information off the Internet.
The benefits of smarter computers and machines can’t be overlooked or underestimated.
Technological advancements have made important improvements in the medical field and have improved the ability of law enforcement to track and catch criminal offenders.
But again there’s a trade off.
Humans have used scientific advancements to clone animals and even, as a group in Florida claims, clone humans. This raises ethical questions.
And as has made recent headlines, the musical recording industry and the government may soon use computers and Internet network connections to find illegally-downloaded music on hard drives across the country.
Some lawmakers have even suggested using computer programs to seek and destroy the computers of those who have downloaded music.
As we make machines and computers more powerful and smarter, we can’t overlook what we are sacrificing in exchange.
More computers and more network connections mean we are compromising our own privacy and confidentiality.
And the more we relinquish control to technology the more individuals are taken out of the loop.
No, I don’t foresee computers taking a mind of their own and using our own technology to spawn “terminators” to destroy the human race. That’s science fiction.
But we must remember that as technology and computers become an integrated part of our life, we are exposing our vulnerability leaving ourselves open to attack.
And it’s not an attack from machines I’m worried about. It’s an attack from other humans — one that happens every day to thousands of people — that worries me most.
Adam Fouche is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. His email address is fouche@nbank.net.


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