However, according to researchers at institutions like John Hopkins University, the average child forgets more than his troubles while spending multiple months fishing with a stick pole on a backwoods pond.
You see, while an idyllic image for a Norman Rockwell painting, that same child soaking up the sunlight is leaking knowledge like a sieve will leak water. He suffers from a strange phenomenon called brain drain, and it's hard to dispute its existence.
Imagine for a moment that education is a kind of liquid fuel a teacher can pour into a child's head throughout a school year. On average, by the start of the fall term, research suggests at least 25 percent of all that liquid will have drained into nothingness, evaporated in a summer haze.
Furthermore, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the procedural skills needed for math are forgotten quickest. This is because procedural skills require constant practice and reinforcement, which few parents have the time or ability to oversee in June. This is not good news for students who must later compete for jobs with kids from other countries who have benefited from longer school weeks and shorter vacations, who have gained a greater mastery of math.
Now, to be fair to summer leisure proponents, if we return to the wholesome image of a carefree child fishing through his vacation like some Cobb County version of Huckleberry Finn, we have to concede he might be doing more than just waiting for a bite. He might be reading a good book. After all, research also shows some students make measurable gains over summer vacation in reading achievement.
However, this same research demonstrates students from disadvantaged households rarely make these gains because those kids don't have the same access as their more privileged peers to books outside school.
So why are Cobb County parents up in arms about a balanced calendar?
I understand the argument about how the school board should have conducted a longer and more open debate. I understand why teenagers who want to work might be mad. I do not understand the general cacophony that seems to express summer is somehow sacrosanct.
I mean, let's be honest. Forget farming. How many kids actually go fishing in backwoods ponds when they own an XBox? How many parents who find it hard to afford childcare in the fall don't find it hard to afford childcare in the summer? Why does everyone assume no one will create viable private solutions for childcare when weeklong breaks are built into the calendar? Isn't it easier to find help for a five-day vacation rather than an entire summer?
Furthermore, shortening the summer is actually egalitarian because students who can't afford summer enrichment programs won't drop quite as far behind their wealthier peers. If motivated, these lower income kids can take advantage of state-funded extracurricular activities like band or Science Club even if they can't pay for summer cello lessons or Science Camp.
Now I must admit a prejudice on my part. For almost three years, my son was enrolled in a school in England that runs on a calendar very similar to that which the Cobb County Board has just instituted. Rejuvenating breaks were more frequent but never so long that "brain drain" had time to punch holes in a student's retention rate.
While anecdotal, I can only report positive experiences with this system, which we left at the end of 2008. In fact, I would hazard saying I think once people here give a balanced calendar an actual chance, they'll also think it's a brilliant solution to the summer slide. At least I think that will be the case if quality of education is the real point of contention.
Barbara Donnelly Lane is a writer living in east Cobb who has contributed to the Marietta Daily Journal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and BBC. She is working on her master's in teaching at Georgia State University. Her son is a sophomore at Walton High School.