In the Issue: Summer Homework

Elliott Rabin, Editor

Hello Muddah, hello Faddah

Here I am at Camp Granada

Camp is very entertaining

And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.


One of the joys of parenthood lies in introducing children to the things that we loved when we were young. Alan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” is a classic that my children have listened to over and over on YouTube. The song humorously captures the voice of a child who is attending Jewish sleepaway camp for the first time. (The camper’s Jewishness is not mentioned but is patently obvious.) Suffering from homesickness, the camper writes a letter to his parents while waiting in his bunk for the rain to stop. After only one day, he’s begging to go home, recounting a litany of exaggerated woes designed to convince them: poison ivy, ptomaine poisoning, alligators in the lake, malaria… Crucially (spoiler alert!), after many hilarious episodes, the last stanza reveals a radical change: the weather clears and he discovers that he actually enjoys camp. Swimming, sailing, and baseball—“gee that’s bettah, / Muddah, Faddah kindly disregard this letter.”

If we look a little deeper, the song reveals some of the benefits that summer and summer camp bring to the lives of our students and children. They learn to adapt to new environments, away from the familiarity of home and their literal and metaphorical comfort zones (bunk beds! bug juice!). They meet new people, learn to make friends quickly and work as a team (chores! color war!). They spend time outdoors, on walks and hikes, swimming in the lake and enjoying a wholesome environment (snakes! camping!). They learn to confront their resistance to new challenges, overcome fears and gain resilience and confidence. Sherman captures the anxiety and the joy, boredom and exaltation that children experience at camp. Indeed, the kinds of learning that students experience over the summer are as valuable as, but very different from, school learning.

The articles in this issue begin with a recognition of the difference and legitimacy of summer experiences, their necessity for the personal, social and spiritual development of children. Authors accept the notion that children need time away from school, not merely as “downtime” but as an opportunity to have experiences that will be meaningful and important to them for their entire lives. They need to swim, climb trees, play hours of soccer, spend time with friends and make new ones, to improvise, cope with disappointment and exercise some control over their lives. All of the authors acknowledge that there is value in not assigning summer homework.

And yet, at the same time, day schools do not conceive of themselves as artificial boxes that students enter in September and step out of in June. They are rather microcosms, model worlds that students are meant to take with them throughout the year and throughout their lives. Parents send children to day school in the hope that the school will help shape them into people who are ethically alert, intellectually curious, disposed toward active participation in Jewish life and community. Assignments are a way for the school to ensure a continuity between the ethical and intellectual life at school and the students’ lives beyond campus.

How can summer assignments accomplish that lofty goal without squelching students’ needs for fun and exploration? In the first section, teachers and administrators wrestle with this challenge, and offer solutions from various perspectives. Ablin advises against heeding the bogy of the dreaded “summer slide,” often the uninspiring rationale for summer homework. Wise turns to Daniel Pink to tap into student motivation for summer reading. Landa proposes a host of projects that would combine ethical with intellectual goals. Lubner urges authenticity, imagining ways for students themselves to craft their summer study. Grebenau asks how we can find meaningful ways to assess student summer work, and Krieger argues that summer assignments should be crafted with the same eye toward student differentiation that teachers direct toward classroom assignments.

In our spread of pieces from schools, students describe summer experiences, from overseas trips to Shabbat dinners, that exerted an impact on their Jewish identity. The next section looks at summer work for school professionals. Andron, Markel and Solomon describe the benefits of administrators learning together as a team in their professional development. Prizmah colleagues Eisen, Heller and Loewenstein suggest using the summer to strengthen teacher professional development, throughout the year. Dohn proposes summer reading circles to strengthen faculty learning and cohesion. Fridman and Weinstock envision the summer as an invaluable time to gear up for development work during the school year. And for parents preparing their children for college visits and applications, Geller offers a bounty of ideas that college counselors can present.

Two concluding articles bring us back to the connection between camp and campus. Grinberg explores the underlying philosophical question of how these two pillars of Jewish education relate: opposites, complements, or wholly other? O’Brien presents a vision in which educators who work in day schools and camps learn from each other and strengthen each other’s practice.

May this summer be a time of refreshment and renewal, of housecleaning and new learning, of personal discovery and inspired teamwork, for your students, faculty, administrators and lay leaders and everyone at your school.

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HaYidion Summer Homework Summer 2017
Summer Homework
Summer 2017