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St. Nick takes a chunk out of noggins
by Steve Brewer
Scripps Howard News Service


December 29, 2004

If you think your children aren't getting the education they deserve, then blame Santa Claus.

That's right: It's because of jolly old St. Nick. And the holiday shopping season. And the Pilgrims. And whoever devised the calendar we currently use.
jpg Steve Brewer

Education experts regularly moan about the state of our schools, saying our children are falling behind their competitors in other nations. Such economics-fueled worries have led the federal government to develop many expensive new programs to make schools more "accountable" for the fact our children (and future taxpayers) are idiots.

I haven't followed the development of these programs all that carefully, but I believe the biggest one is called No Child Left With a Behind, which has something to do with corporal punishment.

Anyway, my point (and I do have one, right here on top of my head) is that all these so-called "experts" overlook the biggest problem with our public schools, which is that we have a big whopping vacation set squarely in the middle of the school year.

That's right, the Christmas break, although it's called "winter break" in most places now because of various lawsuits. The kids get two to three weeks off from school during this period, which is why so many working parents sing the carol: "All I Want for Christmas is Some Inexpensive Child Care."

Even those of us who work in home offices have problems with winter break. We're available to stay home with our kids, but we won't get much work done. And, naturally, here at the end of the year, we're usually facing an assortment of crashing deadlines. This leads to conflicts within the home. For instance, it's hard for the work-at-home parent to concentrate on his job during the post-Christmas period, when he has to stop every few minutes to repair cheaply mass-produced toys or to run to the store for more batteries. Eventually, the parent will explode in frustration, which can take the shine off everyone's holiday spirit.

Parents might be able to manage if it were only two or three weeks of winter break. We could plan for that time. Set aside our work and really enjoy our time with the children. Let the Christmas spirit warm our cockles and jingle our bells.

But no. As most parents will tell you, there's hardly any schooling going on between Halloween and New Year's. November is a big washout. The kids get long weekends for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Teacher conferences cut many school days in half. And when the kids are in school, they're busy cutting turkeys out of construction paper and relearning the annual lesson about Squanto and the Pilgrims. And that's in high school. The younger kids are still mastering crayons.

The first half of December is full of plays and recitals and Christmas pageants and basketball pep rallies and letters to Santa, rather than education. Then, faster than you can say "ho-ho-ho," the kids are home from school, with visions of sugar plums and Playstations dancing in their heads, erasing whatever they learned during the fall.

By the time they get back to school in January, they've forgotten everything, including Squanto and algebra and, in many cases, what gifts they received for Christmas.

Teachers are forced to review all that came before, to get the kids up to speed again. Just about the time the children have settled into a routine and are really learning _ spring break!

So next time you hear someone moaning about today's schools, blame all the holidays.

And when your boss wants to know why you blew your December deadlines, say, "It's all Santa's fault."



Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Boost."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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