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School may be out on the calendar, but is it really?

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By Steve Doyle

If Alice Cooper had recorded his heavy metal anthem “School’s Out” in the new millennium rather than decades ago in the old one, its reprise may not have resonated for the nearly 40 years it has.

Because judging from what I see, school really isn’t out for the summer.

We’re now two weeks from the first bell of the fall – another fallacy of today – and it hasn’t seemed to be much of a vacation for the kids, much less the adults.

My son has spent his summer reading more books than some second-graders can count, doing art projects and having his mom – God bless her – drive him around to find and photograph Gallapalooza horses. That’s not to mention researching artists, mimicking their work and writing papers about them.

And I repeat: This is second grade. Can a kid get an A for summer?

I don’t know how to tell him that the closer you get to college, the worse it gets.

What ever happened to dropping by the bookmobile every other week, checking out some fun stuff to read and then depending on the newspaper for your daily education?

Of course, too many kids today never seem to leave school.

Their parents work. Their grandparents work. Their older siblings work.

And our kids are forced to stay in some sort of daycare program, many of which are held at – yes – their schools. Nothing ever seems new in the fall because they’ve been there all along.

The big relief used once came from summer sports, but that seems to have changed, too.

It used to be that school dismissed around the first of June, you tried out for little league, played 15 games or so, had a tournament and had time left over for vacation with your family.

Now kids start playing little league before bypass construction has resumed, and by the time school is out, their regular season is just about completed.

That’s assuming you play baseball and softball. If you like those sports but prefer football or basketball or soccer, well, you have to choose.

You have to go to camps, “informal” practices, tour with club teams and immerse yourself in the choice you make at the experienced age of, oh, 7.

Diversification is not a course for summer credit. Neither is fun, it seems.

Teenagers have it worst, of course. And maybe that’s as it should be. Some teenagers deserve some tough treatment as payback for the surliness of adolescence.

But if they are athletes they have to be in the gym or on the diamond or in the weight room or playing touch football with the boys and girls they hope will be their teammates in the fall.

And when they’re not “practicing” with that team, some of them have the reprehensible requirement of having to raise money to pay for the program, if he or she wants to be part of the team.

Sorry, but it’s not the kid’s job to pay the bills. Not yet.

No, a kid’s job in the summer is to have fun, relax and recharge his or her mind for the long days of the school year and the pressures of academia in 2009.

It’s a time to play sports – but any that you enjoy, not just the one you have to choose – and to read books, but maybe it’s a novel and not a bio of Vincent Van Gogh.

It’s a time for family vacations, picnics on holidays and cookouts on any day. It’s a time for lemonade, fried chicken, homemade potato salad and homegrown watermelon.

It’s a time to sit in the twilight in your grandmother’s front-porch swing and watch the distant horizons for headlights in an endless and unwinnable game of “My Car.”

It’s a time for chasing fireflies, making your own ice cream and playing outside until way after sunset.

It’s a time to notice the glare of the lights of a distant softball field and ride your bike over just to watch your friends play.

It’s a time to learn to swim or just hang by a pool or a lake or maybe make a trip to the ocean.

It’s a time to fish or explore some dark woods or go up-and-down a back road on a bike hike.

It’s a time for slumber parties and sleepovers and backyard campouts and snipe hunts.

It’s a time to climb to the top of Natural Bridge or the bottom of Mammoth Cave.

It’s a time, believe it or not, to learn about our state’s history, geography, industry and culture by experiencing it an not just reading about it.

It’s a time to ride rides at the fair, to cruise around the hamburger place of the moment and to make new friends with students from other schools.

And – historically and culturally – it’s a time for music, and thus a time for concerts. Summer concerts always rule, and the big acts always have seemed to come to Kentucky in the summer.

And so it’s here that I must offer a confession: I was there – maybe you were, too -- in the summer of 1972 at Convention Center in Louisville when Alice Cooper was touring behind School’s Out.

I stood for 2 hours listening to the blaring music after having worked all day in the hot sun. My ears were ringing, I was dog tired and my head could not have hurt worse.

But I didn’t care, because it sure was cool to be out of school.