Headmaster’s Thoughts – July 2012

Let me begin by wishing all of our students, faculty, and parents a very enjoyable and healthy summer.

I think most people know of published studies indicating that students from “culturally advantaged” homes move forward educationally in the long summer months, while students from “culturally disadvantaged” homes stagnate and fall behind in their academic progress.

I am not a fan of any study that uses the word “cultural.” The term seems to suggest racial overtones that are totally irrelevant. Nor can I connect the word with my nemesis—video games. The fact is that, if your child has a summer of exploration and adventure, he or she will do better than a child who spends his or her summers playing video games. If your child reads and learns new skills, he or she will do better than a child who spends summers playing video games. If children dance or improve their musical or dramatic skills or if they participate with other young people in some positive program, they will do better than video-game-playing students.

Take-away lesson? Control video game usage! In fact, I understand that excessive video game playing will be considered an addiction like any other in the new edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due out soon. If it is not, it should be.

I am happy to say that my children grew up in an age when the only video game was “Pong,” which bored virtually everyone after about ten minutes. We did not have then the complicated (and clever) games that are on the market now. Thank you, someone! If your child is stuck on these games (and, in the interest of truth, I admit that I enjoy occasionally playing FreeCell on my computer), my advice is just to take the video games away until balance is restored. One should make the distinction between obsessive compulsion to play and natural interest. This is how I justify wasting five minutes at a time on FreeCell. The reality is that we all know obsession when we see it, even if we cannot define it.

Summer is the ideal time for children to expand their knowledge base outside the parameters of a school day. As a big fan of sleep-away camp, my sentiments are well known (but then I met my wife as a counselor at a sleep-away camp, so I might be biased). Here in the City, there are great programs in almost every field of endeavor for young people to pursue and enjoy and learn.

The summer is a wonderful time for young people (and old people like me) to read. I could never have read War and Peace(see Headmaster’s Thoughts, May 2009) during the regular school year. I am not suggesting that your child read War and Peace (I might be dumb but not totally out of touch with reality), but it would be a great parent/child project to consider which books you both would like to read and agree to read them in those long summer months and then discuss them. Is this too over-optimistic?

Well, I have written my piece; now I can play FreeCell… just one game!

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section More News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.