Alas, I have an opinion about everything. This can be dangerous (remember Trollope’s Phineas Finn opining But I have my own opinions, only to find they got him out of office just as quickly?).
The BBC has a story today about “five term” school years. Now, I have no objection in principle. Indeed, I think it might make my life much more straightforward, particularly if they were to do the other obvious think and start school in January or April along with the rest of the world (having three New Years is such a pain). However, what I do dislike about the suggestion is that it would time the academic year around nothing of any importance. What I mean is that all the wonderful symbolism of terms organised around Michaelmass, Hilary, Easter, and Whit would vanish: and, although people do not really understand that these feasts are the origin of the academic year, there is still within the very organisation of time around them something Christian, something of the “hallowing” of the rhythms of place and people which they represent; indeed, these seasonal patterns reach back to the very beginning of our self-understanding as a people.
Now, if this is removed, we will lose that “connection” which is a deep cultural memory. Something is eroded. It may only be a very small thing. But it is, nevertheless, something. And many small erosions eventually eat away the foundations and lead, inevitably, to collapse. “The white cloth can be dyed, the white page overwritten, the white light can be broken,” says Saruman, that persuasive logician of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. To which Gandalf answers, “Then it is no longer white! He who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom!” Of course, we think it is wise to break things to find out about them. And, although breaking the tradition of academic years isn’t much, we also break far more important things. We often break people. That is the worst of it – people are “experiments” walking around, things to be studied, to be scientifically investigated whether biologically, psychologically or sociologically. I will not say that much, much good hasn’t come from the biological sciences (but that does not rule out the bad). But I continue to be convinced that little good has come from modern psychology. And I am entirely with C S Lewis: “You cannot study Men; you can only get to know them.”
That brings me back to the vacations. I happen to think that the Summer is a time for families to be together as much as possible. That it is such a long break means there are all kinds of opportunities for parents to make the most of – especially of creating a family rhythm of life which can be observed as well in term time as outside it – and of interacting with their children as if they were human beings and not just a drain on resources or something to be utterly pandered to. I know this may be problematic to working parents. But, I also think there is a lot to be thought about there: what is an adequate standard of living and how much money is needed to support it? Is parenting children a higher priority than that second car or dishwasher or even so-called “personal fulfilment”? Is it possible to bring up children well if both parents work full-time? Just wondering…