Used to be, August was the month of nothing.
By the time it rolled around, the shimmer of summer had long worn off, the delicious freedom of no school soured into banality and July's fireworks were an already distant memory. Even the ice cream truck man bailed, probably waiting out the heat by eating all the Cherry Bomb Pops himself.
All that was left were interminable days of drinking metallic-tasting water from the hose and waiting on the back steps until your mother would let you back in the house.
August readied young minds for life's inevitable grind with its sheer boring blankness. August built freaking character.
If you were lucky, maybe you got a nauseatingly hot road trip in the back of your parents' station wagon to visit family friends who thought popsicles were the work of the Evil Agro-Industrial Complex and instead served you unfiltered apple juice and saltines.
There are no major or even minor holidays in August, unless you count the independence days of India and Pakistan, two countries that, much like the siblings with whom you battled the boundaries of that searing vinyl backseat that made the back of your legs slimy with sweat, don't really like to share anything but are just going to have to work it out for themselves.
August does happen to be National Goat Cheese month, but who the hell wants to celebrate that? Even if your mom let you eat your cousins' gross stack of crackers while riding in her prized 1980 Chevy Citation, you'd still risk a slap for smearing chevre in your brother's hair.
August could also inspire out of its plebian void. You might happen to discover the works of William Yeats at the air-conditioned public library. Or craft your own bow and arrows from bamboo and shale collected from the vacant lot next door. Or catch a nasty rash from swimming in the irrigation ditches of the neighborhood golf course, provoking a passionate interest in a medical career.
But we don't live in that world any more. The sudoric slackertude of August has been eaten up by the Drivers of Modern Ambition, the same devils who replaced lazy Sunday afternoons with mortgage refinancing paperwork and three-hour forays to Home Depot.
Current culture does not allow for a single unscheduled moment, let alone a month. (You there, reading this at a coffeeshop and leisurely sipping an iced chai? The Devils are frowning deeply.)
This is evident in how the first day of school has crept all up into August's lackadaisical business, when most kids haven't even had a chance to examine their toenails in depth or pick a really good fight with their Barbies.
Effingham County herded its students into its educational institutions last week. Bowing to pressure from the rest of Georgia, the Savannah Chatham County Public School System conformed to start two weeks early this year on the 12th, chopping away those last indolent hours.
In a pragmatic context, it's all perfectly logical.
"We moved the calendar up two weeks to allow the semester to end before the December break. That way, students can take their exams before they go out on break," explained District 1 School Board member Julie Wade after I sent her a whiny e-mail about stolen childhoods and essential golf course exploration and the underrated value of staring off into space for hours at a time.
A public school parent herself, Wade too lamented the loss of August's days of sloth, but pointed out that the shift also "aligns our district with the rest of the state for state testing purposes."
Falling into line means presenting a unified front for Race to the Top, the kill-or-be-killed competition between states for federal educational funding. Georgia garnered an extra $400 million in 2010 and is struggling with the implementation of teacher evaluation systems, posing a risk to the flow of any continued cash.
While none of that money goes to the arts or school gardens, a couple of weeks seems a small price to keep schools open.
Besides, Wade promised, "We will get out by Memorial Day and have a regular summer next year."
But what about the summer after that? Will the Devils whisper insidious things about idle hands in the BOE's ears, spurring a decision to hold school all the time?
The concept of year-round school is heralded as genius by some, allowing for increased productivity from students and less stress on working parents. Sounds like a gawdamn gerbil wheel to me, a way to suck the very last vestiges of imagination from the human spirit and turn our kids into little C3POs.
As columnist Kerry Dougherty wrote in the Virginian-Pilot, "We can only hope that in a decade or two, year-round schools will be tossed atop the slagheap of American educational experiments."
Fortunately, Wade swears that Chatham County is not touching the possibility of year-round school with a 10-foot pole.(Maybe someday day, though, we will align ourselves with the rest of the world and its handy-dandy universal metric system.)
Still, as I buy up khaki pants and neoprene lunch bags for the new school year, I'm feeling sad for my own kids, who will never know the dormant possibilities of August's torpid emptiness.
Maybe I'll lock them outside with the garden hose for a few hours, just to give them a taste.
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Nice article, enjoyed reading it.