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Summer Break: Why Can't Kids Retain Information?

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kid not listening

There is something seriously wrong with the ability for our children to retain information.  The decline has been swift and severe in just the past decade.

Perhaps they are not listening.  Perhaps they don’t see any reason for listening…or remembering.  Perhaps they are surrounded by distractions – peers, technology, drama.  Perhaps there is something in their diet that is bringing about an organic change in their brains.

Perhaps it is just not cool to think any longer.

I have been teaching a great deal of history in my writing class in order to bring forth some thoughtful essays.  In December, we discussed and wrote about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  After the holidays, we studied the Japanese internment camps.  This past week we began learning about the bombing of Hiroshima. 

We watched videos.  We read articles.  We read novels.  We took notes.  We discussed. We developed timelines. We wrote essays. 

After two days of talking and writing about Hiroshima, I decided to review.

“What day was Hiroshima bombed?” I asked.

“1945,” Estelle replied.

“That’s a year.  What date?”


Finally, someone looked on the board where notes from the day before were still emblazoned.

“August,” Derek shouted.

“Great,” I rejoiced.  “August 6, 1945.  What season was that?”

“August,” William squeaked.

“August is a month.  What season?  You know, winter, spring, fall, summer…”

Cacophony amongst unraised hands.  “Winter!  Summer!  Spring!  Fall!”

“Wonderful,” I hissed.  “We’ve finished calendar time.  Kids!  This is seventh grade!  What season does August fall in?”

“Fall?” Leticia whispers.

I spoke slowly and breathed deeply.  “We. Come. Back. To. School. In. August.   It. Is. Hot.”

“Spring?” Tomas ventures.

I smack my forehead.  “We come back from vacation.  When is our vacation?”

“Oh!” several shout.  Then crickets.  Finally, Milo has the nerve to say, “Summer!”

The last five minutes was a wonderful review of the kindergarten curriculum.

“So, let’s get back to the topic.  Hiroshima.  Who bombed Japan?”

“I thought we were talking about Hiroshima,” Elise groaned, rolling her eyes.

“Hiroshima is in Japan,” I hissed.  “Who bombed Hiroshima?”

“We did,” Caitlyn answered.

“Who is we?”

“America, duh!” answered Ethan.

“Excellent, Ethan,” I reply, grateful for a correct answer.  “So why did the U.S. bomb this city?”


I checked my pulse and repeated my question.  “Why did our country bomb Japan?”

“They were bad to us,” Alan replied.

“Okay, but that is a pretty low-level response for a seventh-grade discussion.  Could you be more specific?”

Alan could not be more specific.  Neither could anyone else.

“Look, people, I know you love showing up just to hear me talk, but the goal here is that you learn something and that you become better writers.  So, let’s do some connecting to what we’ve already learned.  Okay?”  I checked my pulse again.

“So,” I continued.  “What happened on December 7, 1941?”

“They bombed us!” Alan shouted.

At this point, I didn’t care if the kids raised their hands or not.   “Yes!” I shouted back.  “Who bombed us?”

“The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor!” Alan exclaimed. 

“Okay!  Now, Elise, repeat what Alan just said.”

Deer in the headlights.  Finally, “Pearl Harbor?”

“What about Pearl Harbor?”

“It was on fire.”

I smacked my forehead.  Alan smacked his forehead.  Crickets chirped.  Children sat.  Eyes glazed over.  The world was peaceful and bright…and thoughtless.

Something is wrong with our system.  Perhaps it is our curriculum.  Perhaps it is the expectation that we only teach the topics that will appear on the tests that label our effectiveness as teachers. 

Perhaps it is social media.  Type tiny messages.  Use little words.  Use an emoji.  Smile.  Everything is fast.  Everything is simple. Be happy.

Perhaps it is the expectation of society that knowledge is not important, that hard work is not necessary, that personal drive is a waste of time. 

Perhaps knowledge, hard work, and drive are only for those in control.

Perhaps I just need a summer break.

In what month will that be?


Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2019


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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in six Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received several first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Thursday, 25 April 2019