As much as I’d like the Church calendar to set the rhythm of my life, it’s the school calendar. The Church year is varied, shimmering, dappled—the school calendar, not so much. Nine and a half months of the Apollonian followed by ten weeks of the Dionysian. A lot of one thing, then a lot of the other. Both the school year and summer break strike me as entirely too long. Students tend to mentally check out of school in early April, but they also claim there’s “nothing to do” by mid-July. Honestly, three separate month-long breaks throughout the year would probably be far more productive and peaceful.

And yet the school calendar isn’t a total wash.

If you squint, the school year looks a bit like this life and the summer looks a bit like the life to come. For those who labor diligently during the school year, the summer is restful. For those who fail to work diligently throughout the school year, the summer is vexing and fraught with aggravating repayments. Taken as such, the end of the school year is particularly important. The school year dies, and we must find some fitting elegy for it.

With this in mind, I offer the following suggestions on helping students end the school year well.

1. Labor faithfully until the bitter end. The reason we call the bitter end “the bitter end” is because it is very hard to care about anything through to completion—to keep caring until it is entirely, completely over. Consider how many people leave a basketball game once it becomes obvious who is going to win. Staying until the final buzzer means being last in line to exit an overfilled parking lot. We exit movies before the credits finish, leave concerts before the encore, and skim the final ten pages of a novel. The end is bitter because it’s boring and it’s boring because the outcome is already assured.

Students are tempted to do the same thing at the end of a school year. At a certain point, they figure out that their grade for the semester is secure and that it “doesn’t really matter” what they get on a certain late assignment, and so they don’t even try. Students offer elaborate explanations to parents about why skipping the last two days of the school year “won’t change anything,” or how there’s “no point” studying for a final exam because it’s not worth enough points to rock their report card from an A to an A-.

The thing is, if school is actually worth doing, it’s worth doing well until it’s entirely, completely over. If school is about grades and grades alone, you might as well just cheat because none of it ultimately matters. That might sound quite extreme, but let’s consider for a moment what school is like. If school is like a basketball game, any team which is up by fifty can quit genuinely trying once the clock gets down to two minutes. A win is a win, just like an A is an A (whether it’s a 93 or a 96). If school is a game of numbers, play it like a game of numbers.

But if school is about growing in wisdom, students have just as much to gain in the final ten days of the year as they do the first ten days. A student has no more reason to throw in the towel in late May than he does to turn heretic as soon as he enters hospice care.

2. Remember what worked about the school year. There’s something about a lack of structure that makes people far more inclined to sin. Spend a moment considering the frequency with which you sin. Minute for minute, hour for hour, envy for envy, gluttony for gluttony, do you do more sinning at work or at home? Do you do more sinning during the workweek or the weekend? Do you do more sinning over the winter or the summer? If you’re willing to answer these questions honestly, it’s unavoidable that you sin far more often when you’re not on a schedule and not being held accountable.  

As the chief of sinners, I sin a lot, but I have to confess I do far more of my sinning when my time is unstructured. I’m an evening sinner, a weekend sinner, a July sinner. For every sin I commit while on the clock, I commit nine at home. Accordingly, the end of the school year needs to be spent in spiritual preparation for the summer. As best you can, give yourself a schedule, and give your children a schedule, and hold them (and yourself) to it. The chief purpose of a schedule isn’t to be productive (though it will help with that) but to be holy. A schedule is a vital tool for fighting temptation.

3. Finally, admit that summer is different. All the big Oscar contenders for Best Picture come out in November, when people are feeling thoughtful. In the summer, though, it’s movies about robots, aliens, dinosaurs, and New York City getting destroyed for the hundredth time. Hollywood knows well what the weather does to human psychology. In the winter, we bundle up, cook casseroles, and find reasons to stay inside. In the summer, we wear relatively little, throw meat on sizzling grills, and lounge late into the evening on the lawn. These separate styles of living can’t help but create different aesthetic desires.  

You should give your children good books to read and good movies to watch during the summer, but summer fare ought to tend toward the sensual, even when it’s thoughtful. Winter is intellectual and thoughtful, but summer is wild which means it’s the time for movies like Vertigo, Night of the Hunter, La Jetee, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, The Birds, The Seven Year Itch, and Ace in the Hole. You can go back to costume dramas in the fall.

For summer reading, I recommend Borges, Bradbury, and Calvino—not Austen and Milton. For music, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Debussy, and Ravel’s Boléro. In other words, mad things. That’s summer. The sooner you can convince your children that their tastes ought to be in accord with nature and its seasons, the better they’ll grow up.

Joshua Gibbs is the director of The Classical Teaching Institute at The Ambrose School. He is the author of many books including Love What Lasts and Something They Will Not Forget. He teaches online at