The standard "take three months off every summer" schedule that our schools use came about through a combination of fiscal limitations, hundred-year-old developmental theories and antiquated medical concerns that kids somehow couldn't hold up under year-round teaching.
You may have also heard that it's a vestige of farming days, when families needed the kids back on the farm. That's not really true -- that would have meant time off during spring and fall, for planting and harvesting. Either way, it's old-fashioned. And it's hurting our kids. Especially the poor ones.
Why It's Inefficient:
Three things happen when you take kids out of school for three months.
Not to the teachers -- to the kids.
A. They get dumber. The human brain forgets things it doesn't use, and not many kids are doing fractions and reading Shakespeare during the summer. A recent Time article found that, on average, students lose around a month of math skills each summer. Kids who are poor and don't have access to summer enrichment programs do even worse: Low-income students lose as many as three months of reading comprehension. Other studies suggest that ninth-grade summer learning loss can be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups.
B. They need to be re-taught what they've forgotten, so kids wind up spending up to a month in the fall reviewing what they learned the previous year, when they could be moving ahead. Most countries that boast higher test scores have shorter summer breaks, and there could be a connection. Sure, some kids are going to be idiots and need to be re-taught things no matter what, but why exacerbate matters with 90 days with no math beyond counting how many levels are left before their Night Elf can get a Flying Mount?
C. They get fatter. Brains aren't the only things that degrade when kids are left to three months of Halo 3 and nut-kick videos -- they also eat worse. Kids gain body mass twice as fast during the summer as during the school year. Most parents can't afford to take three months off work and babysit, or pay for day care, so without adults policing their intake, many kids are left to their own waddlesome devices.
Why We're Stuck With It:
And yet, more than two-thirds of people oppose the idea of year-round schooling. Summer vacation hasn't changed much in the last 100 years, and though a few schools are trying year-round classes, it's hard to imagine it catching on countrywide. Simply put, Americans just love their summers. They've been romanticized through adult memories and storybooks of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn spending their long summer days committing grifts and helping slaves escape. What could be more American than that?
Maybe the Statue of Liberty giving the finger to winter.
Now, nobody's suggesting getting rid of vacations entirely -- after all, kids need to recharge, especially those who don't particularly like school. We also don't have the money to pay teachers and keep buildings open year-round, or to clean up after the riots that would inevitably ensue if such a thing were ever actually instituted.
But maybe we could spread the vacations around, like many of the countries that are kicking our ass do. Take the hottest month of summer off to save AC costs, and take the coldest month of winter off to save on heating. A one- or two- month summer is long enough to take family trips, take up a crappy summer job and prevent teachers from spiraling into a three-month abyss of dread and alcoholism.
2Corks in Wine Bottles
As long as people have been finding ways to get drunk off stuff, we've needed ways to close up containers, so we can get drunk again later. As bottles became widely used for wine and other products, people found that a soft wood called cork was the best thing to cram into them to avoid taking a swig of vinegar later.
That was a very, very long time ago. As with many things, technology evolved, and today there are plenty of cheaper, just-as-good ways to close up a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck.
What you do after you open it is your own damn business.
Why It's Inefficient:
What, you mean there are problems with plugging up a bottle with a hunk of soggy wood?
Wine snobs will tell you that the reason corks are better than screw-tops or plastic stoppers is that they let a tiny trace of oxygen through to help the aging process. This is fine, except that 95 percent of wine purchased in the U.S. is consumed within the first year, and 75 percent within the first three days. At these rates, we could be using masking tape to seal bottles. According to wine expert Kevin Zraly, only 1 percent of the bottles produced currently in the world are even meant to be aged beyond five years, the period synthetic stoppers are designed for.
Hell, some don't even make it out of the winery and need no stoppers at all.
Synthetic corks are even starting to be tested for their rate of air permeation, and companies have been pouring money into developing closures that control the amount of oxygen that's allowed through them. It won't be long until an airtight cyberseal sings lullabies to your Merlot and gives it a squirt of two molecules of oxygen every year.
Also, cork incubates a fungus called "cork taint." Mold, chlorine and phenols can react in natural cork, creating the fungus that produces a taste in the wine that's been described as varying between "wet dog" and "grapes barfed in my mouth." And it affects anywhere from 1 to 11 percent of wines.
Of course, some people just don't care about that sort of thing.
Cork is also expensive, partly because it takes more than 40 years for an oak tree to mature enough to produce good natural cork, which usually has to be harvested by hand (and the first harvest can't be used for wine corks). Sure, some of the cheapest corks are competitive with synthetic alternatives, but those are the corks most likely to cause taint and break into floaty pieces in your crappy Riesling. More often, a cork costs 75 cents, or even a few dollars for the high-end ones.
Why We're Stuck With It:
People still associate cork with class and status, and popping a cork out of your 1950 Cabernet Sauvignon is just more impressive than deactivating an iCork developed by Apple. Alternative stoppers aren't new, but even with their cheaper prices and comparable qualities, they've only just begun to infiltrate the world's bottle-stopping industry.
The hillbilly dishrag part, we may have just made up.