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NO MORE PENCILS, NO MORE BOOKS The Surprising History of Summer Vacation
Parents of America, it is, for better or for worse, that time of year again. Yes, summer vacation is here. As movie theaters trot out their latest batch of explosions and public pools fill with an unsanitary clump of human bodies, some of us ponder the origins of summer break. Why do these unruly kids get a three-month break, while most of us sit toiling away at work? The commonly accepted and oft-quoted theory is that the seasonal school gap has its roots in our country’s agrarian past. We imagine rural kids out of the schoolhouse and into the fields, planting rows of crops in the summer sun. But the fact is, the agrarian calendar has little to do with your kids’ inevitable summer boredom. Back in the day, children in agricultural areas were most needed for planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. The school year reflected that and was comprised of a short winter term and a short summer term. While schools in urban areas had different schedules, summer was always included. The school year averaged 240 days a year, as opposed to the modern 180. However, lessons weren’t mandatory, and before air conditioning was an option, school buildings would often become brutally hot. Kids would skip out to avoid the untenable temperatures, and wealthier families would flee the city for cooler climes. The poor attendance during the summer months got some pundits wondering: Was such a long school calendar worthwhile? Not only that, but physicians began to speculate about the repercussions of so many days spent indoors behind a desk.
This, coupled with a push by school reformers to standardize the school schedule, caused officials to gradually shorten the school year, eventually doing away with the summer quarter altogether. Today, some people wonder whether the three months of no school are a benefit or a burden. Researchers have shown that a “summer slide” occurs during the sweltering months. When students return to school in late August, they often have lost the equivalent of an entire month of learning. For these reasons and others, several nonprofit organizations campaign each year for
a restructuring of the calendar, and some private schools remain open in the summer.
Whatever the case may be, the kids aren’t worried. They’re too busy getting hyped up on sunlight, mentally mapping out their summer plans, and composing lists of video games to conquer. As the song goes, “School’s out for summer,” and there’s no turning back. – Steve Brooks
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