By Corinne Wnek
Some things are just destined to go down in flames. I’m starting to think that the time honored and much cherished summer vacation from school is one of them. As an educator, I don’t like this because I am so use to my life revolving around the traditional school calendar that I don’t think I could adjust to something new at this stage of the game. But, the writing’s on the wall.
Let’s step back into history to understand how we came to enjoy this ‘birthright’ that we call summer vacation. In the days of the Civil War and probably even before that, schools rarely closed in the summer. Farmers in rural areas needed their kids at home for the spring planting and the fall harvesting. It was okay to go to school in the summer back then.
It was different in more urban areas of the country where students were not needed for farming chores. School was in session more frequently but with short, frequent breaks every couple of weeks, including the summer. But since attendance was not mandatory back then, few students attended classes.
In the mid 1800s, educational reformers blended the calendars of the rural and the urban families and decided upon summer as the best time to give teachers and students a respite from learning. Doctors supported this idea out of concern that the sweltering heat of July and August in a crowded classroom could prove unhealthy for everybody. Thus, we have the birth of summer vacation as we know it.
But like the song says, “The times, they are a changin’.” As students in the United States continue to lag behind students from other countries when compared academically, there is growing talk in educational and political circles that we need to revisit the structure of the American school year.
Now, I like having my summer off as much as anyone would, but it is hard to ignore the evidence that a lot of learned material is lost when students are removed from the classroom for long periods of time. Many other countries opt for a longer school year or have mini-vacations all year long. I could live with this option.
Without a doubt, ‘all year long school’ would be about as popular with taxpayers and families as pension reform was with teachers in New Jersey. Let’s start with buildings that would need to be air-conditioned. Ka-ching!
Then we would have to find a way to pay for all the people who actually educate students and those who keep the buildings clean and of course, the cafeteria staff, too. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! And we can’t forget that courses would need to be re-designed and developed, bringing in staff to work on the new curriculum. Oh, we would need the school nurse, too. Ka-ching, ching, ching!
But most likely the biggest obstacle to saying bye-bye to summer vacation would be the popular mindset that kids simply need a break from learning and that July and August ought to be months for families to spend time together doing fun and exciting stuff. But wait! Could it be that many of our kids don’t think of school as being fun and exciting between September and May and that’s why school people live for June? Nah, couldn’t be.
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