Writer’s Block: Re-Thinking The School Year

writers-blockby Corinne Wnek

Some things are just destined to go down in flames. I’m betting that the much cherished summer vacation from school is one of them. But relax.  It will take a while. In the meantime, let’s step back into history to understand how the tradition of summer vacation came about.

In the days of the Civil War, and even before that, schools rarely closed in the summer. Farmers in rural areas only needed their kids at home for the spring planting and the fall harvesting, opening up summer for learning.

It was different in more urban areas of the country where students were not needed for farm chores. School was in session more frequently but with short, frequent breaks every couple of weeks, including the summer. But since school attendance was not mandatory back then, few students attended classes.

In the mid 1800’s 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 heat of July and August could prove unhealthy for everybody. And so the ‘school’s out for the summer’ syndrome was born.

But like the song says, “The times, they are a changin’.” As students in the United States continue to lag in academics behind those from other countries, there is growing talk in educational circles that we should revisit the structure of the American school year.

Having summer off is great, but it is hard to ignore evidence that a lot of learned material is lost when students are out of school for long periods of time.  Many other countries opt for a longer school year or have mini-vacations all year long.

Without a doubt, ‘all year long school’ would be costly to taxpayers. 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 teachers and those who keep the buildings clean. And the cafeteria staff. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! We would need the school nurse, too. Ka-ching, ching, ching!

An obstacle to saying bye-bye to summer vacation would be those parents who believe 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.

Does that mean kids don’t think of school as being fun and exciting between September and May and that’s why they can’t wait for June?


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