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Summer Vacation 101

Dr. Carol McGaughey

 As everyone knows, summer vacation is a carry-over from the agrarian era when school children were needed during the summer months to assist on the family farm. In this digital age when school children are taken to farms on fieldtrips or play Farmville to learn about farms, this is certainly not a reason to have a summer vacation, yet the break from school still persists. Why?

    Well, first the mythology of summer vacation needs to be examined more closely. According to historians at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum that recreates an 1830’s New England farming village, farm children attended school from December to March and from mid-May to August.  Rural students were not in session in spring or fall so students could help with spring planting and the autumn harvest. Urban schools in the 1800’s were on an 11 month school year to provide a safe, affordable place for the children of immigrants to stay while their parents worked. These students had no summer vacation, despite the common belief that summer vacation is a legacy from the era of farming. So, how did having a vacation in the summer begin?

    According to Professor Ken Gold of City University in New York, school reformers of the late 19th century instituted summer vacation for several reasons, none of which relate to agriculture. First, reformers wanted a standardized school year for the urban and rural communities.  The rural essentially had two terms; summer and winter; while the urban schools ran all year with time off for holidays. The compromise was to remove the summer term with school in session the rest of the year except for important holidays. So, with otheravailable choices, why remove the summer term?

    The wealthy families in urban areas vacationed during the summer, thus pupils were absent for long stretches of time. That was certainly positive for these children as the heat in urban school buildings without air conditioning was stifling causing many other children to stay out of school at that time as well. Additionally, doctors of the era actually thought it was medically unwise to confine students in a classroom year-round. They believed a break was needed. Finally, the summer months were a time for teachers to train as there were few colleges to attend for certification but an availability of summer teacher training.

    Thus, the summer vacation was born. Over the years, it became entrenched in American culture, and the economy began to depend on the many facets that accompanied this extended break from school. Whatever the origin, college students, and their professors, look forward to a time to rest and recharge, to regenerate and re-invent, to remember and reflect.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1

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