At Randolph Community College, our Fall 2011 semester launches on August 15, bringing a ceremonious close of sorts to summer. In the local schools, as well, teachers are reporting back right around this same time, and their students will soon follow.
So, I find myself wondering once more about the whole concept of the 'summer vacation' and why America's educational calendar is built around the premise of the summer break. I've always thought that the June-July-August break took root when our society was agrarian...when family farms dotted the American landscape in all places except the most urban areas and those involved in agriculture for their livelihoods and subsistence far outnumbered those who were not. It always made sense to me, especially since my own family usually has a garden each summer, that school-age children were needed in the fields in the summer and the educational system simply accommodated those needs.
Recently, however, I read online that historians at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum that recreates an 1830s New England farming village, say that the summer timing doesn't really correlate to historic agricultual needs. What these historians say is that farm children went to school from December to March and from mid-May to August. Why? Because spring and fall were apparently the peak planting and harvesting times, and it was during those spans that children were needed in the fields.
So, I definitely have cause to re-think my own old preconceived notions about the original purpose of the summer vacation. I will have to dig a little further into this whole issue, because it is so central to the American culture and way of life. Anyone out there know of good sources of information? If so, please let me know. And if you are an elementary or secondary school teacher, or a student not attending summer classes, I hope you enjoy your remaining days off!