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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'The Myth Behind the Origins of Summer Vacation'

Tim Taylor:

The Myth Behind the Origins of Summer Vacation: Why do students have summer vacation? One common answer is that it's a holdover from when America was more rural and needed children to help out on the farm, but even just a small amount of introspection suggests that answer is wrong. Even if you know very little about the practical side of farming, think for just a moment about what are probably the most time-sensitive and busiest periods for a farmer: spring planting and fall harvest. Not summer!
I'm not claiming to have made any great discovery here that summer vacation didn't start as result of following some typical pattern of agricultural production.  Mess around on the web a bit, and you'll find more accurate historical descriptions of how summer vacation got started (for example, here's one from a 2008 issue of TIME magazine and here's one from the Washington Post last spring). My discussion here draws heavily on a 2002 book by Kenneth M. Gold, a professor of education at the City University of New York, called School's In: The History of Summer Vacation in American Public Schools.
Gold points out that back in the early 19th century, US schools followed two main patterns. Rural schools typically had two terms: a winter term and a summer one, with spring and fall available for children to help with planting and harvesting. The school terms in rural schools were relatively short: 2-3 months each. In contrast, in urban areas early in the first half of the 19th century, it was fairly common for school districts to have 240 days or more of school per year, often in the form of four quarters spread over the year, each separated by a week of official vacation. However, whatever the length of the school term, actual school attendance was often not compulsory.
In the second half of the 19th century, school reformers who wanted to standardize the school year found themselves wanting to length the rural school year and to shorten the urban school year, ultimately ending up by the early 20th century with the modern school year of about 180 days. ...

With these changes, why did summer vacation arise as a standard pattern during the second half of the 19th century, when it had not been common in either rural or urban areas before that? At various points, Gold notes a number of contributing factors. ...

    Posted by on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 11:42 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (14)

          


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