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Why Children Get Summers Off From School

Why do children get summers off from school?


It was originally thought that children got summers off from school starting in the 19th century so they could be home to work on the farm when the daytime was longer. As plausible as that sounds, it’s more a function of how children from the city were treated by their parents.

Prior to the Civil War, farm kids never had summers off. In fact, they went to school during the hottest and coldest months of the year and spent time away from school during the spring and fall when crops needed to be planted and harvested. 

At the same time, children in the city stayed in school for the entire year…including summers. Fun fact: the city of Detroit, Michigan had a school year that lasted 260 days in 1842.

The bad news is that global warming started long before Al Gore found out about it.  As the cities got more and more built out – and populated – the hotter they became.

There were endless streets with concrete and brick edifices lining them that turned neighborhoods into oversized kilns. Essentially, they were experiencing what is called the “urban heat island effect,” which happens when an urban area, or metropolitan area, becomes significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. 

It was at this time that America’s swelling middle and upper class families started heading out to the  cooler countryside. And there’s where the problem started. You see, school attendance was anything but mandatory back then. And now, with classrooms half-empty when summer hit, they had to make some tough decisions.

City legislators realized that they weren’t going to be able to corral the masses when the heat hit. So, instead, they “decided” that children should enjoy summers off anyway. The decision blended nicely with what was happening at that time in history, too. Leisure time was becoming more important as labor unions and the eight-hour work day took root. Working adults were getting more time to themselves than ever before.

Willis Carrier with the first air conditioner in 1902

To boot, those who advocated for vacation time also argued — albeit incorrectly — that the brain was a muscle. And as with any muscle that got overused,  it could suffer injuries and be harmed. It soon became the cornerstone of the argument that students shouldn’t go to school year-round because it could negatively impact their brains. And to make things worse, air conditioning was a long way away from being invented, which made city schools during summer time virtually unbearable.

So by the time we hit the 20th Century, urban school districts found a way to hack roughly 60 school days from the hottest part of the year. Not long after, rural schools followed suit so that their students wouldn’t fall behind. Not surprisingly, businesses saw the writing on the wall and the summer vacation industry began to skyrocket into what is now one of the country’s biggest billion-dollar industries.

All of this said, the school year is upon us and summer is now over. The good news is that we have lots of good air conditioning here in Texas…no matter how hot it gets.

This blog post was provided by:

Sharon Hodnett from Team Hodnett at Keller Williams


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