Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer vacation matters

Education, ironically, suspends itself in a web of easily falsifiable myths. There's a reason folks selling snake oil flock around school administration buildings.

Summer is winding down. One of the big myths in education is that summer vacation came about for agricultural reasons. That we even believe this shows how far removed most of us are from the land. Arne himself chirps in:

"Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today."
Arne Duncan, The Daily News, 9/29/2009

Few of us even know any small farmers today, for good reason. Hardly any left. But I do. He's pretty durn busy in the early spring, and he's just revving up now to be busy again as harvest begins. July, though, he spends more time with his slide guitar than with his pitchfork (or whatever tools farmers use today) while a couple of his friends literally fiddle alongside him.

Few of our children (or adults, for that matter) have any sense of the agrarian calendar. Remnants can be seen at local farmstands as strawberries morph into peaches then apples, asparagus into tomatoes then Brussels sprouts as the daylight dwindles.

The children who attend church still hear the seasonal stories of agrarian life, but those stories lose meaning as we lose touch with the plow.

In high school, there are no seasons in a classroom.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of summer vacations for children, and here's why.
I believe that summer vacation has as much to do with creating lifelong scientists as any scheme Arne might scrape together. Few things fuel curiosity as well as free time out under the sky, and for the cost of a few scrapes, maybe a broken bone or two, and muddy footprints in the kitchen, we get young'uns who learn enough about the earth under their feet to care to learn some more.

Until we transform our schools into homes of learning instead of the factories of facts many are today, children need time away from the inanities of modern educators.

"Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play."
Heraclitus "The Obscure" of Ephesus, ca 500 BCE

I did not raise my own children to be "career and college ready"--my goal was to help guide them become sane, happy adults interested in the world.

Arne has yet to convince me a child deserves any less.


Sue VanHattum said...

I never really thought about it. Yep, that makes sense. But do you know what the true motivation was, then, for summers off?

John T. Spencer said...

I always thought it was the agrarian calendar, too, until my wife's grandmother (eighty-eight years old) corrected me on that.

"No, when I grew up in Arkansas we had an agrarian calendar for school. We went to school year-round and then took a break for planting, a break for sowing and a break for hunting. When we moved to Arizona and I had my own kids, I was surprised that they had summers off and a small break for Christmas and Easter."

So, like Sue, I'm wondering when and why we switched to summers off.

doyle said...

Dear Sue and John,

Here's a link to an EdWeek piece that talks about this--makes more sense than the agrarian economy nonsense anyway.

Sue VanHattum said...

That piece says it was the elites, and this piece says that it was a public health concern:

Giving kids the summer off, says Thaler, has its roots in urban, not rural, America. Cities, he says “were hot, dusty, smelly, uncomfortable places to live in summers. They had dirt roads, lots of horses (with manure and urine and horseflies), few big trees, no electric fans or air-conditioning, lots of insects, many buildings which blocked cooling winds, etc.” Hence summer recess was largely a public health issue for children.

doyle said...

Dear Sue,

Ah, thanks!

John T. Spencer said...

In the case of Phoenix, it wasn't an option. It was too hot to do school in the summertime without air conditioning. Suddenly my wife's gradma's story makes more sense. In rural Arkansas, it would have followed an agrarian calendar. In semi-urban Phoenix, it would have been way too hot.