From Daniel Luzer:
Next week begins, in many cases, the three-month period that is summer vacation from school. For those of us long outside of education, and without children of our own, it may be a little hard to recall the sheer joy that is summer vacation. Three whole months outside of the classroom. Your mother surely got annoyed with your sunburns, the fact that you preferred to spend the day playing video games, and your demands to be taken over to your friends’ houses to play, but at least for a few days after school let out in June, did anything on Earth seem better?
But if for children those three months feel like a much-needed break from all that hard work, summer vacation really has nothing to do with children at all.
It exists, most Americans believe, only because in the early days of the United States free primary schools mostly educated the children of farmers. And they needed the kids at home because summer (or, well, roughly May to October) is the primary growing season.
As Harris Cooper, chairman of the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University, explained, “the present nine-month calendar emerged when 85 percent of Americans were involved in agriculture and when climate control in school buildings was limited.” But now that only three percent of Americans live on farms, shouldn’t we keep them in school for much of the summer?…
But it wasn’t a desire to keep everyone working on the farm during the summer that caused schools to adopt the three-month vacation; it was just an effort to standardize schooling across the country. Urbanization created the long summer vacation, not an agricultural economy. If all students had more or less the same schedule it was easier to administer testing and sell standardized education materials like textbooks.