Summer and The Myth of the Agrarian Calendar by Erika Guy, Dean of Students
Earlier this summer, 11 eager Nobles students, colleague Jess Brennan and I ventured out on Nobles' first-ever Farm and Food Systems Service trip. It was seven days of working in the fields of a small organic farm in rural New Hampshire, supplemented with daily trips to food-related industries in the region (cheese makers, mushroom growers, bread makers, orchards, etc.). It was a glorious time, filled with the sights and smells of farm, the joy of discovery (i.e. farmers never get a day off), and the thrill of ending the day with sore backs, sunburned faces and a genuine sense of having contributed. I like to think that the students became as enamored of the gentle ways of dairy cows as I. The gift that enabled our learning is called SUMMER.
Every now and again, there erupts an educational movement that takes aim at our summer hiatus. I now feel marginally qualified to weigh in on the perennial debate about summer vacation. To say that summer break is modeled on antiquated agrarian needs is absurd. Anyone who knows anything about farming, knows that the busiest times on the land are spring and fall: planting, calving and lambing in the spring and harvest in the fall.
But according to "A Brief History of Summer Vacation," a Time Magazine article written by Alex Altman several years ago, the summer vacation we know and love has not always been the norm:
“In the decades before the Civil War, schools operated on one of two calendars, neither of which included a summer hiatus. Rural schooling was divided into summer and winter terms, leaving kids free to pitch in with the spring planting and fall harvest seasons. Urban students, meanwhile, regularly endured as many as 48 weeks of study a year, with one break per quarter. In the 1840s, however, educational reformers like Horace Mann moved to merge the two calendars out of concern that rural schooling was insufficient and—invoking then current medical theory that over stimulating young minds could lead to nervous disorders or insanity. Summer emerged as the obvious time for a break: it offered a respite for teachers and alleviated physicians' concerns that packing students into sweltering classrooms would promote the spread of disease.”
While the various plans to eradicate summer predict bold and considerable benefits (higher SAT scores, increased high school graduation rates, etc.), many schools that adopted year-round calendars during the 1990s have returned to the traditional model. What those towns and school districts learned was that there is healing balm in the slowed pace, the change of scenery, and the temporary suspension of the nomos.
Soon enough, the pace will quicken, the patterns will return and we will head full speed into a new school year, but for just a little while, I hope you all can cling to some of the luxury of an institution that glorifies childhood.
Welcome back and thanks for reading,
Erika Guy, Dean of Students