Sunday, June 8, 2014

“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world

where it was always June.” ~ L.M. Montgomery
 
Throughout America, students...and teachers...are counting the days until summer vacation starts.
Why does the American school year start in September and end in June? Despite the theory that it coincided with an agrarian calendar, historians at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum that recreates an 1830s New England farming village, say not. According to the web site and schoolmistress there, farm children went to school from December to March and from mid-May to August. Adults and children both helped with planting and harvesting in the spring and fall.
 
The modern school calendar has roots, not on rural farms but instead in urban cities. There are multiple reasons that lead to the summer break that students know today. In fact, schools in the early 1800s held school throughout the summer, but it was hot.  We can just turn down the thermostat today, but imagine sitting in an unventilated, urban schoolhouse without air conditioning or indoor plumbing as the thermometer pushed 100.  Not a comfortable environment for learning. For another, wealthier families – and some school administrators – took vacations in the summer.  And teachers often used the warmer months as training time. So organizers of what came to influence our modern school year thought it best to strike summer from the academic calendar and to allow everyone, urban and rural, some time out of class.
As the nation expanded and grew, education became important, and more public schools were built. But the need for academic breaks from learning was always seen as necessary. Nineteenth century and early twentieth century belief regarded the brain as a muscle, and that too much work and strain on the brain may result in injury (I am not going to comment on that at all!). 
 
Now I have some old textbooks in the shop...you know I buy them when I see them! And the second picture is from a page in the everyday arithmetic book...you know those questions would strain the brain! 
 
 
It was believed that younger children whose minds were still developing could be impacted by constant schooling.   As industrialism led to automation and wealth, and the nation recovered and expanded following the Civil War, leisure activity became more important to Americans.

In the American school system, there are no national standards for the length of the school year. Rather, this decision is left up to individual states. A majority of states require a minimum school year of 180 days; ten states require fewer than 180 days; and one state, Minnesota, has no minimum requirement for either the days of the school year or hours of instruction. The American minimums are in stark contrast to the 220 days averaged by top-performing South Korea and the 201 days in Japan, also a top performer. It seems clear that 20 percent more days of school provide more exposure to educational materials.

Finland – which has both one of the shortest school years and some of the best results in international education rankings – there is a push to improve learning by developing novel ways of learning, rather than increasing school days and lesson time.   In Finland, by law there can be 190 school days, but official holidays usually decrease the number. During the school year, there are normally four holidays. Most schools have a week’s autumn holiday, and all schools have at least a ten-day Christmas vacation, four-day Easter holidays, and a week-long winter break in February.  Local authorities have the right to determine when the school year begins, and often it starts in the middle of August. Legislation says that the school year has to end on the Saturday of the 22nd week of the year, either at the very end of May or at the beginning of June. 
As we meet the challenges of the 21st century, schools may have to consider the lazy hazy days of summer in new ways.   In the meantime, let the countdown begin!
 
Start of school year: 4 new packs of pencils, 7 awesome folders, 10 pens, 3 packs of paper and 1 ruler...End of the school year: 1 pencil. ~ Anonymous

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