A Brief History Of: Summer Vacation

Mark Edward Atkinson / Blend Images / Corbis

This month millions of American kids flee the tyranny of the classroom bell for lifeguard stands, grandparents' homes and sleepaway camps. But summer vacation hasn't always been a birthright of U.S. schoolchildren. 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. (Since education was not compulsory, attendance...

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