September 19, 2020

Back to School “Time”?

One of my friends, a school administrator, says it’s an adult decision, and that there is no empirical evidence that it actually helps students. What’s that? Going back to school earlier and getting on a “balanced” schedule (some call it “year-round” school). That’s what the school systems are going to where I live. It means K-12 students start “fall” semester around August 1. Summer vacation is shorter, but there are two-week breaks in the fall and the spring, and a longer break at Christmas.

Not having children in the local school system any more, it doesn’t affect us nearly as much, so I don’t get too worked up about it. However, considering changes like this just gives me another chance to think about such ordinary matters as school schedules and how they have affected my life over the years.

I’m from the “Memorial Day to Labor Day” summer vacation generation. That’s when we were out of school. That’s when we played baseball. That’s when the public pools were open. That’s when we drove our parents crazy.

Spring, summer, fall, and winter were well-defined seasons in the Midwest. We went to school in the fall, survived the winters, rejoiced in the coming of spring, and played outside all summer. I also thought of the seasons in terms of sports: spring and summer was all about baseball, fall was football, and it was basketball all winter. No matter what the calendar said, the year began at the outset of autumn, when the sun hung a little lower in the sky, we got some new clothes and shoes, relished the smell of new books and fresh paper, and the sound of new teachers’ voices gave us new hope.

Life is no longer so clearly demarcated. Take sports, for example. Several years ago, our state school athletic association passed a new policy allowing any and all sports to hold practices at any time they want to throughout the year, except for a one week moratorium in early July. Youth sports are pretty much year-round activities now as a result. I’ve known young people who were involved in three sports at the same time, with required multiple practices on some days that ran from sun-up well into the evening. Add to that club sports and travel teams, and we have essentially scheduled our children’s lives around multitasking as a way of life from early ages. Other extracurricular activities involve similarly frenetic calendars, and then there’s the program of the “full-service” church to deal with as well.

Sometimes I don’t even recognize the “regular” seasons for sports anymore. Today is August 19 and I’m watching the beginning of the second NFL preseason game. I still have this ingrained sense that football starts in September! School football practice around here starts in July. My grandson’s youth league (3rd-4th grade) has already had two games, and their regular season ends in the middle of September, when football used to get up and running. NFL football, on the other hand, not only begins in August but extends into February. Pro basketball and hockey players who play traditional “winter” sports, start in early fall and are still playing in the good old summertime.

So now, schools are also moving toward a year-round schedule. I hope it serves the students well. I like the fact that families (if the parents are able to reconfigure their work schedules) will have some time in the fall and spring for a break and maybe a vacation. Summer vacations did get long at times and perhaps students were hurt by being away from their studies for an extended period of time. Perhaps this will be the beginning of many new traditions and ways of allowing the calendar to shape our life and family experiences.

I’ll just say, on the other hand, that I am a guy who likes a more traditional approach to seasons — at least for one who grew up in the northern hemisphere where those seasons were clearly distinguished. I have been shaped by this structure. There’s something special to me, not only in enjoying something fully in its season, but also in abstaining from certain activities, reserving them for other seasons when they can be savored.

Technology has enabled us to supercede the “seasonal” approach to life. It has allowed us (and sometimes pushed us) to pretty much have anything we want at any time we want. That’s not all bad, and people like me can still choose to order our lives as we wish. And I will. I won’t pay much attention to football until after Labor Day. We’ll enjoy food from our gardens and revel in eating fresh corn, beans, tomatoes and cantaloupe from our local farm stands and know we’re in mid-summer. I’ll try to take some time in the fall — my favorite time for hiking and reflecting and praying — to get away for some solitude. I will make a fresh start with the Church Year when Advent comes in late November, and it will help me live in Christ’s story as well as in the story of creation. And when Spring Training begins, I’ll be renewed in hope once more.

And, by the way, I will actually be going back to school this fall. In September, I’ll be taking a class at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. This is part of the process of my ordination, and it will be the first time in about twenty five years that I’ll be taking a class for credit in a classroom.

I’m happy to say I won’t be starting until after Labor Day.



  1. I looked at the header photos of the LSTC website.

    They did have one photo with a sanctuary and altar. It looked as though the students were engaged in tai chi, or modern dance or …something.

    Don’t let them help you to forget the cross of Christ for more generous agendas, Chaplain Mike.

  2. Don’t forget food. It used to be that things like strawberries, sweet corn, green beans, or Vidalia onions came out once a year, and although my mother used freezing or canning to extend when it was on the table, there was nothing quite like when they were fresh. I think we lose something with year-round availability, appreciation and anticipation if nothing else.

    • Yep. Thanksgiving, et all, just start to feel kind of randomly dropped in. The cycle of things [that still certainly exists] gets buried under layers of organizations in order to make it seem like it doesn’t exist.

      I’m from hicks-ville podunk, my wife grew up in inner Chicago… I’ll never forget the first time she saw chicks [as in baby chickens, alive] for sale in a store. She had to sit down she was laughing so hard, it just seemed so absurd [to her].

    • Having recently taken over responsibility for family holidays from my mother, I have been shocked by how simple some of her traditional “holiday” food is to prepare. I’ve found myself thinking “This doesn’t have to be just for Thanksgiving! I can make this any time!” Then I realize that if I make those holiday favorites all year round, I have no reason to look forward to the holiday meal.

      In the end, I’ve decided to reserve her traditional menu for holidays only; if nothing else, it helps me to remember her on holidays past.

    • James,

      I hope by Vidalia Onions you really mean Vidalia (as those are only grown in GA) and not some bastardized onion claiming that title.


    • Richard Hershberger says

      Those foods you name are still seasonal, if you want the good stuff and live in a place where you can buy from local farmers. Here in Maryland we are at the height of peach season, and an excellent peach season it has been! Squash and sweet corn are abundant. The early apple varieties are in, but I am holding out a few weeks longer. Strawberries are but a happy memory.

      Of course I can buy the industrialized bred-for-transportability-not-for-flavor stuff in the supermarket. But why would i do that when I am surrounded by a bounty of the good stuff? Of course buying at farmers’ markets has a dirty hippie air to it, like drinking good beer. Some would rather eat lousy food and drink lousy beer than be tainted. Myself, some of my best friends are dirty hippies, so I say bring it on!

  3. I spent several years when living in Asia in a Catholic school run by British nuns (I had to re-learn how to spell colour and organise when I got back to the States!) It was 98 degrees year ’round, except during the monsoon season when it cooled down to the 70’s for an hour every afternoon before becomeing 98 degrees AND 100% humidity!

    So, needless to say the seaons didn’t exist, and the school followed a year round schedule of sorts. We had school for three months and then were off for one month…so we had Sept-Oct-Nov and were off a month for Christmas. Jan-Feb-March and off a month for Easter, May-June-July and off August for the “summer”. I adored the schedule, but I also had a stay at home Mom….this could be havoc on child care arrangements otherwise!

    BUT…ITA about the current season creep…I am braced to see Christmas stuff in stores any DAY now 🙁

    • I went to a British school in South Africa, Pattie, with the same schedule (but with the seasons reversed, of course). I too liked the schedule, but now that we garden a lot, I prefer having my kids home for a longer stretch in the summer. Holland apparently has only a six-week summer vacation, but the schools stagger it so that the beaches won’t be too crowded — schools make an effort to see that all children from the same family are in schools with the same schedule.

  4. Chap,

    I work in a system that has been on “year round” schedule for several years. It is good in the sense that we get longer mid-year breaks, and if you are a school teacher that is good b/c you get to take different vacations, but for our local parents it has been an issue with child care. The local Y and other groups have started camps those weeks and are doing well.

    As to sports (I coach as well) we should be starting later. A lot of the heat related issues would not be a problem if we didn’t start practicing football in GA in late July.

    Neat you will be in Chicago this fall. I will be up that way in the Fall as well but a little further North at Nashotah House. I”m looking forward to some cooler weather.


  5. As a teacher, I have mixed feelings about year-round systems. If kids went outside and played all summer, I would be an ardent defender of the Memorial-Day-to-Labor-Day tradition. Kids need time to be kids!!! Unfortunately, though, I think summer vacation turns into extended video game and facebook season for most of my students… and well, if the two options on the table for how they spend June, July, and August are either X-box and playstation or algebra and literature…

  6. Chicago Public Schools has two schedules. Track E and Track R. Track E has the “year round”, it’s really the same amount of days just spread out differently without the long summer break. Track R is the normal year with the long summer break. Track R was an experiment to see if it was the long summer break that caused students of poverty to fall further behind their less-poor peers over time. The studies have started coming in and it doesn’t look like it makes a difference, in that regards. Track E is probably with us for the forseeable future though as it has become an institutionalized practice.

    • They should do more research to determine how much of school itself is actually helpful.

      • Well, someone has to tame the little savages! And I refer to all children as that, not just the children of the poor. They need to be taught to respect the teacher’s authority and to conform to a reasonable classroom experience before they can learn to read. They need to be taught to read before they can do self-directed studies and they have to learn to read critically before self-directed work is going to be useful to them. They have to learn basic math before they can understand theorems and scientific laws without just taking them on faith and they will need advanced math to understand yet more complicated natural laws. And we need schools because otherwise only the children from the striving class, the bourgeois and upper classes will have the opportunity for education.

        Now I’ll agree, a lot of what goes on in classrooms is dumb and non-essential. Making a whole classroom read Shakespeare, for example, is something that drives me crazy. Why not have each student read an author of the student’s choosing? Maybe some would prefer Marlowe, Dreiser, Miller, or Hawthorne. Then have each student write a paper about theming, characterization, etc. would be a good indicator of whether the student had done the work, had read critically, and would give them some practice writing papers.

  7. I was thinking back many years ago on how disgusted I was as a kid in August. I wanted deparately to be on vacation from school and all the newspapers were full of BTS(back to school) ads. They were ruining my vacation to bring to my mind of school was coming too soon, way too soon, ya know! By the way, thanks so much for the baseball break of posts. I miss the funny quotes in announcing and wish they might be used somehow to break up the game action deliveries. Yes, I miss the “Joe Morgans”also. BTS as Christ followers.

  8. One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that we get to ‘pick vacation season’. Here in the south, summer is only tolerable (for my family anyway) in the water or in the AC. If we are inside anyway, might as well get school out of the way so we can relax in the fall, take some trips and enjoy the cooler weather.

  9. I’m a teacher and we started back to school this past Thursday; conversely, we’ll be done on May 30. When I was a kid, we started after Labor Day and I would vastly prefer to start then, even if it means going an extra week or two in June. It’s been hard this week to keep up with both garden harvest and school; the lack of sleep is becoming rather telling!

    The school year schedule of Labor Day to June is based on an agricultural calendar, so that kids would be free to help on the family farms. I still remember a lot of my schoolmates talking about working on their families’ tobacco farms. We lose a whole lot of culture as we move further away from the agricultural cycles.

  10. Richard Hershberger says

    When I was in sixth grade back in the previous millennium the school district went to a year round schedule. It was quite overtly about money. They had four tracks, each on nine weeks then off three weeks. This meant that one track was always on vacation, and so they could fit four tracks worth of kids into three tracks worth of space. As a kid, I loved it. The first few weeks of summer vacation were glorious, but it got boring toward the end. By breaking vacation up into three week blocks, I got to repeat the glorious part while skipping the boring part.

    I don’t see how something like this would work in high school, what with sports and electives with just one or two classes worth of kids taking them. But on the elementary school level, I think it a fine idea. The school system has to be willing to make accommodations, such as putting siblings in the same track so the family can go somewhere on vacation, but it is very doable.

  11. I always got out of school in late May and went back the second week of August or so. Going back after Labor Day seems incredibly weird to me.

    • For many of us “boomers” in the US, school ALWAYS started after Labor Day and ended on or about Flag day (June 14th).

      Most schools did not have air conditioning back then, and except in the far northern states, August is still wickly HOT! The June hear wasn’t quite as bad, as we opened windows and day-dreamed about pools, sprinklers, the ice cream truck, and laying in the shade doing “Nuttin”. 🙂

  12. CM, are you having to commute for this class, or are you able to do it online? I’m doing my colloquy into the LCMS as a Director of Parish Music, and the online classes are plenty of work doing it at home. As a candidate for ordination, I imagine your work load will be much greater. But I imagine the classes will be very enjoyable. I commuted two hours each direction doing school for a year. It’s not fun.