Just as sure as high school football competition kicks off the school year, arguments over when that school year begins are becoming an annual ritual.
At least it seems that way. But the notion of a traditional school calendar with a later start is rooted in a way of life that has long since faded away.
Columbia County isn't the only place having this water-cooler debate. A recent survey of calendars shows that all Georgia school systems start the year before Aug. 15. The idea any Peach State students are lolling around on vacation until after Labor Day is fantasy.
Columbia County's schedule isn't the earliest, either; several other Georgia systems started class at the end of July. But there are still die-hard supporters of the traditional calendar. Complaining about the earlier start date has spawned a cottage industry, with a lobbying group (Georgians Need Summers) whose primary purpose seems to be to fight for state government to force every school system to start at a later date. So much for local control.
Meanwhile, the argument in Columbia County has been settled, and re-settled. In surveys, parents agree with the calendar that ends the first semester before Christmas, and breaks up the long semesters with fall and winter holidays. The county's Republican Party even tested the schedule with a straw poll during the 2004 primary; surprisingly (to them), 69 percent of voters said they like the calendar just as it is.
None of this has stopped a local group from now circulating yet another survey in hopes that the majority have changed their minds. Continuing to gnaw on the long-decided question is starting to get tiresome.
In the midst of the debate, a question begs to be asked: Why does school take a break during summertime in the first place? Is it, as late-starters advocate, so families can go on vacation? Or because it's too hot for outdoor school activities?
Nope. The answer is that, traditionally, family labor was needed on farms. Think it's hot on a football practice field, or on a bus without air-conditioning? Try baling hay in August, which is what a lot of those students of yesteryear would be doing about now.
Precious few farms need young workers this time of year, especially in Columbia County. Those who seek a return to a traditional school calendar may as well suggest everyone ride to campus on horseback.
Eventually, those complaining about the calendar will grow out of it, just as our classroom attendance has ceased being linked to the need for farmhands. Then, perhaps, we can get back to ceaselessly arguing about things that matter " like high school football.
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