The reason for school summer vacation — the reason most American parents are stressed out, cash-strapped and exhausted — comes down to money.
But wait! Isn't it about the farm calendar and how all the kids in those cute barns and rustic-chic farmhouses — weathered without the help of Chip and Joanna Gaines — had to work in the summer?
But to be certain, money has long driven how and when kids should be in school in America.
Let's take a look at how this worked in Maryland last week.
There was an inner-tube traffic jam on the water park's lazy river. T-shirt sales were cranking. The ice cream scoopers were delighted with the crowds. Money, money, money.
And Maryland's classrooms? Empty. As were the bank accounts of working parents who had to find child care for nearly three solid months.
Welcome to Maryland's endless summer of 2017, where the boardwalk won over the whiteboard, where the tourism industry won over the teachers union.
You know what also happened when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered summer to end after Labor Day?
The ladies of Hughes Methodist Church in Silver Spring shopped, bagged and delivered lunches to 57 kids for a couple of extra weeks this summer. More summer means more time away from subsidized lunches for those kids.
Working families scrambled to find summer camps that extended past August, an extra $500 or so for many of them this year.
And bosses everywhere rolled their eyes at all the kids camped out under every desperate parent's desk.
There are plenty of arguments for summer vacation. Families get a break from the grind of bells and deadlines. Kids get to explore different avenues of learning — rock star or baking camp can't happen during the school year. And there's time for travel that connects kids with faraway family members or faraway places.
But all of those require money.
And none of those were reasons that Maryland extended its summer.
Hogan's order had one purpose alone — it was all part of his pledge to boost the state's economy. Money.
And it was working — for some.
Eric Ashley, who runs one of those novelty shops on the boardwalk in Ocean City, seemed to be giddy when he talked to my colleague Steve Hendrix about the number of teenage girls who were buying his color-changing nail polish and plastic rings instead of sitting in classrooms last week.
"We're on track to do double what we did this week last year," said Ashley, who is keeping the shop he owns with his wife open until 11 p.m. all week to keep up with demand. "This really feels like a regular summer day."
The number of classroom days didn't change. Maryland is still at 180 days of classroom work.
But it's the arrangement of those days — giving the state's boardwalk bosses extra time to drain even more cash from Maryland's families — that ignores all the other good things about school break.
It's not old news for school calendars to be arranged around business.
In fact, my childhood worked just like that — and our family thrived. We, too, lived in a tourist-dependent town. And traditional vacation — summer, spring and winter breaks — were when the majority of the town's residents worked.
I spent all those vacations at home, watching endless hours of "Sesame Street" and "The Price is Right" while my parents worked as servers at the town's restaurants and casinos. There was no way they could take that time off and keep their jobs.
This was part of the discussion when the school board decided to experiment with a year-round school calendar. The year they tried it, parents whose livelihoods were tied to tourist surges could take a week off in October and hang out with the kids. It was great.
Back to that cute family farm we're all thinking of. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but kids didn't need the summers to help out there.
"Agrarian conditions did not necessitate summer vacation, but they did play an important role in the shaping of school calendars," Kenneth Gold, professor at the College of Staten Island, wrote in his book about summer vacation, "School's In."
Think about the way farming works. Families needed help planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. That's when rural kids got time off. They went to school for huge chunks of the summer.
So you can't blame farming for summer break.
More likely, it was about wealthy families and air conditioning.
Sweltering classrooms didn't make anyone comfortable. And sweltering homes didn't, either. America's wealthy classes retreated to their summer homes by the lakes and in the mountains or along seashores. They wanted their kids to come with them. And voilà, welcome to summer vacation.
Even back in the 1800s, when long summers offset the standard for the Americana we keep clinging to, there were the families who didn't get to summer. And those kids — the sons and daughters of workers — were left to fester at home or to run amok.
And the same holds true today.
Summer vacation — romanticized by the folks who have the luxury of getting away or spending unfettered time with their kids — continues to be about money, money, money.
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