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Telling Tales Over Time: Constructing and Deconstructing the School Calendar


by Joel Weiss & Robert S. Brown — 2003

The September-to-June school calendar has been a fixture of North America for almost a century. Its origins have usually been told as an unexamined tale attributed to features of nineteenth century rural society. We challenge this interpretation by suggesting that multiple pressures arising from increasing urbanization influenced its roots. We present information on the importance of the summer holiday in the development of compulsory schooling in several North American jurisdictions, with the main evidence from Ontario, the most populous province in Canada. We suggest, along with Gold (2002), that this development had wider applicability in several Northeastern and Midwestern American states. Beyond the issue of having an accurate story line, we examine why there has been such resistance in recent times to changing the school year. The school calendar may be another example of an enduring institutional form referred to by Tyack and Tobin as a “grammar of schooling” that resisted fundamental change in the twentieth century. Viewing the school calendar’s ties with changes over time in the construction of other clocks of society may enable us to rethink the format of the contemporary school calendar. Finally, we consider the school calendar as part of a larger, ongoing discussion of what constitutes effectiveness of schools.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 9, 2003, p. 1720-1757
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11216, Date Accessed: 4/19/2014 1:14:39 PM

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About the Author
  • Joel Weiss

    E-mail Author

  • Robert Brown
    Toronto District School Board
    E-mail Author
    ROBERT S. BROWN has been in the field of applied research for twenty years. Before joining the Toronto Board’s research department in 1991, he worked as a media analyst at TVOntario and as a research consultant in private market research. He is currently a project coordinator in the Research and Information Services Department of the Toronto District School Board and is past president of AERO (the Association of Educational Researchers of Ontario). Publications include "Psychological Needs of Post-war Children in Kosovo: A Preliminary Analysis," with Dr. Ester Cole (School Psychology International, 2002, Vol 23 no. 2), and "The Sociology of Audience Measurement in Canada" with Dr. Ted Withers (in Communications in Canadian Society, 5th edition, 2001).
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