Around Covington — even though it is just the 10th day of September and two weeks will pass before the Autumnal Equinox — the school year has already been underway for a full six weeks. The children are sealed and insulated from the elements in climate-controlled comfort.
But when I was a kid, good ole E.L. Ficquette Elementary School was not air-conditioned. There was no need for air conditioning because there was no school in the summer. The break ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day — the last Monday in May to the first Monday in September. These Federal holidays serve as bookends to the proper vacationing behaviors and fashionable dictates of summer. (It would by gauche of me wear my white Chuck Taylor All Stars after Labor Day.)
Of course, the three-month summer break was left over from the days when many Americans were living in rural areas, and children were needed to work on farms. Later, as agriculture became more mechanized, fewer and fewer children were needed on those farms. Yet Americans continued to enjoy a romanticized idea that they were still living in an agrarian culture; the three-month summer remained. This anachronistic span in our history — between the guilt-free use of child labor, and the advent of the bicycle helmet — is known as The Age of the Feral Child, a term coined by storyteller, author, and cultural anthropologist, Carmen Agra Deedy. During this period children and dogs ran free.
The bicycle helmet
No matter how many Disney® Princess are displayed thereupon, a bicycle helmet remains serious safety head gear, and the very sight of such a thing can bring foreboding and precaution. Precaution begets caution upon caution, and this particular precaution reminded parents that an unsupervised small person with an unfinished brain might get hurt weaving around on a road shared with large motor vehicles.
To bring about greater safety and supervision, it came to pass that children, who had once endured the shouts of, "Go outside and play!" were given more and more organized activities such as Music Camp, Baseball Camp, Art Camp, Dance Camp, Soccer Camp, Band Camp and Camp Camp.
Parents could only afford so many camps, so summer vacation from school was shortened.
(Parenthetically, dogs, who were no longer permitted to run happily alongside bicycles, were fenced and chained. Leash laws were established. Deer, no longer threatened by untethered dogs, began thriving in yards and gardens.)
Many old schools, built of brick and asbestos, were declared "old school." New schools were built. The old schools that remained had their windows sealed; air conditioning was installed.
During the heat of the day these school air conditioners cool and dehumidify 57.9 million children in the United States. This has greatly increased the amount of Chlorofluorocarbon (Freon) — a greenhouse gas — released into the atmosphere. That has raised average temperatures and has made it warmer everywhere, even in the subtropics of Florida.
For people over the age of thirty, the childhood encounter of an armadillo in the Piedmont region of Georgia would have been as exotic as happening upon a giraffe on the courthouse steps. Yet, here they are. The warmer temperatures have encouraged armadillos to move north. They are still on the move!
All because of bicycle helmets.
(My son and I always wear our helmets, by the way).
Be safe out there ~ Andy
Andy Offutt Irwin holds a B.S. in sociology. He lives in Covington. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.