It is probably fairer to say that most of us took yesterday off than to say that we celebrated Labor Day. There is no parade scheduled for Labor Day in Fort Collins, only the Pooch Plunge at City Park Pool. That Labor Day should be little more than a federally mandated marker on our calendars is not a great surprise given the decline in union membership. In Colorado, such membership has been cut by more than half since 1964, and nationally that number has diminished from thirty-three percent to less than ten. Such data provides some context for why the Tour de Fat and dogs in public pools take a higher priority in the Choice City than the recognition of the American worker.
In the middle of the 19th century, the eight-hour workday was neither assumed nor legally assured, and union leaders lobbied and petitioned the state and federal governments for various rules, policies, and laws. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had both hoped that a part of the sweeping of capitalism into the dustbin of history would include the United States’ adoption of May 1st, or May Day, as International Workers’ Day. Unfortunately for socialists everywhere, Samuel Gompers and not Eugene V. Debs, prevailed in convincing President Grover Cleveland to choose the first Monday in September rather than May 1st as the day to honor workers. This was quite the political high-wire act for President Cleveland who had to reject Debs’ radicalism, acknowledge the workers striking in the Pullman dispute, not offend Gompers and his American Federation of Labor, and not cost himself the Democratic party’s support in a midterm election. Fortunately for President Cleveland, he could look back all of two years and discover a “tradition” in New York City where certain unions, unassociated with the socialists and anarchists, had a late-summer celebration in September. With that, a national holiday was born. In fact, the pen used by President Cleveland to sign this into law with was sent to Samuel Gompers as a souvenir.
This compact little history is likely not why our students or their families have any regard for Labor Day. At Ridgeview, it is known primarily as the end of summer, though Mr. Hayhurst would remind us all that summer does not officially end until September 22nd. In any event, the notion of a summer break is not all that old either, though certainly older than the tradition drawn on by President Cleveland. In the 1800s, students in cities attended school very nearly year round, while their rural counterparts in a more agricultural age attended in the summer and winter – neither while crops were being planted nor while they were being harvested. In order to reconcile the two, students during the early 20th century began a 180-day academic year that started after Labor Day and ended just before Memorial Day. While the sophisticates in educational circles have convinced legions of politicians and bureaucrats to abandon such a scheme, Ridgeview has tenaciously adhered to it from its inception. Our rationale is simple – students work hard and should be free to enjoy their leisure, there are more experiences to be had in childhood than school alone, and it is more important to us what our teachers and students do in a day than it is to add days of tedium to the academic year.
We hope that our students have enjoyed their leisure and had many pleasurable experiences over the course of the summer. We have delighted in the opportunity to get to know our students outside of the classrooms this summer, and we recognize that a school that aims to prepare students for life must take place where life happens, which is not always in a school. With that in mind, we have worked hard over the course of the summer to welcome our families back and to ensure that every student who attends Ridgeview is given the opportunity to receive a first-rate education. As we remind parents each year, what we do here comes home. Please take the time to visit your children’s classrooms and talk with your children at dinner and whatever other opportunities you have to make yourself involved in the remarkable education they are receiving. Educational choice counts for little unless we understand it as an alliance between teachers and parents to provide something very specific and intentional. As you have chosen Ridgeview for your children, we welcome you by opening our classrooms and inviting you to join the parent book groups, attend the Principal’s Coffees, volunteer in any capacity you can, and to generally make yourself a part of the vibrant life of this school.