The September Almanac


School starts in most districts this month, but for some 1.5 million children -- a record number -- the classroom will be at home. The number of home-schooled children tripled during the 1990s and is now growing at a rate of 15 percent a year. Although for many years home schooling was largely inspired by religious preference among fundamentalists, a broader swath of parents has recently become involved. For example, a 1996 survey in Florida, where many public school systems include "portable classrooms" (modular units that can be set up in a school yard), showed that for the first time, dissatisfaction with local schools was the leading reason given for home schooling. Advances in computer technology, making curricula and support networks available online, are also thought to be fueling the movement's growth.

Arts & Letters

September 25: America's first museum of modern art, the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C., opens its most comprehensive exhibit ever today. "Renoir to Rothko: The Eye of Duncan Phillips" will contain some 250 works acquired and preserved by the museum's founder from 1918 to 1966. While cleaning paintings for the exhibit, conservators discovered that Phillips unwittingly got two paintings for the price of one: they found a previously unknown painting by the American artist Gifford Beal behind the canvas of Beal's Parade of Elephants. The hidden painting, which depicts a woman and two children looking down a hillside at a procession of soldiers, is signed and bears the date 1918; it is thought to have been covered within six years of its creation (and thus is in pristine condition). No one knows why it was covered. Recently titled On the Hudson at Newburgh, it will, ironically, not be part of the exhibit (at least at first -- it may be added later), which is limited to works specifically chosen by Duncan Phillips.


Early this month biologists will decide whether or not to continue reintroducing lynx to southwestern Colorado. Last February the state's Division of Wildlife began releasing batches of lynx obtained from trappers in Alaska and Canada (the cats are thought to have been extinct in Colorado since 1973); a total of 41 were let go. Although biologists had expected that some of the cats would fall prey to other animals, to disease, or to automobiles, they did not anticipate that starvation would be a serious problem: there seemed to be an adequate population of wild hare, a primary source of the cats' food. But four lynx starved to death and another had to be recaptured, all within weeks of release. The situation has drawn criticism from animal-rights groups and raised questions about the wisdom and ethics of moving animals out of environments in which they are thriving. Should biologists decide to continue the program, they will focus on ensuring that the lynx are healthy and have been fattened up before release.


Some unfamiliar sounds may be heard in the classrooms of Louisiana this academic year, as a law stipulating how elementary school children are to address teachers and other school employees takes effect. According to the "Respect Bill," passed in June, students must call adults "sir" or "ma'am" or use the appropriate title ("Mr.," Ms.," "Miss," or Mrs."). This is believed to be the first law of its kind in the country; it will be extended gradually to apply to students in the upper grades. Penalties for violating the law will be determined by each district's school board, and may include such things as losing playground privileges and having to take a head-on-the-desk time-out. Offenders cannot be suspended or expelled.

The Skies

September 1: Mars lies to the west of the red star Antares, the heart of Scorpius, in the south-southwest at dusk. These two bodies will draw closer during the beginning of the month, until Mars passes just above Antares on the 17th. 2: The waning Moon hangs near the fiery star Aldebaran this morning. 23: At 7:31 A.M. EDT the Autumnal Equinox occurs, marking the end of summer. 25: Full Moon, also known this month as the Harvest or Cool Moon or the Moon of the Black Calves. 27: This evening Saturn, Jupiter, and the gibbous Moon lie close together in the eastern sky.

Health & Safety

Taking small children for a car ride should become safer as of September 1. By then all new children's car seats must have a tether that fastens the top of the seat directly to the car, and 80 percent of new cars must have a connection point for the tether. All new cars must have the attachment hardware by next year. This regulation was issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after evidence suggested that properly fitted car seats could reduce the risk of an infant's death in a crash. One study of 17,500 car seats found that more than 11,000 were not held tightly enough by the seat belt. The tethers are expected to increase the price of car seats by about $15.

25 Years Ago

L. E. Sissman, writing in the September, 1974, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "It is under the steaming fog of [late summer] mornings -- soon burning off to a universal heat haze with the mean, piggy red eye of the sun shining implacably through -- that we suffer and triumph more, perhaps, than at any other time of year.... we feel burdened by the weight of heat and moisture, and we sag as the trees do.... If you suffer from the heat, like me, you rise in the mist of morning to the certain knowledge of another scorcher just ahead, and you wait fearfully for the first drops of sweat to break out on your brow. If this happens on the way to work, you know it will be a fierce one, and you slump in your air-conditioned office for half an hour before getting seriously to work, letting the chilled and filtered fake-fall air soothe you back into a semblance of crisp and able humanity."

Illustrations by Seth.

The Atlantic Monthly; September 1999; The September Almanac - 99.09; Volume 284, No. 3; page 16.