Thank God its over. Although it is an overcast, drizzly, cool and overall yucky Monday morning, it is nonetheless a beautiful day! In precisely 7 minutes (Pacific Time) spring will officially be upon us. Ironically enough, spring break at Sac State was officially over 10 hours and 26 minutes earlier. Although each season has certain unique qualities that make it special, spring break is not and does not. There is no longer any holiday associated with it and it has no real ritual or tradition, naked drunken debauchery notwithstanding. It is just another “vacation” right in the middle of the semester that I could quite frankly do without.
There are numerous logical as well as logistical reasons why taking this much time off in the middle of a “project” is a bad idea. One can easily show how the break in continuity has adverse effects on education, point to the irresponsibility exhibited by those with too much “free time” on their hands or argue that having a state facility the size of Sac State laying dormant for a week is a monumental waste of resources. I suppose that one could even draw parallels by extrapolating the state budget crisis and the cuts in funding to education right through to the loss of California’s competitive edge. All these points and more could provide the fodder for a lengthy discussion – or even a shouting match, take your pick - but my problem with spring break and school vacations in general is of a more personal and practical nature.
I think it appropriate that I make clear some qualifiers. First, I am not a kid anymore. I am 43 and have had experience in that “real world” I heard so much about when I was a kid. Although we are presumed to be an “adult” at age 18 (and even more so at 21), when I say “kid” I am speaking more so of experience and maturity than of chronological age. That experience and maturity can come from a variety of places and some portion may in fact be a function of genetics, however, I don’t think it has near as much to do with nature as it does with nurture. And for those not familiar with my previous writing, I am also a full time, second semester junior with a 3.94 GPA majoring in government-journalism at Sac State.
Does school, in general, prepare one for the real world? Does it provide, in addition to scholastic information, the practical experience of what one may expect to encounter upon venturing out on one’s own? Maybe not so much - look at it this way: At the very moment of graduation, the soon-to-be productive member of society has spent more time out of school than in. The percentage of days dedicated to a full time job exceeds by far the percentage dedicated to "full time" educational pursuits up to and including an undergraduate college “career.” For most in the “real world,” there are Sundays, Saturdays, a few holidays and if your lucky, a handful of paid vacation days.
For the vast majority of those in the work force, there is no “winter recess, spring break, summer vacation, Presidents Day, Columbus Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Flag Day, Veteran’s Day, this day, that day, any-day-that-ends-in-a-“y” day…” Of course, this is not true for government jobs and especially not true for politicians, but for almost everyone else most days are spent working. This daily dedication towards an end has not even been remotely approximated in my schooling thus far. Even at more than “full time” status (15 units), I’m hardly working on school to the tune of 40 hours per week.
Somewhere along the road, complacency is built into the system. Whenever an opportunity for some time off presents itself – we take it. Of course the administration, faculty, staff and unions love it, but I guess as students, especially university students, we work so hard we deserve it? It almost smacks of elitism: “We, the educated… those of us who are smarter need this time off to refresh our mental prowess. It’s for the good of all of you even if you don’t know it.” The real message is that all we have figured out is how to make our own lives cushier (read lazier) and make you pay for it. And by example, we are teaching that this is the norm, from kindergarten all the way past high school, time is marked by the periods of time off, not by effort, dedication and motivation.
It is rare in this post-industrial age that anyone really enjoys what they do for a living. Compared to past generations, there does not appear to be the same dedication to one’s profession. Finding and answering one’s calling is almost never mentioned anymore. And so it has become – indeed has been for some time – that school is not an exciting part of the academic discovery process, but just another chore from which we need regular, frequent and lengthy breaks.
It surprises me not therefore, that I am in the minority in welcoming the recommencement of scholarly pursuits. I not only do not feel entitled to a week of “vacation” after just eight weeks of “full time” enrollment (preceded by a five week winter recess), but even if by some stretch of the imagination I did feel I had it coming, I would prefer to spend it in school. I am most relaxed, most at ease… the most comfortable pursuing my passion.
Do you ever wonder about people who have spent years and years on the same job and never took a sick day or a vacation day? They didn’t need it! They have found that special place where their job is their passion; they have learned that it is possible to have an outlook that makes this possible no matter what they are doing. It matters little what job they have. They have learned (or been taught) to be grateful at any given moment and as a result they are… happy.
I am not saying we should not take vacations and I very much doubt that spring break or the numerous other school vacations and holidays are going anywhere anytime soon. What I would like to see is an attitude change. I would think that somehow instilling a sense of discovery and marvel – some excitement about doing things many only dream of would in turn generate a true passion for one's chosen profession. I’d like to see less entitlement and more gratitude. I would love to see students not think less of themselves, but think of themselves less. I’d like to see students expect more from the schools and require more of themselves. I want to raise the bar.
If the school schedule on the collegiate level more closely matched that of a real workday or at least required approximately the same time to accomplish on a weekly basis as a 40-hour per week job did, it may produce less expectation and more dedication. I realize that in addition to school, many students must hold down full time, often low paying jobs to make ends meet. If we are serious about regaining the competitive edge, if we really want this state and this nation to continue to be the world leaders we have been so accustomed to, then it’s time to adjust our priorities. I’m not typically one to suggest throwing money at a problem, but with the very long term stakes involved we better throw something at it - and soon.
It took a long time for the public school system to collapse as it has. There are number of factors, many more than I have touched on here. It is financial and it is institutional and it is attitudinal. Enough people are not taking it seriously and the students themselves are among the worst offenders. There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. It can be shared by: Parents; faculty; unions; administrators; politicians and last but far from least – the voters. The power in this country comes from the people – perhaps its time we let those in charge know it.