Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What is College For? Spring Break Vs Reading Week

In Canada, because spring comes around so much later, we call the week vacation that occurs during the semester that occurs during the first months of the calendar year Reading Week. I still call it that, out of habit. My students here, they have no idea what I'm talking about. Spring Break, I say, it's what we Canadians calls Spring Break; it's just cruel to say spring when there's still three feet of snow on the ground. But, I also think that it's a reflection of a different attitude Canadians hold towards higher education. 

I asked one of my developmental writing students what he was planning on doing for Spring Break. He's off to Florida to party. This particular student has missed a great deal of my class because he had strep throat (yes, he had a doctor's note). This student is also repeating the class because last semester he partied too much. If anything, I was hoping that the student would take this week off to rest, recover, and catch up in his classes. But no. I probably won't be seeing him for an entire week after Spring Break because he's recovering from alcohol poisoning, lack of sleep, proper nutrition, or any combination of the three.

I know that this student is not an exception. Many of my students, in fact many of my students who are the most vulnerable in terms of their grades, will be spending the week off unwinding in unhealthy ways on "SPRING BREAK!!! (copyright MTV)." I understand that students (and their instructors/professors) need a break. What I don't understand is how students can justify the time and cost of 5-9 days in Florida/Mexico/wherever. My students constantly complain that they have too much work, no money for food or for printing their papers. And yet, March rolls around and suddenly, there's money to be had and time to be spent.

(And no, I never did Spring Break. The one year my friends went to Florida, I was stuck on a work term. My other trip to Florida in college was for a training camp, which was subsidized by the school; we swam or worked out 4-5 (or more) hours a day. If we had been out drinking, it wouldn't have been pretty the next morning at practice.)

This attitude is not limited to Spring Break; many of my students consistently show up hung over (or still drunk) on Friday mornings, but complain that I am asking too much of them to buy a 45 cent folder for their essays. Students, studies keep telling us, are studying less and less, but seem to be partying just as much as they ever have. College now is about the experience, and the experience is everything and anything except what happens in the classroom. Which is fine, but I tell my students that there are way better ways to spend the tens of thousands of dollars they are currently spending on their college "experience."

There was an essay recently that extols the virtues of learning through hanging out. But when I ask my students what they do when they hang out, they admit that it often involves getting pass-out drunk or stoned out of their mind. What, then, are they learning by "hanging out" that they couldn't learn while not also paying college tuition? Drinking, drugs, and sex are acceptable behavior in college; kids of the same age who are engaging in this kind of behavior and are not also college students are considered deadbeats. What's the difference? Tuition, and a couple hours of courses a week that the student may or may not attend. For some students (and I include myself in this), they can get away with this and still come away with their degrees (and futures) in tact. But for the majority of my students, they can't get away with it; they don't graduate, can't get a job, and are left in debt.

Personally, I wish I had been encouraged to save my money, work, and get the parties out of my system so that I may have actually benefited from my education. It's what my husband did, and it benefitted him immensely.

In fact, the university encourages this kind of laissez-faire attitude towards the educational purpose of college by consistently investing money in the "experience" side rather than in the classroom (for example, building stadiums and then increasing class sizes, hiring adjuncts instead of tenure-track professors).  Why should students take me seriously when the university doesn't, either? So, enjoy Spring Break. Just don't expect me to cut you any slack when you've forgotten everything you've learned; I spent my break reading.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I have no problem with drinking, partying, sex while at college but geez could you moderate a bit? Read a few books too?

    And I have very little tolerance for pleading poverty in relation to tuition, books, etc when you spend all your money on booze and trips to Florida. I wouldn't go so far as to say they shouldn't spend any money on leisure but one of the lessons they need to learn is budgetting -- prioritizing expenditure and learning how to say now. Accepting the consequences is also important.

    I particularly like your point about universities implicitly having the same values.


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