Monday, March 20, 2006

Back to School ~ Back to Basics

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.

13 comments:

Bar Bar A said...

I think I'll have my son read this. He's in High School and starting to wonder about his future. He's not sure what he wants to do and he's still exploring what his gifts might be. Yet one thing he knows for sure is that he wants a "job" that does not feel like "work". I wish I would have figured that one out.

Great post as always, Mike!

Ellen said...

I used to be the class Mom for my son during his whole career of elementary school and remember one time I showed up for the "end of the school year" party. His teacher remarked to me that she couldn't believe more parents weren't there because, after all, these were their kids. My thought was that most people worked for a living, and could not willy-nilly just take time off for a school party. (At the time I was waitressing, and could shift my hours around... but that wasn't the case for everybody else). Just because she had a job that allowed for all this time off, didn't mean the general public did... and she didn't understand that.

I have to laugh at bar bar a's remark because my son went through a similar mind thought about having a job that doesn't feel like work. He contemplated becoming a Psychiatrist, because "all they do is sit around taking notes all day". I told him that is was about 11 more years of schooling to even get the shingle to hang out his front door. He would also have to work hard at "curing" people.
When he graduated from high school last year I gave him a lesson in economics they never teach at school... and now he has two jobs just to keep up with his expenses.
Car insurance alone is a buster!

Sometimes I wish I had gone into the education field just so that I could have all that time off. Not only do they have all these vacation weeks, but they also have teacher work days once a month.... and long summer vacation days.

BTW~ I finally made it into your site, yay!... it's been blocked since last friday.

OutInLeftField said...

Spring break in college and university were two completely different times for me. (We have to do a two-year college program here before going to uni)

In college, everything was a joke. I didn;t study and I got an A average....so I had ample time to goof off. There was no worrying about deadlines, or staying up til midnight editing a documentry. That came in university.

In uni, I was so envious of my friends not in Journalism, jsut because they could enjoy their pring breaks. My three SBs were dedicated to editing audio or video, preparing course guidelines and audio editing cheat-sheets for my shudents (I was a TA) or writing features on local government or organizations.

As much as I liked work and my program, I think the extra week was needed in uni, just because of all the deadlines. In college, it was just needed to enjoy being young. :) I never was a Daytona beach person...the typical SB vacation up here. Maybe when I'm off to do my Masters I will try that :)

Lacey said...

The school system really has failed in many ways... beyond our ill-placed break (which I'd rather have than not).

I was thinking about failure at CSUS while we went over those Town Hall stories in class today. Really, who cares that the Pres is trying to spruce up campus? He's doing his job. The real story is that every single one of those administrators onstage think there is a fundamental problem with how funds are allocated, and that we have to meet enrollment quotas--not quality quotas, but enrollment quotas--to get state dough.

If "time is marked by the periods of time off, not by effort, dedication and motivation," then money is passed out based on a headcount, not true acheivement. It is a real problem and it results in --or is caused by? or both--education failure.

We've got to change the student outlook first, before we can yell loud enough for the politicians to hear. That is a losing battle, I think.

Good post... not short, but it puts to words so many issues of the academic world I find frustrating!

KT Did said...

Its in the 25 year plan for you. Regardless of the job thing...its what you wanted to do.
Simple.

Lee Ann said...

I want to go back to school myself. I think I would do much better at my age now.

I think if I could just find that job that I love so much that I would never want a vacation or sick day...I would feel very lucky!

Mr. Althouse said...

bar bar a ~ I wish I could have too. Better late than never, no regrets!

ellen ~ I'm not so sure that work can really ever not feel like work, but it can definitely not feel like a chore, like something that must be trudged through. Some jobs include a set amount of time off and teaching is one of them... but perhaps it shouldn't be. Lets pay them for 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year. Perhaps then we'll see a higher level of commitment not only from them, but also their students.

BTW: I did not notice any problems with Blogger myself, but I have heard many a grumbling about them over the past few days. That would also explain why my hit counter was so inactive.

oilf ~ Maybe it's different in Canada. In the CSUS system, a full-time student doesn't spend 40 hours per week on school. Sure, there are probably particularly heavy weeks when that much time is required, but they are the exception not the norm.

lacey ~ I agree that the system is in failure mode on many levels. I used spring break to illustrate just a very small piece of the dysfunction and to bring into the mix the deeper institutional and attitudinal status quo that is so entrenched right now.

kt did ~ True, but I'm looking at this retrospectively. It is true that I was an entitleist and took what I could get... and felt I deserved it. It is also true that in the long run, this attitude did me a disservice and I see more of "me" today than there were 25 years ago. I'm afraid that I may have been part of the beginning of a wave of apathy that I am currently trying to stem. That, I think, may be part of my calling.

lee ann ~ I whole-heartedly encourage you to pursue school if it is your desire. I don't know if you or I will find that dream job... I used that extreme example to illustrate the other side of the continuum - apathy. Hopefully the kind of attitude that allows one to feel fulfilled by his or her career role will return. It is becoming more and more scarce.

OutInLeftField said...

Mike - A full-time student would be required to be in class around 15 hrs a week plus homework...but because I took a majority of broadcast classes....lots of editing was required....and the equipment was in school. Plus add to that TAing...and I lived there :)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Indeed, Indeed! And quickly too, given the education cuts in Our Presidents Budget, this time round...OY!
It's odd about school and education in my life because I never liked school...I'm not sure exactly why, but I think I had a hard time with the competitive part of it...the striving for High Marks, etc..plus, I was never happy in school, ever, till I went to Drama School and there, I was loving every class because they were all things I loved and was deeply interested in...and I think too, creative people...people who work in the arts--whatever there involvement--music, theatre, films, painting, sculpture, etc. seem to never tire of our work...age has nothing to do with it and the hours and even the pay..(which can be miniscule to none, depending on many things) doesn't stop any of us from continuing on in our 'chosen profession'. And I don't think you get that from school...I mean, the need or want is there somehow from a very early age, usually...

And usually all these things require very hard hard work, but it never feels like "hard hard" work...there is a joy to the process itself...to 'the work' itself..and there is a payoff there that is sort of unexolainable, you know?
Discovery is such an important part of the pricess of knowing what you love and want to do in life, don't you think? Being inspired by other Artists, (staying with the Creative Process here) is a huge part of the learning process that I don't think you can get in school, unless your school requires you to (in the case of theatre..) go to many many shows whenever you can...see as many plays with great actors by brilliant writers...

I';m going to stop because I could go on here forever...and I'm not even sure I'm 'On Topi' here??? But it does have to do with education and possibly not the formal kind that you are talking about....

Anyway...it's all interesting stuff to contemplate , you know? You always provoke much thought in me Mike, and I thank you for that...

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Indeed, Indeed! And quickly too, given the education cuts in Our Presidents Budget, this time round...OY!
It's odd about school and education in my life because I never liked school...I'm not sure exactly why, but I think I had a hard time with the competitive part of it...the striving for High Marks, etc..plus, I was never happy in school, ever, till I went to Drama School and there, I was loving every class because they were all things I loved and was deeply interested in...and I think too, creative people...people who work in the arts--whatever there involvement--music, theatre, films, painting, sculpture, etc. seem to never tire of our work...age has nothing to do with it and the hours and even the pay..(which can be miniscule to none, depending on many things) doesn't stop any of us from continuing on in our 'chosen profession'. And I don't think you get that from school...I mean, the need or want is there somehow from a very early age, usually...

And usually all these things require very hard hard work, but it never feels like "hard hard" work...there is a joy to the process itself...to 'the work' itself..and there is a payoff there that is sort of unexolainable, you know?
Discovery is such an important part of the pricess of knowing what you love and want to do in life, don't you think? Being inspired by other Artists, (staying with the Creative Process here) is a huge part of the learning process that I don't think you can get in school, unless your school requires you to (in the case of theatre..) go to many many shows whenever you can...see as many plays with great actors by brilliant writers...

I';m going to stop because I could go on here forever...and I'm not even sure I'm 'On Topi' here??? But it does have to do with education and possibly not the formal kind that you are talking about....

Anyway...it's all interesting stuff to contemplate , you know? You always provoke much thought in me Mike, and I thank you for that...

Oh one last little bit here...I was not a good student after my parents seperated...and subsequently divorced...my grades dropped to below average and they never recovere, nor did I in feeling likeI was no good at school...But in reality, Ithink I am a bright person and hopefully those lousy marks didn't mean a whole helleva lot in the long run...So, I think there is too much emphasis on Good Marks...and this can often do more harm than good.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Somehow my comments got posted twice, and I have no idea how!!!But the second one covers a bit more about grades and marks..I would have deleted the first one but you don't have that option on here...
Sorry about posting twice Mike...OY!

Saur♥Kraut said...

Another excellent post, and very realistic, too. I never liked Spring Break because the profs hurried you up, and dumped a whole load of work on you beforehand, so that you could GET that entire week off. Therefore, by the time you got that week off, you had worked so hard you got burned out and really, really, really sick. I think my ex husband and I spent every Spring Break puking. After 5 straight years of puking every Spring Break, it lost it's glamour for me.

Snaggle Tooth said...

Good "cause and effect" distinction here (as my fav ENL Prof would've said)

Half of my coursework was regular academics. The other were art-related, (mental+physical), long-term semester projects (design, fine arts, also video direct, rec, edit, computer animation, presentations, gallery displays, ect) requiring constant eye-hand, time-consuming reworking of intensive physical manifestation of recent original ideas, which took about 30 hours in courses at the University, but all free time outside to accomplish high-honors- all were on end of semester deadlines.
On top of that I was a single parent...
Now if I could just get paid for what I learned...