Breaking the Fall
Students get a much-needed week in the spring to recharge, but have no such luck in the fall. Why not?
By Daniel C. Wilcox, University of Texas at San Antonio
Well, I’m dying.
Not literally, but I might as well be. The fall semester is chugging along to its final weeks and I’m limping beside it trying to keep up. I’m not the only one.
In my 8:00am class, half the room sits empty. The syllabus for the course propounds a rigid attendance policy: Three unexcused absences are allotted—every one thereafter results in a half letter deduction from the student’s final grade. But looking around the classroom, one thing becomes certain: Half the class couldn’t be bought today.
Later, in my Methodology class, the professor invites the students to discuss a film on ethnography we watched this week. This class’s willingness to initiate or even participate in a group discussion is null on most days, but like my earlier class, the students are particularly contemptuous of their station this morning. Even our professor can’t gather the strength to shake the class of its obstinacy.
After our final class, I take my friend Michelle to the nearby cinema to see “Doctor Strange,” recompense for what’s been a taxing week for the both of us. She’s irritable the whole way there and damn near bites my hand off when I try to wake her from a nap.
“Why are you so cranky?” I later asked her.
“Because I’m fucking brain dead at this point.”
How can I protest that? In the car we both nurse lit cigarettes and extra-large cups of coffee. I never drink coffee, and Michelle has vowed to quit smoking this month. Yet here we both are, primed by a cocktail of stimulants.
The semester, it seems, is taking its toll.
Is there any way to counter this? Of course the rigors of a seventeen-week semester are going to be punishing, especially in their later stages. There’s a variance of the social contract at work when students agree to go to college; you concede that you’re going to sacrifice sleep, fun, money and sanity in exchange for the opportunity (or perhaps necessity) of a college degree. Part of that agreement includes for the students the occasional surcease from their studies, a chance to recharge and rekindle. During the spring semester, that reprieve comes in the form of spring break, which arrives around the midway mark of the session.
But where’s its fall counterpart? Shouldn’t there be a week during the fall semester for students to break from their studies?
When someone mentions “Spring Break,” images of Mexican beaches swarmed with drunk college students come to mind. There’s no false attribution here; the whole tradition began when college swim coaches from around the country brought their teams down to Fort Lauderdale to train in its state-of-the-art Casino pool. What happens when you bring 300-plus college swimmers to a beachside town in the budding days of spring? That’s right—debauchery.
Even I can’t hear the words “Spring Break” without thinking of bikinis and beer funnels. That’s all the more remarkable when you consider that I’ve never actually visited a beach, or, for that matter, any body of water short of a swimming pool, during the week of spring break. Boring shit, I know. But I represent the silent majority of college students who, rather than find themselves in Girls Gone Wild movies, use that precious free week in March to simply tune out. No travelling, no partying, no shenanigans; just quiet time with a few bottles of wine, some video games and a bong so big you need a friend to spark it for you (congratulations, Massachusetts!).
What I’m saying is, a fall break doesn’t necessarily have to be a week of binge drinking and casual sex. Granted, that is how some students choose to unwind, but for the remaining millions, a seven-day stretch in autumn free of responsibilities would be a welcome implementation.
The question becomes where do you even put a spare week in the fall? I can already surmise what some of you are saying; “Daniel, you whiny douchelord, there’s already Thanksgiving break.” Sure, but most colleges only dismiss classes for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, leaving students only two days off. “Psh,” you inevitably reply, “I just don’t show up for the Tuesday or Wednesday classes.” Well, isn’t that a sweet luxury. Sadly, not everyone is born to such privilege.
You remember my dear friend who’s working toward her masters in kinesiology? As you can imagine, she’s having a hellish semester of her own. It would not be favorable for her to miss any class, ever. But even if she felt compelled to, her professor safeguarded any such notion by assigning her a presentation the Tuesday before Thanksgiving! That’s incrementally worse than my schedule, where I face a presentation that Monday, but it is in line with cranky Michelle, who has Spanish quiz on Tuesday.
Heaven forbid you have a class obligation on Wednesday, as that leaves you only that night to travel back home for Turkey Day. Travelling is no picnic either; the projection is that 49 million people will be on the roads or in the air this coming week, an increase of over 1 million from last year.
This is all moot anyway; the week of Thanksgiving is not ideal placement for my proposed fall break. Most students are shambling by the time this week rolls around anyway. Further, Thanksgiving lands too close to the edge of the semester; by the time students return from the holiday, they’re putting the pieces in place for finals.
It has to be earlier if it’s going to happen at all. One worry is that inserting a free week into October or early November would cut into either winter or summer vacation. I, for one, would be willing to make that sacrifice, but it appears as though that worry is unfounded; Lynchburg College actually has a break akin to the one I’m proposing, and impressively, they’ve circumvented any encroachments on the breaks that bookend the semester (good on ya, Lynchburg).
My only issue with Lynchburg’s fall break is that it occurs uncomfortably early in the season. Why don’t we aim for a later date? Perchance, the week of Halloween? I hate to sound like a broken record, as I’ve already exalted Halloween as the supreme holiday several times by now, but can you imagine? I know you spring breakers would relish having a week-long Halloween party (some of y’all’s costumes are little more than last summer’s swimsuit anyway). The homebodies like me that don’t warrant invites to those kinds of parties could use the week to catch up on movies and books that we neglected that month. And perhaps best of all, a Halloween fall break would almost perfectly bisect the semester, granting students near equal periods for their studies on either side of the break.
Well, it’s a romantic notion. I can dream, can’t I? The truth is I’d settle for a break anywhere I can get it. I’m not trying to sound selfish here; I’d argue a mid-semester vacation could loosen the tension for incoming freshmen, potentially reducing their dropout rate (but that’s a different discussion altogether). It’s just a pertinent necessity. I hunger for a true fall break, or the next article you read from me might be “Things I’ve Learned Living in a Room with Padded Walls.”