In the past few weeks, the spring sun has ushered in an ostensibly positive change to Lawrence University. Around campus, students are slinging Frisbees, tanning like reptiles, forgoing shirts and inhaling their protein on the run thanks to nourishing river flies.
They seem happy. But if they’re enjoying the outdoors all the time, how are they ever going to do school work? What is going to happen to their grades? If I keep asking rhetorical questions, does that enhance the mystery?
Something is off. Take a closer look at these “happy” students. Their eyes are unfocused and a little too bright. These aren’t the tans you get by staying out an hour or two a day, but by purposefully relaxing for hours on end.
Ladies and gentlemen, senior-itis is here. I once discussed this phenomenon as a freshman, but back then I wasn’t experiencing it; I was simply an observer. Now I think I get it man, and unlike many students, I believe we can fight it.
That “-itis” is the key. It spreads, and the senior class is the vector. All it takes is one infected person in a study group to suggest a fun activity. A few games of volleyball lead to a pleasant bike ride and from there you just forget about schoolwork and dark library cubicles.
Have no fear. We can fight this. We can save them. This is a two-prong solution. The first part involves quarantining the infected outdoors with plenty of Frisbees, sunscreen, lemonade and PBR.
At the same time, dude, we need to help students focus during these final weeks to save them from the misery of sunburns and farmer tans. The finish line seems to be the problem, as the second it is in sight there’s no need to exert the body and mind to get there.
It happens to everyone. Even Usain Bolt during the 100-yard dash at the Beijing Olympics slowed down when he saw he would win gold. The body conserves; if there is no need to do more, why bother?
We gotta institute an adjustable goal line so it is always out of reach. For example, if I keep adjusting my goal in writing this article, it will be finished at some point. Maybe. Anyway, I no longer care about senior-itis so much as what causes it. If we want to fix it, we need to attack the problem at its root: burnout. I’ll elaborate.
It begins at a young age when a child is told that she must be successful, which means in the U.S. at least financial stability and a family. That means she needs a well-paying job. To get a well-paying job she needs to do really well at a good college.
To do that she needs to get into a really good college, which requires studying for standardized tests and working hard in high school and volunteering. To do well in high school she needs to read and do well in middle school, ad nauseum. At some point early on she’s told she had better draw the best darn crayon sunflower in the whole class, nay, school, nay, district.
Regardless of whether or not each step is a necessary prerequisite for success, that type of thinking means children are given goals to check every step of the way until the end of their senior year of college when they see the finish line. At that point the end no longer matters because working beyond that point has no purpose.
There was no intrinsic joy associated with studying or reading or learning along the way. If anything else, senior-itis is a failure of our educational system to instill intrinsic enjoyment of learning in students and create engaging rather than anxiety-inducing material.
Not that the education system alone is guilty of it. Intrinsic value is so important that when it is diluted, it weakens the end result. If a student is writing a paper because they like writing and want to improve their writing, chances are it will be better than if the student’s goal was simply to get a good letter grade on the paper. They would also enjoy the process more.
It’s an idea I’ve presented in many articles. It’s why LUCC representatives and writers for The Lawrentian shouldn’t be paid. It’s what explains the deadlock in Congress, since their primary goal is re-election, not passing legislation. It’s what happens when the primary purpose of a formal group house is filling a house, rather than being a unified group.
And it’s why arguments against liberal arts colleges are absurd. The purpose of a liberal arts college isn’t to ensure a student can walk into a business and be 100% prepared for a job. It’s to foster enjoyment of learning and critical thinking. One of these ways of thinking is purely goal-oriented; the other is a journey.
One final question: if all we did is go from goal to goal, did we ever enjoy life? Welcome to ninth week, where the papers are made up and the grades don’t matter.