In favor of revising the academic calendar

As someone who loves learning and education, I believe that the unnecessarily long breaks in the winter and summer are a waste of time. If we total these two periods, we get about twenty weeks. During the typical four years that it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree at Lawrence, that comes to 80 weeks off school. It may sound crazy, but the education system should be year-round. I will cover a few reasons why it is not already, as well as why it should be. My primary argument centers around the idea that a twelve month education cycle will maximize optimum learning and create a better environment for the boundaries between academic and personal interests.

Rather than having ten week classes covering complex subjects being cramped more than they need to be, I envision classes being stretched along a forty week year. Moreover, with the extra twelve weeks left, there would be two two-week breaks every term. This accomplishes two things. For one, the curriculum will have more time for in-depth exploration of topics. I have learned that classes here tend to reach an unsatisfying peak, wherein you learn and study the content, reach the summit of the class, take the final and then it is over. After that, much of what you learned is forgotten over the three months of summer break. Of course, majors can resolve this issue through continuously reinforcing learned information, but what about electives, or language courses? Electives can provide a lot of inspiration in a student’s life, but the lack of time to explore that topic beyond the ten week grind presents a disappointing scenario. More importantly, for many who complete their language requirement, there is little time to maintain those skills after the fact.

Moving on to the second effect of this new calendar, two week breaks twice every term give students a lot of breathing room to relax, spend time off campus, focus on hobbies and reinforce class curriculum. This new format is a break from school but not a vacation. It provides respite from an otherwise stressful environment without enabling that all too common lapse into summertime laziness. I am not suggesting that people are inherently lazy but that summers make it all too easy for a person to feel unmotivated to accomplish anything. Students are given just enough time to feel liberated from academic distress. In this case, distress is defined as negative stress which leaves people with feelings of anxiety, worry and fatigue. My goal in establishing a new calendar system is to instill a sense of eustress, defined as stress that feels invigorating and helps people feel accomplished. Eustress is productive stress, whereas distress often hurts personal growth.

Earlier, I implied there were barriers to this change already set in place. There are two main forces to consider: the agricultural and tourist industries. The former is more relevant in suburban and rural American public schools but has established a tradition of long summers. Farmers will employ their children in assisting with the crops during these breaks. I am sure that to an extent, this helps the agriculture business. However, this raises alarms about exploitative child labor as well as prioritizing profit above education. This issue is not as relevant to the Lawrence community, though, so I will not discuss it any further. The tourism and vacation industry, on the other hand, is what drives our summer activity. People travel around the world and go to amusement and water parks. Some nations like New Zealand even derive a lot of their GDP from this industry. This again brings up concerns about economic growth above education. I could even argue that in the long-term, this would be more economically beneficial. A better educated workforce is important to the improvement of society, after all.

Beyond these two economic forces lies a third barrier: American culture. The potential loss of a Christmas or Thanksgiving break is devastating to many in the U.S., I am sure. Of course, a two week break could be scheduled during one of these holidays, but there will be a sacrifice made either way. Moreover, I think it is important to consider the lack of consideration our academic calendar has for holidays of various international cultures—the lunar new year, for example. From the American perspective, winter break often symbolizes an opportunity to celebrate Christmas with the family. For people whose cultural holidays do not fit within the five week break, though, it is less special. Many students on campus cannot celebrate their own holidays at home.

A more flexible and international holiday culture at Lawrence would certainly be interesting. More specifically, there could be an emphasis on celebrations within the community, rather than returning home. If American students really want to have Christmas during a break, they can choose one of the two-week breaks to celebrate it. The idea is to shift our calendar away from a U.S.-centric perspective.

The one argument against this new calendar which I agree with is the lack of opportunities to travel and have experiences outside of Lawrence this change will create. In my case, I may be traveling to Korea for three weeks this upcoming winter break, but I would be unable to under my proposed new system. Having the ability to travel to a different country or join a summer program is an amazing thing for people our age to do. I highly encourage it.

I think the immobility of our education is an issue that needs addressing in the long-term. I would also like to point out the class implications of these opportunities. Poorer people may have less enriching experiences over break. Without the resources provided by academic institutions, many people simply lack the means to afford a vacation or summer camp experience. That is why a shift in the academic calendar is important for those of us who rely on school for intellectual stimulation. Investment in summer programs for low income students is a great alternative to consider as well, but I think this new academic calendar would lead to a better experience, overall, for Lawrentians who may be weary of the busy atmosphere.