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It is always nice to spend vacation with friends from other campuses in order to get a fresh perspective on being at college. There is a certain charm in discussing school with people who have never heard of Phillips Brooks House or the house system, and being able to talk about the basics that everyone has in common--grades, term papers and final exams.
As always, of course, my friends from other schools get to talk about them in the past tense.
We all know the scenario well: After the mockery and pity subsides, our friends settle into their long and luxurious vacations. We, however, must brace ourselves for our short one, which seems even shorter because of what lies ahead. Every January seems to be filled with too much unstructured time, too much guilt over unproductive winter breaks and too many days between when classes end and exams start. Year after year these gripes fall on deaf ears, and calendar reform seems hopeless.
I believe that we need one simple change in the calendar that would lead to an extraordinary amount of positive reform. Make exams at the end of December, but do not change the length of winter break, or the dates of Registration or Commencement.
Why not implement a Winter Session similar to those found at some other schools? This month, one of my friends is flying to Las Vegas with a professor and 15 other students to study art. Another is taking a month-long class on the upcoming presidential elections.
Here's my simple solution to adapting this principle here: After completing exams in December, students could spend the month of January fulfilling two of their Core requirements with daily lectures. By isolating Core learning in January, the regular semesters could be spent on Concentration work, more electives, and less time complaining about the Core.
The fact of the matter is, even if an occassional Core class can be captivating, they have all taken on a certain reputation as being the 'spoiler' in every courseload--whether too boring, too much reading or just plain too required. Under this reformed system, semester final exams could happen in December and May, resulting in more peace of mind during winter break and the chance for second semester to start a little later, considering there is little hope that it will ever finish earlier.
Of course, in order to have classes in January, there would have to be professors to teach them. Asking them to work during their traditional vacation time seems on the surface to be a recipe for inevitable failure. However, if the courses took the place of others that they would have to teach during the rest of the year, the system could free up time during one of the regular semesters for other projects. This reformed system, although admittedly a potential negative incentive, might actually render faculty more enthusiastic about the Core.
January would be an opportune time for those one-page Core response papers we seem to be forever churning out, except that finally we might even have the time, energy and interest to do all of the reading. Grading should be standardized so that Core classes are no longer our most inflated grades, but might finally have a chance to be more fair.
In short, we need a setting in which Core learning can be a priority and not just one more hassle. We also need a calendar which does not drain our energy and our potential for performance. Core and calendar issues should be seen as going hand in hand, and should be re-examined to bring the excitement back into liberal arts learning.
Sure, I would not have enjoyed employed taking exams the last week before vacation terribly much, but I would trade the looming month of January for earlier exams and the prospect of another month of "Justice any day.
Corinne E. Funk's column will appear regularly again during the spring semester.
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