by Ben Seeley ’14
Sometimes it’s the case that routine morphs into custom, and self-reflection drifts off into the wind. That’s not to say the routine didn’t serve its purpose or have its day–rather, that we’ve rethought our strategy, opened ourselves to the reality of the situation, and amended the routine to better reflect our condition. So let’s apply that to our winter’s most existential dread: the tragedy of semester exams.
This tragedy poses an optimistic prospect in theory: finals after break is conducive to *more time, more studying, and more A’s*, right? But tragically that’s not the case. So being the honest, pragmatic Ignatians we are, let’s reconsider the merits of the post-break final–namely in terms of real-world time, study, and outcome.
Any high school student can attest to the truth that the myriad free time over winter break is more commonly spent under a pillow than at a desk, and with a hot chocolate–not a pen–in hand. That’s just how it is. Irrational as it is to spend time on trivia and not academia, the still-developing frontal lobes of teens know no better. That’s why we ought to hate the game, not the player. Let’s conform the schedule to the student and not vice versa.
Now onto the very issue of study. As central as the notion of course review is to our pedagogical paradigm, it raises a philosophical predicament of sorts: should the grade received on a final be a testament to devotion to the final, or devotion to the course? Any serious educator would side with the latter, despite what the process becomes in practice. The opportunity for “binge-study” that a pre-final break provides just corrupts otherwise effective instruction.
Ultimately, winter break ends up serving as a counterintuitive crutch for many students and their grades; if two weeks of empty review time lay just before the exam, there isn’t much use in devoting oneself until it counts. In other words education transforms into a matter of ends over means, in which active study and enrichment are foregone for last-minute, transient processing. One student may ace his or her post-break final, but what about the student who already went into break with an A? And lost it on exam day due to using his holiday for its intended purpose to relax?
Such a case shouldn’t have to be a concern.
All in all, the only tangible obstacle to such a scheme is the inequity of the two semesters–that second semester would be a month longer than first. But when you think about it, a lack of symmetry between semesters poses very little threat to the educational system considering the several methods of adjustment.(For example, second semester could end in May and be followed by a monthlong term encouraging reflection or service or independent study.) Time should be a factor of our instruction, not the determinant.
So let’s question the routine. Let’s create a new tradition. And let’s create a holiday break that functions as a holiday should, celebratory of overcome adversity and optimistic for the undiscovered mystery–and not relentless review–ahead in the New Year.