Artwork by Hannah Kahn
Calling the laziness of second semester seniors “senioritis” is all wrong. Senioritis is no disease. No, what we call senioritis is a symptom of a much graver disease, one that’s been insidiously creeping up on us since 9th grade, perhaps earlier, a disease I like to call onlydoingworktogetintocollege-itis. It’s a better name than pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, okay?
The aforementioned disease is most perceptible in senior year for obvious reasons. Before we seniors got into college, we worked to get into college. After we got into college, we did no work, because we were already in college. Quite simple.
So the school comes to our aid. It schedules Senior Seminar Day. It lightens up the curriculum. It organizes internships. But those aren’t cures—they are symptomatic treatments. Like oxycodone, or, I daresay, heroin.
Hardly satisfactory. Especially when you think of all the poor freshmen, sophomores and juniors languishing with the same disease. They, too, I would hazard to say, do their work mostly to get into a good college (or to get good grades, which they need to get into a good college). The result? Stress, lack of satisfaction, you name it. But no one comes to our aid then.
That, friends, is what must change. Now is not the time to treat onlydoingworktogetintocollege-itis. Now is the time to cure it. My proposal? Autonomy in education.
You see, while I, like most others, have been afflicted with very severe symptoms during my second semester, there was one very important area of my life where I observed no change in motivation. In fact, my motivation probably increased. That area of my life was co-captaining the Ultimate Frisbee team.
Now hear me out. Running the team has been just as educational as any other course I’ve taken in high school. Probably more so, in fact. I got a crash course in psych by reading a book on persuasion to convince people to join the squad, and I learned valuable lessons in government, too. After an unsuccessful letter trying to convince the director of New York athletics to promote us to varsity (he simply ignored it), I decided to try something different. I wrote a petition. This time, instead of writing with the weight of one voice, I wrote with the weight of 3000. And within two days I had a response. Thus I learned the most important lesson about democratic government— you can’t get stuff done alone.
And that’s just a small part of it. Fundraising was a lesson in microeconomics; writing letters a lesson in composition.
All this means that these symptoms of so-called senioritis do not arise from the mere act of learning. They arise from forced learning—and importantly, not from voluntary learning. Frisbee was voluntary. I had autonomy in running the team. I didn’t have to do it; it was a project I wanted to do, a project I embraced. That’s autonomy at work. I’m sure your dear editors of The Globe will say the same thing, as will the yearbook staff. So will the Physics nerds who plan on building a rail gun this quarter. They chose to do it, and they love it.
I’m not making this up. Corporations around the world are embracing a concept called “workplace autonomy.” One such company, the software development firm Atlassian, periodically allows its employees to work on whatever they want for 24-hour periods. It has found that on those days, some of the most creative ideas, bug fixes and collaborations emerge. And it’s not just them— according to Intuit (the makers of services like TurboTax, Mint and QuickBooks) a study of 320 small businesses showed that those that allowed their workers to exercise the greatest autonomy grew at quadruple the rate of the rest.
It’s time to let the innate motivation of autonomy trickle down to our high school educations, not just for seniors, but for everyone. Here’s how.
First, the school needs to make it easier to start clubs. Oh, they say it’s easy. Just bring a couple of friends to register with Ms. Scheffler. Well it turns out that in the eyes of the administration, these aren’t clubs at all, but “Student Led Groups.” There are only a few real clubs in the school— The Globe, Mahiscan, Model Congress, FBLA and Students for Senegal are among their scarce ranks. What’s the difference? Real clubs get funding, paid advisers and other resources from the school. This option needs to be extended to new clubs, too, as long as they have something to show for it. We need to reward people making independent efforts to start something, not hinder them. Even the Frisbee team, which has a coach, practices daily and takes trips to Albany, New Jersey, Massachusetts and weekly away games gets no funding.
Second, the school should provide resources for independent projects. Whether it’s starting a frisbee team, which requires jerseys, posters, buses and hotels, or making a rail gun, which requires magnet wire, a bullet, alligator clips and an infrared sensor, resources are always a challenge. I propose two solutions: open workspaces complete with supplies (similar to hackerspaces) and project grants (with minimally onerous application processes) similar to those you see in universities.
Third, like Atlassian, the school should set aside days (Z days?) for us to work on whatever we want, with the only condition being that we show what we’ve done at the end of the day. If it provides resources for creativity, the only missing element is time. Will this be abused by some? Most definitely. But it’s a worthwhile effort for those who care. And, like I said, some of the best and most creative work emerges from these periods of autonomy.
Fourth, MHS should offer independent work courses, where students can undertake an independent project and get credit for it. These can be in any discipline, and the definition of “project” should be kept loose—it could be a club, a paper, a research project, a machine, a video, a logo or graphic or anything else. Unlike OSR, the projects wouldn’t necessarily be science related, and the process for completing them would not be as rigidly structured.
Calling senior year laziness senioritis is like calling a concussion a headache. The symptom is not the disease. And as long as we keep treating it like that, the perennial problem will persist. We need to look beyond grades as motivators in favor of independence and self-directed learning. Only then will we finally cure onlydoingworktogetintocollege-itis.
By Victor Oduard