Spring Break Lessons

My daughter and I spent the last couple days in Boston. Our intent was to enjoy a “big city” and see a good friend. Mission accomplished.

But I couldn’t help but think about my students, and how they are spending their breaks…

My limited and un-scientific polling last week led me to the conclusion that two things were happening with my kids: 1) they were staying here, or 2)they were going on some resort-based extravagant trip. I can’t help but think how these students are growing (or not) in the 10 days we are apart.

The kids staying here are probably working, helping out at home and playing an inordinate amount of video games and most certainly sending an inordinate amount of social-networking based communications. Maybe they’ll get an idea that this isn’t the best way to spend all of their time. Or maybe they’ll play some video game set in World War I and get the reference to Kaiser Wilhelm that Fitzgerald made in the gossip about Gatsby.

Don’t get me wrong – these kids, and we teachers, deserve a break from our everyday hectic lives. Our curriculum is fast-paced and rigorous, and everyone needs a breather. But, I’m recalling one of those quotes so ubiquitous that I can’t remember the exact words or who wrote it. It’s something to the effect: the day you stop learning is the day you stop living.

The kids who went on trips will surely also pick something up. They will either absorb tips about how to or how not to conduct themselves in airports, around large groups of people. They’ll probably pick up some pointers on how to get through security, and some girls may even learn that wearing tall boots is not the best idea. (I wish someone had told the lady in front of me on our trip outbound. It took her longer to wrangle her boots and laptop through the TSA circus than it took me travelling alone with a toddler.)

Maybe they will even learn something while at their resort – this is where I fear they may learn some not-so-great things. Gatsby’s Valley of Ashes was the pit of proverbial stuff that rolled down hill as the rich built their post-WWI wealth. I fear that without someone to point out the parallel, one of the reasons why I teach this book will go unnoticed. The Valley of Ashes still exists. There will always be the grey, the “fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”

Dear students: can you find it outside your resort’s shiny gates?

My toddler is a little young for this type of discourse, however, we waved and made friends with everyone we saw, homeless folks, restaurant patrons, police officers, and vintage poster dealers. My fear, looking back, is that most of the darker skinned people she saw were working in uniforms, not buying over-priced jeans on Newbury Street. I wonder what she learned from our trip…

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