Every year, on the second Monday in October, I laugh. It is the celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada.
This is why I laugh.
This is why I laugh.
For many years I had the privilege of serving at a Christian college. It was truly a blessing. And one of the most interesting, humorous and exasperating aspects of that job was attending the monthly meetings of the faculty. (If you have ever been in such meetings, you know exactly what I am talking about.)
Every year, the faculty would discuss the academic calendar. The conversation would involve when semesters should begin, end, and when breaks should take place. Some faculty would pull out their calculators, making sure that classes on some days had the same number of classroom minutes as classes on other days. It was all taken very seriously - except by some folks, like me, who had no real interest in the topic and could sit back and enjoy the show. The debate illustrated the old joke that “academic fights are so bloody, because the stakes are so small.”
Inevitably, at some point in the conversation, someone would raise the problem of the proximity between Thanksgiving break and the end of the semester. There simply was not enough classroom time between the two. This would lead - every year - to one of my esteemed colleagues (a person I greatly loved and respected) standing to address the faculty. She would make an impassioned plea that the answer to this problem is obvious: move Thanksgiving to October. “By celebrating Thanksgiving at the same time as the Canadians, it would solve this problem.” There it was! My single favorite statement of the year. My single favorite statement of over 20 years of attending faculty meetings. And I could not help but laugh.
I loved that statement because it so clearly communicated the perspective that the college was not in the real world. We should be able to move holidays. It never occurred to my dear colleague that this would be inconvenient to students, their families, and to the families of all of her colleagues. It never occurred to her that students, while enjoying the break on the second Monday in October, would still want the break on the fourth Thursday in November. We should be able to tell these students and their families when to celebrate a holiday because, after all, we were in the business of telling students how to think and what they didn’t know but needed to know. Connection to the real world simply is not our responsibility as a true liberal arts college.
To be fair, the college never tried to change Thanksgiving to October. However, that is only because of the absurdity of the suggestion. But that absurdity hid the truth of the premise - we really do believe that we are an entity unto ourselves. We have a perspective on life and truth, and it is the responsibility of students to conform. We build the boxes of academic life, and it is up to students to fit into them or be tossed aside. We are the elite, and we are the arbiters of admission into our world. The real world of the student - from which they come, and to which they will return - is not the concern of the academic institution because those who live in the academic world are not really connected to that world at all.
This perspective doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Even if a college, or any other institution, calls itself “Christian,” if it does not have room for those who are different, and who are trying to figure out how to make a difference in the “real world,” then it is not following Christ. Christ called us to go into that world - to be salt and light. Christ called us to touch the least and the outcasts, even those who could not possibly understand the value of a liberal arts education.
I still see the value in Christian higher education. I still love and support the college I served for all those years. And it still angers me that some students - smart, gifted students - are not valued in such places because they do not fit into the boxes created by those who have lost touch with the radical ways of thinking and being that it takes to show people the grace, peace and love of God in the real world.
And I still laugh on the second Monday of October.