September 20, 2020

BERNSTEIN | The End of All Snow Days

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It’s a cold and white morning at 7 a.m. on a January 2040 Tuesday. The grass had been dry and visible just a couple hours earlier, but now it’s blanketed in snow. Even though talk of the impending storm had been swinging all across the grapevine Monday afternoon, there were no spoons under the pillows of schoolchildren, nor inside-out pajamas that night. Those things are traditions of the past now. They’re left for us to tell to our children and grandchildren, the same way we were told by our elders about their miles-long walks to school that were somehow uphill both ways.

Memories of snow days don’t populate the brains of every Cornellian, but most of us will remember the luxury of waking up to cancelled school twice last year thanks to Ithaca blizzards. For those that did grow up with periodic snow storms, we know well the gifts of those extra hours of sleep, the promise of sledding on a neighborhood hill and the day of respite from the stresses of reality.

But as winter nears it’s fair to wonder if a snow day will ever happen again. Not just at Cornell, but for all schools capable of practicing effective online learning. What’s stopping a school board from replacing snow days or any other cancellations with a day on zoom?

Snow days may truly be gone for good. In fact, it’s already starting to become the case: New York City public schools will have remote learning in the case of snowstorms or other inclement weather. The state education department also gave all school districts statewide the ability to swap snow days for online class if they so choose. The department said that while this policy will only last for the coming school year, it may be renewed for the future.

Suddenly, we have to say goodbye.

A snow day is a day off. It’s a relaxation so exciting that all we can do is play: Last year the slope was overrun by sleds, snowball fights traversed the quads and fresh snow angels lived among us across campus. Some of us locked ourselves inside with cocoa, friends and a movie. There’s no stress on a day like that — qualms of schoolwork and reality are pushed aside for just a moment, and instead we get to play like kids again.

And even as we sat trapped in our homes for the past few months, just like when true blizzards kept us inside for what felt like forever, I was yearning for a snow day. Pressures from the pandemic feel never ending and they’ve forced each of us to recognize that we no longer have a day off. There’s no time away from the harsh realities of the world. Just a week or two into the semester, sitting at my desk overloaded with work and other stresses, I’m longing for a snow day even in beautiful weather.

Now more than ever we realize that prominent issues will continue to persist if we don’t work day in and day out to stop them: Racial injustice, climate change and the current horrors of the pandemic aren’t going anywhere without a fight and they’ll worsen if left untreated. If it seems like these issues are constantly breathing down the back of your neck, it’s because they are. And respite feels wasteful in their shadow.

The truth is, though, that once we left for college, we were never really supposed to have that respite anyway. Our first snow day last December was the only the third since 1993 — who knows if one would even be warranted again? Beyond school, snow days don’t exist in the real world; if we were at work, we wouldn’t get days off for bad weather.

Now, everyone will have to face the music. We don’t get to take days off without consequence — and doing so feels wrong, especially during a pandemic and other crises. In reality, it’s not. Taking a day off is a useful reset button that helps us to attack the real world with renewed energy. Right now, however, it feels like we don’t have a choice. That innocent time spent making snow angels instead of worrying over a paper is taken from us. Any time spent relaxing instead of confronting the world’s greatest issues feels like time wasted. Collectively, though, I think we could all use a snow day.

Daniel Bernstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dbernstein@cornellsun.com. Feel the Bern runs every other Monday this semester.