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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Farewell to the weekend as we knew it

By Dick Hirsch

When I was a college freshman, I had a class on Saturday morning. Do I remember the subject? Of course not, but if I had to guess, I would say it was World History.

I settle on history because the schedule makers never would have arranged any courses in math or the sciences for early Saturday morning, when the minds of students were likely to be dulled by the activities of the night before and less receptive than any other day of the week.

What did I know about life? I was a blank slate during registration that first semester, an innocent high school graduate. It took me a full twelve years to learn most of the intricacies of public education, now I was thrust into a whole new venue. Some alleged advisor must have told me that certain classes met on Saturday mornings---following the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday regimen---and urged me to take that course with a bright, engaging new instructor.

Yeah, sure, bright and engaging. Hindsight tells me that he must have been new to the faculty, because who else would have accepted such a dismal schedule? There we were together, a collection of unsophisticated lambs, at 8:40 AM, each and every Saturday for an entire year.

But it turned out to be a learning process. I learned a bit about the history of the world---1066 and all that---but the most memorable lesson was never again to register for any courses that met on Saturdays. Better to stay longer on Tuesday and Thursday and avoid any serious attempts at formal education on Saturdays. My best information is that Saturday classes long ago disappeared from academic schedules.

That is all history. Schedules continue to shrink in the academic world and Friday is becoming a victim---or should I say beneficiary?---of the trend to revise Friday, so it completes the evolution and is accepted as a weekend day. Students consider Thursday afternoon to be the beginning of the weekend. Surveys have shown that far fewer classes meet on Fridays than on other days of the week. Can you guess the busiest days? If you chose Tuesday and Wednesday, you would either be very perceptive or else on the staff at the office of some college registrar.

College officials, who long ago abandoned Saturday as a day for learning, have been struggling for several years to restore Friday to its traditional role as just another school day. They stress the many factors of efficiency and economy. It seems counter-intuitive to have most of the classes jammed into four days, creating scheduling problems that result in crowded classrooms. They enumerate other problems as well, but the campaign for restoration of Friday has had limited success.

Traditionally, trends are born on the campus. The validity of Fridays as workdays has also been called into question in the business and professional mainstream, among workers and managers, for whom Friday has become a day that no longer possesses the clout of the other days of the week. It was just last year that the owner of a successful local business enlightened and shocked me when he declared:

“Thursday is the new Friday!”

He was planning a corporate party at which customers would be entertained. He insisted on a Thursday, explaining that a Friday, any Friday, had lost its luster and was no longer acceptable. One of his top executives offered mild resistance, defending the various benefits of Fridays and extolling its attributes, but the boss prevailed. The Thursday party was a major success, well attended, with very few invitees declining.

If you are shocked by this revelation and insist on seeing additional evidence, you don’t have to believe me. Consider your own experience. Do you find it difficult to reach certain business associates by phone on Fridays? If you are a golfer, do you find it more difficult to arrange a tee time on Fridays?

Or what about meetings? Why are most meetings held on Mondays through Thursdays? Is that a coincidence? Or is it just another symptom of the malaise that is gripping Friday? On a more personal note, ask yourself when was the last time you contrived an excuse to be absent when some customer wondered whether you could attend a meeting on Friday afternoon?

I understand the factories, offices and executive suites are all very busy on every Friday in China and India. Does that send you any kind of message?


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