“My college education,” wrote Robert Benchley in 1927, “was no haphazard affair. My courses were all selected with a very definite aim in view, with a serious purpose in mind — no classes before eleven in the morning or after two-thirty in the afternoon, and nothing on Saturday at all. That was my slogan. On that rock was my education built. As what is known as the Classical Course involved practically no afternoon laboratory work, whereas in the Scientific Course a man’s time was never his own until four p.m. anyway, I went in for the classic. But only such classics as allowed for a good sleep in the morning. There is such a thing as being a studying fool.”
My favorite part of this slacker’s manifesto is the throwaway fact that there were Saturday classes.
But Benchley hits the nail on the head.
If, as a recent Post story suggested, college requires fewer and fewer hours of study — a mere 15 hours per week, compared to 24 a half-century ago — that is only because of decades of concerted effort by students.
We can’t stop now. This is the dream of our ancestors! By refusing to show up before noon or after Thursday, they gradually molded the college catalog into its present exalted state. And we are the beneficiaries!
Work more than a mean of 15 hours per week? What is this, 1960? Look, the Internet did not exist in 1960.
We can’t spend more than 15 hours studying, or the Internet will grow restless and lonely. I can barely get away from it for a few moments to type this. I might miss the birth of a new meme, and then the meme would grow up resenting me.
Besides, the Internet is where we do most of our learning. Just today, I learned that you might be able to buy Ronald Reagan’s blood, and that some veterinarians are worried that earthquakes are causing depression in cats! And it’s still the afternoon!
Homework is for high school students. Once you’ve survived four years of lugging A. P. textbooks around, learning how to fill in arrays of bubbles correctly and write essays with erroneous but well-ordered facts, and pursuing at least 300 extracurriculars, you are entitled to sit back and relax and enjoy the brief window of your life during which your liver takes whatever you give it without complaining.
Look, I know that we are ranked something abysmal like 17th worldwide in education right now, and that is in high school, where we are actually being supervised and made to study.
But we’re tired, and we would like to sleep in.
I am not saying that my schedule was not absolutely rigorous and thoroughly demanding, but during my second semester, senior year I missed my last shift at work because I overslept. This sounds pardonable until I tell you that the shift was on a Monday at 3 PM.
Saturday classes? I barely had Friday classes! And we’re wearing that down too.
Yale and Princeton don’t even list Saturday meetings as an option on their course catalogue search tools. More than twice as many courses at George Washington University have meetings on Wednesdays than on Fridays.
In the 2011-2012 school year, Harvard offered only two courses that met on Saturdays. And there is a steep drop-off between the number of courses that meet Wednesday (1072) and Thursday (879) versus Friday (398).
But this is what Robert Benchley and those like him worked so hard to achieve. And people who call college resort-like have obviously had bad experiences at resorts. I doubt most resorts require you to share bathrooms with what I assume, based on what it left in the shower, to be an actual Wookiee.
Besides, there is so much more to college than studying. There is — well, when else in your life are you not only allowed but encouraged to drink during the day? Seldom do you hear anyone say, “Oh, college! It was my rigorous survey course in colonial history that fixed and set the direction of my life.” Instead, people say things like, “I miss being able to drink during the day” and “I miss the people” and “I miss the people with whom I used to drink during the day.”
Of course, parents may not be happy about this. They are the ones paying large sums of money, yet students, like Facebook users, have the mistaken but fixed idea that they are the consumers, filling out course evaluations and complaining whenever someone tries to hold section meetings before 2 PM. That conflicts with extracurriculars! And these days, extracurriculars are the real meat of the college experience. You can read Tristram Shandy any old time, but you only have four years to, say, produce a TV show yourself, or get together with peers and angrily discuss the environment.
And there’s something to this.
This is one of those chicken and egg problems, of course. Does less work lead to a wider array of things you can do besides study, or does a wider array of things you can do besides study lead to fewer study hours?
Still, you can’t help learning something at college. I learned how to open beer using the edge of a table! If it doesn’t come in the classroom, you’ll find it elsewhere. You certainly have enough time to explore.