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Stanford scheduling proposal draws student ire
Original post made
on Mar 4, 2013
To address an abundance of student scheduling conflicts, Stanford University is considering a plan to spread out its class times, which may include starting more classes earlier in the day, a contentious issue to students.
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posted Monday, March 4, 2013, 9:34 AM
Posted by 100% bicycle commuter
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 6, 2013 at 9:06 pm
I feel kind of silly posting on this topic; I think most people here were just venting, which is understandable, as life can be stressful and indeed this petition by students seems a tad entitled. But on the off chance I can help early risers understand things more clearly, here goes.
First, to be clear, but hopefully not insulting, I want to establish this basic idea. Neither waking early nor getting less sleep than is optimal is a virtue. I understand and respect people who have to get up early and with too little sleep for jobs, family life, etc., that demand it. Your sacrifice is a virtue, but the particular means of your sacrifice is not.
Here's the thing. Some people, and I include a fairly large portion of Stanford's students, have to think really hard as part of what they do. Really hard. By the way, there's no virtue in that, either; there's nothing wrong with having a job in which most or all of the time you can think at far less than your hardest. Some very important jobs don't require hard thinking, or they require more intuitive or natural thinking that doesn't require the same mental gymnastics as the types of jobs I'm thinking of. But some do. And for these, adequate -- even a seemingly entitled -- amount of sleep is perhaps the single most important thing one can do to prepare for a bout of hard thinking. (Roughly speaking, when I say "hard thinking", I mean retaining and manipulating a large set of ideas and symbols in one's head over the course of hours.)
When I was an undergrad at Stanford, I pretty much skipped all my morning classes. You might say I was spoiled, but I don't think I was. I worked very hard. It's just that there was no point in going to class early. The lecture itself would be wasted on me, and I'd compromise my ability to think when working on projects and problem sets the rest of the day and night.
One might suggest that late risers go to bed earlier. Alas, if only it were so easy. For whatever reason, some of us are what are called "night owls". I do my best thinking late at night. If I do some software architecting during the day, I'll just have to redo it that night. If I try to do some algorithm development during the day, I just make myself miserable, because thinking feels like moving large blocks around; in contrast, at night, my mind feels like a gymnast, bouncing and twirling all over the place. The only kind of programming I can do during the day is what I think of as administrative: nothing bold, but just putting the bricks in place according to the plans I've already made. I find I'm not alone in the software world in having this trait. Indeed, I imagine of all employees, software developers are cut the most slack for being latecomers. I tip my hat to the wise employers who allow this.
Now I come directly to the issue of 8:30 vs 9. If I were still a student, it wouldn't affect me. For, as I already wrote, I rarely made 9am classes anyway. In fact, it would probably help in the sense that overlaps (see next paragraph) would be rarer (which is the point of the proposed change). But I would care because it would affect my friends. People who are not truly night owls go to morning classes, and a change of half an hour will lead directly to less sleep. Perhaps not half an hour: perhaps students will slightly adjust their bedtimes to compensate. But enough will remain unchanged in the evening and at night that some sleep will be lost, I predict. So for that reason, I'm opposed to the change.
Re: overlapping classes. Overlapping classes can be important. I had to do a few when I was an undergrad. Not many, but the few I did were critical. The issue is that class schedules are generally available quarterly, so when one plans a course of study far in advance, one can't account for class meeting time. One can shift classes to other quarters, of course, but sometimes part of one's course of study is too inflexible to permit such shifting.
One other thing. Some commentors, and evidently the administrator in charge of this proposal, have appealed to wakeup times in high school. I believe this is a poor argument for two reasons. First, it's wrong in high school, so it would be wrong in college, too. Second, and more practically, high school isn't as hard as Stanford. Now, don't get me wrong: high school kids around here no doubt have to do a lot of hard thinking and would benefit greatly from getting more sleep. But in high school there's a fair amount of busy work one can slog through on little sleep. In contrast, if one chooses a challenging course of study at Stanford, it's nothing but one hard thing after another. Compare, for example, math homework in high school and college. In high school, one gets a few 10s of problems a day, and only occasionally are they challenging (supposing one has a thing for math). So one chugs through them. In an interesting Stanford math class, one gets half a dozen problems for the week. Each may take a couple of hours, or more, to solve, with lots of hard thinking and missteps along the way. (Indeed, one quickly learns that the shorter a problem set looks, the harder it's going to be.) So sleep is more important.