Mandatory Misery

Upper spring has arrived for the Class of 2004, and in this time of stress, some of us turn to drugs, or, failing at that, to things that look like drugs. For example, my roommate recently spent a part of one night working above a mirror on his desk, making lines of baking soda as if they were cocaine. I’m not actually worried about him, since he informed me that he planned on “smoking” his lines of pretend coke, but I am glad that his formal education has not beaten the imagination and inquisitiveness out of him yet. This anecdote, as I see it, entails two morals. For one, my roommate is strange. This lesson needs no further explication. Secondly, Upper year is not the insidious beast that many make it out to be. It’s a cliché that the workload here, especially that of Upper year, reduces students to machines that wake up each day, work, eat, work again, and sleep a little. It is a legend that the grind here leads our imaginations as well as our collective love of learning to atrophy, and, to my experience, it is a myth. My roommate had the time one night to construct his elaborate set-up of “coke” lines before my mom arrived to visit, and I had the life force to laugh at it. I am doing all right in what are considered hard classes, and I find time not only for work, for track six days a week, for writing for the paper, and for guitar, but also for playing an alarming amount of video games, for throwing a frisbee around on the Great Lawn, and for chilling with my friends and wasting time. I, however, am a poor example. Therefore, I cite my roommate, who, although taking fewer AP classes, finds time beyond his academic and music commitments to play frisbee, have fun, and waste far more time than I do on the X-box and Gamecube. In his words, “Upper spring is overrated.” The consensus I sense is that the workload so far this year is by no means overwhelming. We cannot by any means conclude that the school should add more work to the Upper year courses in order to make our lives harder. That most students, even some of those who struggled earlier in their Andover careers, however, find that their workloads, although challenging, are not all-consuming, further demonstrates that the “pace of life” issue on campus as it is commonly posed seems largely fictitious. The school, however, does suffer from a different type of pace of life problem. The issue is not that the workload from the standard Upper-year courseload is unbearable, but that students are increasingly unable to fit the electives they want to take into their academic programs. Our academic lives are too consumed by the need to satisfy each academic department’s requirements that many students cannot find the space to take the electives that interest them. To a certain extent, this problem is an inherent and inevitable side effect of the breadth of our academic program and the length of the course catalog. The recent additions of required history and theater courses to the Lower program, however, have exacerbated this pace of life predicament. I am lucky to have no yearlong math or science for next year, giving me room for an English elective, a history course that interests me, and seminars in math and the sciences. Most students, however, never have this type of choice. With the history, music, art, theater, P.E. and religion and philosophy requirements, and the required-by-colleges program of math through calculus, four years of English, and three years science, most students have room in their schedules for less than a handful of true electives that interest them, and often have to take six courses to complete their academic programs. My roommate, for instance, is tied down for the next year with a yearlong math, probably a yearlong language, English, and two terms of art to complete, affording him a total of four slots for electives in his Andover career if he plans to take the standard five courses. If he were saddled with fewer required courses in art, music, P.E., theater, and other areas, then he would be able to engage his imagination and inquisitiveness in more of the many great elective courses that we offer, as well as with baking soda and a razor blade above a mirror at night in the dorm.