Monday, March 1, 2010

Superheroes, or Crazy and Compulsive?

Several days ago the March-April issue of the Harvard Magazine was released online, and one of the articles, "Nonstop," details the lives of over-scheduled Harvard students. At the beginning of the article, before any analysis by deans and other academic experts as well as by the writer Craig Lamberg himself, are a number of specific examples that Lambert finds particularly illustrative. Here is the opening paragraph:

You wake up each morning with a fever; you feel like a shadow of yourself. But no time for sickness today—the Adams House intramural crew has one of its thrice-weekly practices at 6 A.M., and you…will…row. Some mornings, you watch the sunrise from Lamont Library after hitting your study groove there around 11 the night before and bushwhacking through assignments during the quiet time between 3 A.M. and 5. The rower and late-night scholar is Becky Cooper ’10.

In fact, even just the first clause would be sufficient to establish the problems underlying this article; "You wake up each morning with a fever"? Really?

The article goes on to describe Cooper as "super-active" and Harvard undergraduates overall as "superheroes" that do "3,000 things at 150 percent." Words such as "astonishing" and "unbelievable" are tossed around as laudatory adjectives. What I cannot understand is why the article consistently refuses to address the fact that the lifestyle led by Cooper and the other highlighted students is unhealthy, and why officials such as Judith Kidd (former associate dean for student life and activities) can only say "They are unbelievably achieving." David Friedrich says, "Yes, it can often be frenetic and [done] with an eye toward résumés, but learning outside the classroom through extracurricular opportunities is a vital part of the undergraduate experience here." So vital that these "superheroes" are almost chronically sick?

I understand what Cooper means by feeling as if every moment at Harvard needs to be utilized to the fullest extent. While I do not always do that, it is an admirable and ambitious goal that recognizes the unique array of opportunities the campus offers. Yet more important is a person's health and his/her future--it is simply not reasonable to "wake up each morning with a fever." There is something seriously wrong with a person who thinks that lifestyle is sustainable or okay, and an environment that fosters that kind of behavior. Why does the article not take a hard look at the attitudes that drive Harvard students to overschedule themselves the way they do, and the administrators who look the other way?

For the article to feature these students as if they are in some way superior and exceptionally gifted is simply irresponsible journalism. There is nothing wrong--in fact I might argue that there is something exceptionally mature--about prioritizing adequate nutrition and sleep, taking the basic number of classes, and joining a reasonable number of activities. After all of this is over, will every moment of the whirlwind that is Cooper's four years really have made a difference? Or will it all have been one long blur, while Olivia Goldhill will be the one to come away with memories?

"People are going nonstop, and there are a lot of negative implications. You don’t have time to dedicate to your friends or to yourself—or to thoughts that you haven’t been taught to think."

For all of the intelligence that is supposed to exist within these venerable gates, Goldhill may be the only one who understands anything at all.

No comments: