In one of the first couple of sessions of Philosophy of Being last semester, Dr. Christopher Mirus listed and described various obstacles to our full encounter with being. He mentioned a number of such hindrances, but only one has stayed clearly with me: “doing too much on too little sleep and too much caffeine.” Is there a pithier summary of collegiate life?
It’s impressive how widespread this drug-addiction is here at the University of Dallas. One notices the evidence everywhere: in long lines at the Cappuccino Bar during every break from class, students and professors alike in need of that mid-morning (or early-morning), mid-afternoon (or early- or late-afternoon), and dinner-time (or midnight) pick-me-up; in the exhausted looks of students, especially juniors and seniors, getting up from the lunch table for a third cup of terrible cafeteria coffee; and in those pitiful sights to be seen in study rooms, classrooms and building foyers all over campus during the evening hours, of students surrounded at a desk or table by books, notebooks, laptops, and large bottles of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper (or mugs of tea and coffee). This university – its students and faculty – runs on caffeine.
One can understand why students drink as much of it as they do. The demands of a full, five-class course load are often overwhelming: hundreds of pages of reading of novels or history books, hours upon hours of translation from ancient texts, night after night of play rehearsal, and one tedious afternoon-killing lab after another in the dungeon that is the Science Building. I don’t blame any student who does what it takes to get his work done.
But I do blame our academic culture for the disorder of undergraduate life. There is something perverse afoot when razor-sharp, hard-working students feel they can never get a healthy night’s sleep during the school week, and must instead consume large amounts of a substance that saps away their money, messes with their head, is liable to make them dependent, and leaves more of them feeling ill than would like to admit it.
College students romanticize caffeine, but really it’s sleep that’s the beautiful thing. Sleep is infallibly restorative; it helps information and learning to settle deeply into one’s mind and never leaves one with a headache. A well-ordered society would not make it difficult for its brightest and most conscientious students to be well rested. Instead it would prioritize healthful living, understanding that it is better for a student to have read 100 pages and slept eight hours than to have read 300 pages and slept three hours. As Dr. Mirus also noted in that aforementioned class, our Wikipedia-age values information over wisdom. One does not grow wise from the sort of skimming UD students often feel forced to do; it is close, attentive reading, the kind for which a solid eight hours is a prerequisite, that is the pathway to true learning.
If the liberal arts are to prepare us for life, then they ought to prepare us for the good life, not for the tired and caffeinated life.