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When no one does the reading

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At Stanford, the homework never stops coming. There is always a problem set, a reading or an essay that has yet to be completed, and very often the overlap of numerous due dates forces students to prioritize more pressing assignments over others. In these situations, the easiest tasks to give up tend to be readings for discussion-based classes, especially since Stanford students are quick on their feet and often capable of constructing arguments and observations about texts that they have never laid eyes on, simply by internalizing the comments made by other classmates.

Last Thursday, I sat in my 9:30 a.m. class still trying to snap myself out of my morning grogginess when the professor announced that the first hour of the seminar would be dedicated to an in-depth discussion on the previous night’s reading. I looked over at a friend, who shook her head exasperatedly to indicate that she had also neglected to check the syllabus.

“What did you think?” The professor leaned back in her chair, awaiting the first response. I scanned the room for someone to raise their hand, but the whole class sat in silence, only glancing up from their twiddling thumbs to make desperate eyes at their peers: Someone please say something. We sat in excruciating silence for an entire minute.

“I liked it,” one boy finally announced half-heartedly.

“What did you like about it?” the teacher pressed.

“The interesting usage of rhetorical strategies. It contrasted heavily with previous readings that we’ve done in this course.”

“In what ways?”

The boy glanced around. He seemed to hope that someone else would jump in.

There was another long, awkward pause as he searched for words.

A girl sitting in the corner of the room finally raised her hand, “I made a mistake and didn’t check the syllabus clearly, so I didn’t see that we had reading last night.”

The professor glanced at her own copy of the assignment sheet and broke a smile, playfully slapping the palm of her hand against her forehead. “I completely forgot to include this reading in the syllabus.”

If it were possible, it seemed that every student in the classroom made eye contact at the same time in a mutual expression of both humor and horror. The boy who made the first comment blushed a deep red.

Out of all fifteen students in the course, not a single one had done the reading, and not a single one had planned on admitting it. The next time I enter a class guilty of not having had time to complete a reading, I’ll remind myself that it is more than likely that there are at least a few others who are in the exact same boat.

Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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