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Opinion: Bill Walton, Early to Bed

Is it time to change secondary school hours?

My old algebra teacher, actually I should say former, not old, although we did think of him as being old at the time, used to continually say you cannot compare apples to oranges, nor A to B, as they are different. Notwithstanding X, Y, and Z could muddy the binomial theorem. So, when I make a comparison between ducks and teenagers, stay with me.

There was yet another debate on the radio the other day about the benefits of allowing teenagers who attend secondary school to sleep in an hour or so longer (one academic had figures to prove her theorem down to five minutes more of sleep) so they would be half awake when attending morning classes. The marks improved for the slug-a-beds, although we were not privy to the actual numbers but I am suspecting that they went from fail to pass, although I heard that no one fails anymore. That surely cannot be true.

The sleep therapist who joined the conversation gave us the number of hours of sleep a teenager needs to develop his or her body and coincidentally their brains. It seems like seven hours is a good starting place; eight hours being an optimum for young ladies as they are somewhat more advanced in their circadian sleep cycle adjustments than boys who tend to malinger even in falling asleep. The boys catch up to the clock by taking less time in the washroom in the a.m. but none of the panelists mentioned that. I have a sister.

A number of teachers phoned in their comments that gave proof to the premise that school should start as late as 9:30, which co-incidentally gave them time for one more coffee before facing the partially scrubbed faces of teenage boys and well-groomed young ladies. None of the aforementioned, including the teachers, were what my father would describe as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 8:30. Whatever that meant.

A school board accountant had figures that showed the extra costs associated with opening schools at different times. He was supported by a school bus driver who said rush hour traffic made it better to come to school later after the highways cleared was much better for him. And, bringing the kids home later in the day because of delayed openings, was much better for daycare, although how we had transitioned from secondary school kids needing more sleep to pre-schoolers, I didn’t know.

One parent opined that her system was working: when her son felt like he needed more sleep, he simply stayed abed until he felt like arising and then found his own way to school when fully awake. His marks had actually improved – but again no numbers were given – and he seemed to be happier. This made the psychologist on the program happy also. I am wondering if that is the same boy who now shows up late for work at the tire company at least twice a week. The owner was going to fire him because of the tardiness but cannot find any suitable applicants to replace him.

What this means, and one can assume that this trend of not getting up to go to classes will spread around the globe, is that we are abandoning the circadian cycle of following the sun to bed and arising at dawn with said sun. I am guessing that old cycle of sleeping at night had something to do with us being hunter/gatherers and farmers who matched their hours with the domesticated beasts that provided food and horsepower in days of yore. Those who stayed up late the previous night drinking, dancing, and singing were urged from bed at dawn by crowing roosters.

This early rising habit was passed along when we had an industrial revolution and factories came to life at dawn and shut down when the sun set, there being no electric lights at the time. Edison and Westinghouse fixed that. So, you can see there is a history of us following the sun and its circadian rhythm even to the extent of going to school. Is it time to change Secondary school hours from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.?

Now about those ducks – the oranges in the equation. Some of our local mallard ducks have adopted a sleep/arise cycle of their own, based on how hungry they are, not whether they had to attend classes. This is quite acceptable behaviour in the summer when the summer sun shines for many hours in the day and you can search for food as long as there is daylight. However, come fall and then winter, it behooves most ducks to follow the sun so they can maintain their leisurely daily hours, arising when they feel like it. Our mallards in the equation thought flying south to be a laborious waste of time when they could stay in the frozen north, replacing their summer diet of crustaceans along the shallows with grains tossed by humans beside the creek bed and where bubbling water never froze at the sewage plant. This accommodation by the humans that started as a charitable concern for our feathered friends has now become an obligation lest the birds, who ought be down south in the sunshine, starve and freeze to death.

All will be well for the mallard ducks (the flock is multiplying) as long as the recession and inflation do not stop the supply of grains normally used for feeding chickens or cows and making bread and cereals for people. Or the City does not pass a bylaw banning the feeding of ducks. Look what happened to the pigeons. We have accommodated the ducks and now we are about to accommodate the teenagers by letting them set their internal clocks to match a new lifestyle of late to bed, late to arise.

And, all will be well for the teenagers as long as they are attending school or college where hours of study are flexible. Maybe their circadian clocks will need resetting when they find a job that will feed and house them but I wonder. Or, will they become mallards who avoid the work of migrating, relying now on the largess of others? It is interesting to note that some learned academics say that this is the first generation since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution that parents do not expect their children to be better off (financially – housing, stuff, vacations, retirement, etc.) than they were. The Gen Z people are beginning to realize that this might be true.

One begins to wonder if all this change is not an inheritance of the lack of discipline in getting up with the sun and beginning the daily chores of learning, making a living, having a little fun time and then getting to bed knowing that the rooster will be calling us when the sun next rises.

Early to bed, early to rise; makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise. Just saying.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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