Let’s call her Jane. I met her last night. Jane is a white 9th grader from a well-to-do New York City family who attends what we all would call an “elite” independent high school. Her parents passionately believe in the power of a good education, as well as a well-rounded and balanced life. Jane has some degree of ADD, works very hard in school, does well in the arts and languages, and struggles, relative to her peers at her school, in math and science.
By the time Jane gets home most days after school it is 5 PM, and she then spends ON AVERAGE more than four hours on homework. She eats dinner in 10 minutes with a schoolbook open in front of her. Many nights she does not go to bed until after 11 PM, and she gets up by 6 AM to go back to school. She is diligent in her homework; she is not on her computer chatting with friends. This is just her workload.
Please excuse my angst and anger, but what the hell is the point?
Every student at Jane’s school will matriculate to an appropriate four-year college or university. Every student has talent and brains or they would not be at the school. What filter or winnowing process does this workload provide? How does it prepare students for their futures? What will the students prove through this process other than that they can survive the marathon? Sure, some of these students will go on to Yale and law school and then join a firm that expects them to bill 100 hours a week. But the vast majority will NOT follow that path, and we KNOW that this kind of daily routine is unhealthy, mentally and physically, for Jane and most other teenagers.
Jane’s school has a remarkable record of getting their students into the top colleges; reportedly last year about half of the graduating class went to one of the Ivies. They have high bragging rights in the highly competitive New York City school market. But they achieve these bragging rights at the expense of Jane and many other students for whom we KNOW the lifestyle is unhealthy.
Some school leaders will rightly say, “Families have choices and Jane’s family does not have to choose our school”. And if Jane decides to go elsewhere, they will immediately fill her spot with another student for whom the same schedule and routine may well be no more appropriate or healthy than it is for Jane.
We can blame college admissions. Colleges have, for the most part, failed to align their admissions selection clearly, publicly, transparently, and honestly with their oft-repeated commitment to “wanting creative, independent-thinking” students. And/or we can believe in our own value as educators and stop fearing that if we moderate the hours of content cramming, if we shift our pedagogy away from overburdensome homework, which has failed in the past to show a positive correlation to improved student outcomes, that our students will fail at the next step of education and life.
Has your school had this discussion in depth? At what point do we stop the arms race and live our mission, almost all of which state that we are focused on the “needs of the individual child?” At what point do bragging rights become more important than the well being of those individual students we are meant to serve? At what point will your school lead?