Every day, I go to work. Each day, each of my five bosses lets me know that they expect a huge amount of work from me, and it had better be done when they see me the next day, or the day after at the latest. I head home after work, open up my laptop, and spend the rest of my day doing exactly what they told me, so that I don't get into any trouble. By bedtime, only having taken a break for dinner, I'm exhausted. I go to sleep, after setting my alarm, because I also get in big trouble if I am late to school.
Yes, high school. This job description isn't mine. It belongs to my daughter and her peers at the neighborhood high school. As her sophomore year enters its sixth week, I'm astonished—and concerned—how much homework five of her bosses—teachers—give her.
Luckily, she's a conscientious student who wants to do well. Or, perhaps, this characteristic is not lucky these days, since to do well in school takes such a massive amount of time. My daughter has interests that aren't academic such as sports and drama, but she barely can squeeze them in. Time to hang out with friends or family, snuggle up with a fun novel, or even just fold her laundry is becoming more and more rare. I worry because being so short of time, being conscientious, and wanting to enjoy a variety of outside interests seems like a recipe for stress.
One teacher's "Welcome letter" says she expects students to do two hours of homework a day. She's not the math teacher, so perhaps she doesn't realize that with five academic classes, that's ten hours of homework per day if every teacher thinks like she does. My daughter gets home from school (if there is no club or sport that day) at about 2:45 p.m. Shall she do homework until 1:00 in the morning?
Thank goodness it hasn't added up to that, but she has typically spent about five hours a day on homework, including weekends. Since school is about six hours, that's easily a 65 hour work week. According to the United States Department of Labor, 14- and 15-year-olds are permitted to work up to 3 hours outside of school on a school day, 18 hours during a school week. Sadly, the Department of Labor's definition of work apparently does not include homework.
Glee's new TV season is starting up, and it occurs to me I've never seen those talented gleeks crack open a text book. The closest they got was when they helped Puck pass Geography by singing "The Rain in Spain". Yet somehow the pretty cheerleader managed to get into Yale. Every high school movie and TV show ever made skips the real "day in the life", because watching iCarly doing algebra problems just wouldn't sell hair products. If students take time away from their studies to watch a show, they certainly don't want to be reminded of everything they have to do.
When I've mentioned this workload to friends with older kids, they look a little sympathetic, and then like to remind me that junior year is much worse. Great.
I believe that without working 80 hour weeks, a teenager can become a successful adult. But it doesn't matter what I believe if the world I live in doesn't believe it. I notice that it is time again for the public presentation of Challenge Success this Friday at Stanford University. Challenge Success is trying to teach parents and educators how to raise children to become healthy, confident, resilient adults without being overly focused on grades and test scores. I had better mark my calendar for Friday evening.
While I'm at it, maybe I should give the high school a call, and see if they are familiar with Challenge Success. The school may have already embraced some suggestions, but based on what my daughter's homework has been like since school started this year, we've got a long way to go.