Too Much Homework!


I have a teenager.  Anyone else out there in cyberspace got one (or more) of those?

Not that I OWN my teenager!  Certainly not.  How would I figure out how to completely assimilate another identity as colorful, and usually much more colorful, than my own?  The National Institute of Mental Health confirms what I suspected, hoped and feared.  That is, that my teenager is not only “on loan” to me (my beloved Grandpa always did say to my parents that childhood is “borrowed time”), but he is not finished yet in BRAIN as well as body. 

The NIH: “It [the adolescent brain] is different from both a child’s and an adult’s in ways that may equip youth to make the transition from dependence to independence. The capacity for learning at this age, an expanding social life, and a taste for exploration and limit testing may all, to some extent, be reflections of age-related biology.”

Me: “So if that’s true, does a million hours of homework every day, including weekends, help him grow and develop, or does it turn said teenager into some kind of mad mini-adult dangling crumpled papers, forgotten permission slips, planners, binders, and enough schedules to befuddle the logistical powers of an Einstein?”

Consider the wise words of Carlsson-Paige, author of Taking Back Childhood and professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA (quoted in “The Washington Post”): “Kids need first-hand engagement — they need to manipulate objects physically, engage all their senses, and move and interact with the 3-dimensional world. This is what maximizes their learning and brain development.” 

Mm. Very interesting.

Carlsson may be primarily focusing on young children, who need actually live interaction with the world more than they need even “Sesame Street” (and don’t get me wrong; I LOVE Sesame Street!).  Nevertheless I believe that teenagers too—even, or maybe especially, grumpy, couch-potato, iPhone /iPad/Zombie obsessed ones—require real world experience to reach their full potential as human beings.

By this, I mean: “real-world” as in sitting-around-time with nothing pressing to do.

I mean: “I’m bored” time lying around outside contemplating the universe (even at the risk of finding “trouble” instead). 

I mean: Let’s-find-some-balance time by actually hanging out in the living room with the fam, and without notebooks and laptop and assignment sheets. 

I also know that scores on standardized tests matter.  In these hard economic times, college more than matters.  And I realize that schools are trying to help American students “keep up.” Believe me, as a school social worker and university instructor, I am woefully aware of how low skilled some of our high school graduates can be.

But what about…heck, old-fashioned FUN?  Going out for ice cream and hanging out on bikes, scooters, whatever?  Lying on the grass, playing with the (neglected) dog? Even hanging on the fence, or loitering in malls! Just simply FEELING and PROCESSING the world pass by in a kaleidoscope of speeds and colors and activities. 

Not—please!—just racing from day to day, assignment to assignment, like a harried, overworked, underpaid adult in midlife crisis…

I’d like to say this is not a rant.  Sorry.  This is a rant.  My kid doesn’t HAVE to take AP classes, you might counter.  Well.  Don’t Advanced Placement classes mimic college?  They earn college credit, right, and save us (in the self-same hard economic times) thousands of dollars?  And although I did not go to Harvard, Yale, or Columbia, I don’t recall anyone in college doing as many hours of homework as my tenth grade kid.  Maybe pre-med folks did.  I don’t know. 

My son’s a quick kid, too, with good grades.  I SEE the quantity of assignments with my very eyes.  It makes my brain hurt just watching him work.

So.  There.  I’m. Done. With. My. Rant.

But let me highlight the main point again.  Our school system seems to me like misguided parents who want to teach their children to be responsible and so don’t let them go out of the house to get sunshine and fresh air and exercise, except for when those children are too tired / stressed / overwhelmed to enjoy it.

I happen to believe that creativity and critical thinking—the ability to USE said brain in all life’s challenges, not just academic ones—is essential to brain, body and soul.

I also have a bit of a selfish motive here.  I can’t stand the look of “You have got to be kidding me; this is what growing up means?” on my 15-year-old’s face.

But…maybe I’m projecting.  Sometimes, I bet, that look is only on my face.  I can’t describe the look on his.  I just know it’s…well…a little, shall we say, over the top?

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