I’ve been holding on to this rant for a couple of weeks. I waver back and forth between sharing and not. But I’m so fed up with this that I need to get this off my chest. Actually it’s more like out of my head.

I need to say a couple of things first – There are a bunch of teachers in my life and I’m fond of them all. I don’t blame them for the current educational paradigm. My kid’s teachers are great. My Cousin Amy is fabulous. This is not a criticism of teachers or teaching. It’s not.

Also, I’ve been working at the local school for eight years full time. I subbed before that. On November of last year I was informed my job would not be funded for the following school year. And while this has happened to me before and I have always been offered another position, it was a new position that I really liked. It hit me hard and made it very difficult for me to perform to my full potential for the rest of the year. And I wasn’t offered another position. I’m currently jobless. (Not that having more time to write is bad, but it is hard on the finances.)

I’m pretty burned out on school at the moment.

Keep those things mind as I rant. I may not be entirely clear headed.

My life is ruled by my children’s education. I can’t plan anything because the amount of homework they bring home keeps them busy every evening and weekends are generally full up too. Labor day weekend? Can’t go anywhere because the boys have a paper to write.  The Thanksgiving break will have a paper assigned to it, sometimes two. The special events we attended as a family before Christmas – caroling, decorating, wrapping, baking, musicals, ballets – all gone. Mid-term exams are scheduled for the week before Christmas break now, so it’s all cramming for exams and test taking. This is supposed to be so the students won’t spend the entire break studying. Except someone didn’t get the memo. Last year a novel had to be finished and a five page paper written during the holiday break. So much for having the time between Christmas and New Year for the family. (And there’s a two week period in the beginning of January when almost no real work happens because the mid-terms were finished two weeks before the term ends. Go figure.)

The same happens over winter and spring break. I hate it, but I’ve come to accept it. But then we come to summer. Eight weeks of pure unfettered childhood. The time of family vacations and reunions and campouts and general goofing off and relaxation. UNLESS your high-schooler enrolls in honors or advanced placement classes. Then it’s two classics to be read and annotated and a paper written.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid there wasn’t any summer homework. We ran around in packs. Biked the trails along the river, hung out at the lake, swam at the pools, public and private. We camped with our families. Traveled to the Grand Canyon.

My poor kids spent a lot of their summer with their noses in a book, a pen in their hands, their fingers on the keyboard. And it feels like punishment to me.  No days spent with my sons sitting by the lake. No plans for campfires or hikes along  the beach. My memories of the summer – I got to go to PEI, afterall – are not my son’s memories. High school has claimed their summer, along with every other spare moment in their life.

I don’t like it. There isn’t any balance. It’s all homework, homework, and more fucking homework. And what I want for my kids doesn’t seem to matter any more.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Bethany September 4, 2013 at 11:28 am

I’ll caveat this with the fact that as a grade schooler I loved a local library program where you would read a list of 30 books (the list came out in April) take a trivia test in June, if you were the best scorers you’d be on a team, then compete against other library teams throughout the summer while you made sure you knew those books back and forth. LOVED it. It forced me to read some awesome books and books totally outside my typical zone (age-appropriate biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, Navajo Code Talkers nonfiction, etc). So my summers always included camp and hiking, but tons and tons of reading.

We always had required summer reading lists jr high through high school, but they weren’t hard. Maybe 5-6 books, we usually could choose from a list and then a paper was due in the first week of school that you could write as soon as you read the book and not worry about. I thought it was nice because it meant that instead of not having to think academically at all over the summer, I had little things to do that kept that part of my brain active (I’m a fan of year round schooling with short breaks) — plus the books were usually good and reading during the summer was more relaxed than during the school year. That’s how I read Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and others. I would have been reading during the summer anyway, this just meant that there were some stretch books along with Silhouette romances (not disparaging romance novels, but the average Silhouette romance novel was easier than the classics due to the language being familiar and the structure being relatively simple).

I did hate the “Accelerated Reader” program in grade school. AR was a program where you had to earn X number of points by reading books from a very small list (it seemed small) and then taking a computer test about the book. You didn’t discuss the books at all. I believe I hated all the books I read for that program except one, The Blue Sword, which I chose because it was the same author as one of my favorite books, Beauty (Robin McKinley).

I think that as a student gets closer to college, they should get used to spending a fair amount of time outside the classroom studying as inside the classroom. For college the recommendation was 2-3 hours for every hour in the classroom. An AP class probably ought to require the same amount of time.

My high school days were 6 hours (8:30-2:30 with 40 minutes for lunch). Homework ranged from 2-4 hours a night depending on what time of year it was, if I felt like completing everything or winging it, and how well I’d balanced things, plus what year it was. We always had papers due after Thanksgiving break but I’d write them early so I didn’t have to worry about it. Christmas break was always right before midterms which was nice because I could cram on anything I’d lazed out on earlier in the year.

I will say, I was a lazy student who ran into trouble in college because I wasn’t prepared for how much work learning could actually be.

In sum (sorry for the ramble): I think that grade school kids have way too much homework. I think that high school kids vary in whether they have too much. I hate AP classes because I think they have serious issues and I got college credit for calculus despite the fact that I answered that exam completely randomly and had zero clue what I was doing. I love post-secondary option programs in states that have them because it’s good for motivated kids to get the challenge of being around colleges and testing out expectations of college professors before attending for real. I think that a lot of the homework problem is that schools simply don’t have time during the day to teach everything they’re expected to and so the real learning projects have to be done outside the classroom (homework) while the standardized learning is in the classroom.

Assvice — can the kids start the Thanksgiving papers early and then finish/edit with a laptop on family vacay? I always read part of my summer list outside which was lovely (I’d read once, then go back and annotate) so that’s an idea for next summer — reading by the lake sounds lovely (seriously — you have a lake? Do you rent rooms in the summer??).

It sucks that this falls on you. It sounds like your kids’ school may be one of the ones with way too much homework. It sounds like you have great, motivated kids which is awesome.

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Kate George September 4, 2013 at 11:47 am

Wow, Bethany, you had a lot to say about this! I used to read all summer when I was a kid, but it was my own choice. Reader/writer, sometimes they are the same thing.

One thing I have to say about high school vs college homework loads – my boys spend just about 39 hours a week in the classroom. 2 to 3 hours of homework per hour in the classroom is impossible. As it is they work until they go to bed each night, but they also play soccer and that’s a couple of hours out of the day as well. My daugher – who is at one of the most difficult schools to get into in the country (She Brags Loudly!) – is in class 10 hours a week. A quarter of the time, with a little rounding. two to three hours of homework brings her to just the amount of time the boys are already in school. Of course, because she’s in a highly academic school she spends more time than that on her studies, but you see where I’m going here. She spends less time on class and homework combined than my high school boys do. I strongly object to that.

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Bethany September 4, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I’m sorry if any of it came off as assvice. I actually considered deleting the whole thing. I didn’t think of the courseload in college. I did 18-21 hours a week most semesters (we were only supposed to do 18 but I got permission because of my major and because I’m crazy — senior year I only did 12 actual classhours a week so I had time for my thesis). I’d heard there were schools limiting the number of courses but didn’t take those into account. I also had a shorter classday in high school than your sons, which I didn’t realize. The summer reading I like because it can force people out of their comfort zone and I’m someone who would otherwise stay in my nice little comfort zone and never ever leave it. Pride and Prejudice looked way too daunting for me to try until I had to. One of my all time favorite “read in a bad mood, end up laughing” books is one I read because of school (college course in banned literature) and would never have picked up otherwise.

I definitely agree that our school systems throughout the US are pretty broken and need changing. That you’ll have no argument from me about! And you should brag! Sorry if anything came out incorrectly. I meant well.

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Kate George September 4, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Oh gosh no, Bethany! A different opinion is always welcome as long as we all approach each other with respect. I hope I didn’t seem scolding!!!

I look at school a lot differently as a parent than I did as a child. Even as a college student. When there is so much “work” that my family time is severely compromised I get real edgy! I also hate when teachers don’t lighten up around school performance times, such as the school play and the musical concerts. A well rounded child needs more in his or her life than academics.

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KarenB September 4, 2013 at 9:35 am

Amen.

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Judy, Judy, Judy September 4, 2013 at 5:08 am

In the summer we used to head out after breakfast and not come back until lunch time. Head back out after lunch and not come back until dark.
I would travel 2 states to visit my cousins for 2 or 3 weeks in the summer and then they would travel to me for 2 or 3 weeks.
School definitely needs to be reformed.
I bet most teachers would agree with you.

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Skye September 4, 2013 at 2:42 am

My friend who has two teens, one of whom is starting college this month, has issues with the current educational system, too. Their elementary school has this weird reading program that ends up turning even enthusiastic readers into non-readers. My nephew who devoured books? Only reads what he has to anymore. Same with his younger sister, who was never the reader that he was. The program takes all the pleasure out of reading and turns it into an immensely painful chore. And they do it in elementary school, when kids are supposed to be setting down the foundations for the rest of the education and their lives.

It’s a truly terrible thing.

And I agree: kids need real time off so they can be kids, so they can breathe, and so they don’t end up burned out. They shouldn’t have to live the lives of adults yet. They are too young to get ulcers and hypertension, yet it’s happening in ever-growing numbers.

And it’s not like the system is creating a more educated generation or workforce. Not at all. It’s not working, yet the system persists, and that’s the saddest thing of all.

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