By Carol Lloyd
Usually GreatSchools’ office traffics in the tamer side of trauma: there was the scandal when the Halloween hand soap disappeared from the women’s bathroom. Who would steal hand soap?! Then there was the Happy Hour theme competition and the take-no-prisoners corporate picnic bake-off –you get the picture.
But in the last month we’ve been reminded that, for many kids, education sometimes has a darker side. On two occasions the police have visited our office in response to alarming comments on our articles. In both cases we were desperately trying to track down the commenter. Both notes were from teenagers – both submitted in response to the same article about homework. One was a suicide note from a 16-year-old boy who claimed his 6 hours of homework a night made him want to “[adverbial expletive] kill himself. “ He even detailed how he would do it. The other was a cry for help from a 13-year-old boy who claimed that his father had just been beaten him to the point of bruising and bleeding and locked him out of his home on a cold winter night after seeing a “D” on the boy’s report card.
In the first case, we heard back that the police had tracked down the boy across the country, visited his home and spoken to his parents. The boy claimed he wasn’t “really” suicidal. The other case we don’t know if the police were able to find the child. We couldn’t publish these boys’ comments but they aren’t anomalies. This year our articles about homework – especially the one simply titled “Too much homework” -- have garnered such persistently despairing commentary from teenagers, we wanted to spread the word. (This article hasn’t been highlighted on our site of late so we assume desperate kids are finding the article in a routine Google search.)
Here are a few recent excerpts from the hundreds of comments we’ve received. Again and again they hit the same notes of desperation, frustration and the prevailing conclusion that adults have no idea what kids are dealing with these days. The most aggravating citation comes from the 2003 study, “A Nation at Rest: The American Way of Homework,” by the Rand Corporation which looked at homework practices over five decades and discovered that homework loads have not substantially increased and that teenagers only do an average of 4 hours per week.
"I started reading this article then I saw the words "median of 4 hours a week" if that was true I would be in heaven. … I get on average 4 hours a night!!! I have 7 classes a day that's 7 hours of school plus 2-3 hours of sport practice. I come home I just want to eat but I cant, let alone sleep... I get so much homework it has become a normal thing for me to come home start homework and somewhere in between start crying because of the stress... Now someone who thinks we get the right amount or need more, come and say that to my face! "
"For the past month ive been staying up past 2 AM and waking up at 6 AM to go to school. Im a mess!!! How am I supposed to learn in school when im assigned all this busywork that I go home and work through like a zombie!? Teachers need to know these three important words... Quality Over Quantity.....
"…. I have several times before, stayed up until around 4 AM doing homework, then I had to get up at 6 AM to get ready for school. It was killing me, I even ended up in the hospital from passing out because of exhaustion. It's just not right. "
"I'm about to just stop doing homework altogether. I just had so much homework last night that I wasn't in bed until 1 AM. I think 10 hours for homework is too much. Soon enough the world will be a bunch of antisocial freaks because all we do in life is homework. "
"haha! 4 hours? maybe for a 1st grader! I'm in eight grade and takeing 2 high school courses already so i MIGHT be able to graduate early. I wake up at 6am and do my homework for an hour until 7 when i get ready for school.(somedays i sleep right through my alarm cuz im so damn tired) then go to school from 9.15 to 3.15 ride the bus home and get home like 4.10 then i do the dishes and take a shower then do my homework at like 5.oo do my hw for almost 6 hours a night then eat dinner at 11.00 and go to bed to do it all over again the next day so 4 hours a week is such a lie "
"This is ridiculous. Four hours a week my butt. ….The outlines I receive in AP amount to about an extra 3+ hours of work…. Teachers should be aware of the amount of homework they give us and not overload us. We get less sleep trying to finish the work and don't learn anything in class the next day. "
"4 hours a week???? I don't care how credible that guy appears to be, if he really believes that's all kids get he has to be on drugs. I'm a jr. in high school and my Precalc alone can take up to 2 hours per night. And adults also have to remember that students, especially high schoolers, are doing all this homework on top of extracurriculars, sports, and work. Some of these things are for fun, but it's also in part preparing to pay for college. Scholarships are competetive these days, you really need to do a LOT to stand apart on them. I work every day except Tuesday and Sunday, and am also in Art Club, 4-H, Speech, Book Club, Teen Advisory Group, Teen Court, and Culture Club. I enjoy all these things and truly want to keep doing them! Obviously each of these aren't every night, but if you add up them + homework + work, it gets EXTREMELY stressful. I'm not saying schools should abolish homework completely - to a certain extent, it is necessary - but teachers definitely ne! ed to coordinate with each other and plan out homework assignments accordingly. Sorry I got long-winded, but I really feel it's important that adults understand students' situations! :) "
How do we explain the distance between these kids reality and scientific findings which suggest students aren’t in fact doing more homework? The fallacy of averages may be a good place to start. Given the deep educational equity gap in our country wouldn’t it make sense that these complaints on our site come from kids who are in training mode for the “Race to nowhere” working their fingers to the bone for those limited spots in college? The kids who aren’t doing nearly so much homework may be those stuck in proverbial drop out factories, forever waiting for Superman. So it may be possible America’s kids are both being over worked and underworked – it’s just not the same kids.
So as the New Year gets under way, if you suspect you’ve got a homework stricken student under your roof, talk with her about her workload and her anxiety. Of course, we don’t want to coddle kids so they can’t handle a little heat, but if the kids commenting on our site are any example, then many kids out there are feeling overwhelmed to the point of collapse – and worse. This is a lesson most parents don't want their children to be learning in school.
At the very least, as parents, we can make an effort to help our kids before they begin sending out SOSs into the internet wilderness.