The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article this week by Dr. Daniel Gottlieb, a clinical psychologist, family therapist, and author of, among other things, Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life. I was excited to read Dr. Gottlieb’s article because he talks about what students themselves can do to deal with the homework problem. Only days earlier, I’d been asked by Teen Vogue what teens can do. It’s unfortunate that we don’t hear very much from students, since they’re the people most affected by homework and education policies. (On this blog, I’ve posted a poem by a teenager and a few students have left comments, but I’d love to have more entries by students. So spread the word.)
I asked Dr. Gottlieb whether I could post his article and he graciously told me I could. I hope you like it as much as I did.
Inside Out | Teenagers Drastically Need More Downtime
By Dan Gottlieb
To all adolescents,
You need more time.
Ninety percent of the high school students I speak with say they are under great stress. Most of it is time-related, and much of that is a combination of too much homework and too little sleep. You need time to sleep (physicians say nine hours a night at your age), to read whatever you want to read, to dream about your future, to just hang out. You and I are not the only ones who know this. A new study by local pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg demonstrates how important unstructured play (a.k.a. hanging out) is for children’s development. The same is true for adolescents.
Free time fosters creativity and emotional development. It gives you the opportunity to deepen relationships and learn about yourself. Without free time, I worry that you could grow into adulthood valuing yourself more for your performance than for your humanity – therefore putting yourself at greater risk of self-absorption, depression and anxiety disorders.
Mental health professionals all over the country are concerned, but nothing seems to change. Perhaps, in talking to adults, we’ve been addressing the wrong people.
So, how can you create more time? Let’s start with homework. The three to four hours a night I’m told is typical is way too much. Many well-respected educators say students should be assigned about 10 minutes of homework per grade (20 minutes in second grade, etc.).
For seniors in high school, that means two hours or so a night. Harris M. Cooper, a psychology professor at Duke University and author of The Battle Over Homework, agrees; so does the National Parent Teacher Association. In their new book, The Case Against Homework, Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish find no evidence that homework helps elementary school students at all. And the U.S. Department of Education has said elementary students should be given a maximum of five math problems a night. Yet many children are sent home with dozens of math problems and words to memorize.
Convinced? Here’s what you can do about it:
At each school, form a committee to deal with this issue. Check at least one of the above books out of the library and start gathering evidence for your argument.
Have every student on the committee document how much time he or she is spending on each subject – and tell each teacher how much time it all adds up to. Many teachers may not be aware of how much homework you get from other teachers.
Try to get parents on your committee. I know many parents resent all the homework because it virtually eliminates precious family time. But parents should not take the lead in this project. They should be there to support you because this is your project, not theirs.
Set up a meeting with school administrators. Show them your data. Ask them for evidence of the benefits provided by this amount of homework. Perhaps you could begin a dialogue about how much homework is reasonable and relevant – and how it could be coordinated among teachers.
Ask administrators if they would designate a “homework coordinator” so students are not buried by multiple large assignments.
If you believe you are not being heard, try getting more parents to join your committee, and then bring them – and your argument – to the PTA.
Finally, keep me posted on your successes and failures so we can continue the discussion.
Any good education teaches you how to navigate your way in life. If, when you graduate, you see injustice in the world, I hope you will feel a sense of responsibility backed by the power to do something about it.
Begin now. If you believe your homework assignments are unjust, do something about them. Do it for yourself, for your future, and for the younger children behind you. You might end up changing the culture.