The school year has just started and I’ve been inundated with letters from students, mostly high schoolers, who are crying out for help. I’ve run pieces by students in the past, but I intend to run even more this school year. I hope their words will move you to action.
Today’s entry is by Abigail Chao, a senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. In her own words, “She is the owner of a 4.0/4.0 GPA, founder of one of the largest clubs on campus, and a varsity tennis player. She is a near-perfect product of the education system. She is drowning.”
Too Busy to Dream
by Abigail Chao
Tell me if this is healthy.
Over Labor Day weekend, my hometown throws a carnival. Instead of going, I spent Saturday sleeping till noon, and then started homework. Instead of watching a movie with a friend, I went to bed at 8:30pm because I was still so tired. On Sunday, I spent over five hours trying to make a dent in one homework assignment – reading Aristotle’s Ethics. Admittedly, I spend a couple hours at a sweet sixteen party, but I left early to work. I didn’t finish Ethics until well into Monday, and then I started my other homework – physics, computer science, English, etc.
It’s okay though, right? I’m a senior at one of the best high schools in the nation. I’m supposed to be working hard.
Now tell me if this is healthy.
Over Labor Day weekend, a family with young children is going to their town’s carnival. But the father has work to do. He stays up late Friday night after work to get a little ahead, but then sleeps in until noon; he’s exhausted from sleep debt over the week. He starts working again so he can join his wife and kids later, but by eight o’clock he’s too tired…
I won’t continue the analogy because I think my point is pretty obvious. The kind of rigor that is routinely demanded from students is outrageous in the context of working adults. And it’s not just the stereotypical overworked father – it’s the college grad who works 80 hours a week too. If anyone is wondering why Americans are such workaholics, I’d say that homework has something to do with it.
As students, we are told to put school first. We must do our homework before we hang out with friends, play sports, or just relax. That time at the mall could have been better spent hitting the books. If your grades are dropping, the first thing you do (or your parents make you do) is quit your extracurriculars. Never mind that it’s pointless to spend an hour entering data into Excel, that social skills are more important than academic abilities will ever be, that America is struggling against obesity.
I know that the stress of projects and homework has gotten ridiculous when going to class is relaxing in comparison. I know something is wrong when I explain why I don’t have “me time” except maybe my shower. I know our priorities are out of whack when we hardly hear the answer to “How are you?” but we show that our genuine interest by asking, “Were you productive?”
Does anyone notice that there is a generation of brilliant minds drowning in homework?
Sometimes, I dream about what I’d do with the extra time. I can’t promise it’d be all “productive,” but I’d play more tennis. I’d get published. I’d learn another language. I’d start a business. I’d just… breathe.