Guest Blogger: A High School Student Forms a “Stunt the Stress” Club

Alexandra Keehan, a high school senior from Indiana, started off the school year with a mission to put a halt to stress at her high school She formed a “Stunt the Stress” club and encourages other high school students across the country to do the same.

I Have Obscene Amounts of Useless but Nonetheless Time-Consuming Homework
by Alexandra Keehan

To understand the history and reasoning behind my club, Stunt the Stress, I think it’s best that you should be familiar with my academic biography.

I am currently a senior in high school. You may view that as an experienced student or only a beginner. Take it as you will, either way my education has not in that time been confined to one state or region in the US. Nor has it taken place in just public or private schooling. I have attended school in Arizona, New Mexico, and Indiana. In these states I have enrolled in private, charter, and public schools. Let me tell you each has their downfalls. Maybe this will help the reader to understand that my experiences are not native to one particular place or kind of education.

My goals have always been high and so is my motivation but even I have had trouble keeping afloat in the modern day school systems. I have seen many seemingly smart and adaptable students go through this and I wonder how does the mediocre school kid survive?

I will let you in on a secret. The reason students are always quickly copying homework from last night is because they were up until 1:30 finishing another subject’s homework. Granted there will always be those “slacker” students.

Despite that late nights and early mornings I started freshman year of high school with all A’s and a 4.2. All of which accompanied my rigorous schedule.

My middle school and high school career has been composed of teachers refusing to tutor me or agreeing to but never showing up to meetings. I have asked for help and received the response “Maybe you are not smart enough for this class.” I have sent countless polite and beseeching emails to teachers and counselors that have gone unanswered, most likely purposely deleted on site. And I can’t forget the part where I am constantly being treated like a complete moron by my educators.

Thanks to standardized tests, school funding requirements, and genius ideas from those people that dictate school policy and laws I am faced with obscene amount of useless but nonetheless time consuming homework and must cram massive amounts of knowledge in my head in a weeks worth of time for memorization to never review it again. There is a quote about learning to memorize is useless but learning to understand is key. Apparently our schools haven’t heard that one.

Because of America’s (and possibly other country’s) approach to learning our fundamentals are lacking. Students are required to spread their knowledge thin over a broad amount of subjects instead of a deeper knowledge on basics. It doesn’t help that teachers always assume our last teacher taught us this but she did not because she assumed our last teacher did and on and on.

The stress became so bad my days consisted of learning in school, studying in school, doing school homework, researching for school work, stressing about school, and having nightmares about school. What a lovely existence. Keep in mind we are someone’s daughter, son, granddaughter, grandson, sister, and brother. As grown up as we try to be, we are still children.

Enough is enough. This is the reason I began Stunt the Stress. Originally it was a web site for all the desperate students of the world and I still intend it to be. However as I started to think about it it made sense to fight stress at its source, school. That is how it became a school club. Stunt the Stress takes a positive approach to managing school stress by building a strong relationship with the school faculty. Our goal is to educate, enlighten, and negotiate with our teachers.

It is important to whoever is reading this that although you may not attend my school or even be a student you can always view my website, stuntthestress.com. I hope this will inspire others to make similar and greater contributions to fighting school stress.

I thank all the parents that support their children, especially mine. Parents can make a greater impact than they think.

11 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: A High School Student Forms a “Stunt the Stress” Club

  1. Right on! The important thing is not to let people distract you by treating the symptoms instead of the disease. It’s not enough to treat the symptoms of stress with yoga or deep breathing or whatever. The disease has to be treated with a reduction of the workload and the pressure.

    On a side note, the good news is that all this stress hasn’t prevented you from learning to write well …

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  2. Alexandra,
    I feel for you, but your case is undermined by the grammatical errors that are sprinkled throughout your essay. “…each has their downfalls”? My fifth grade son knows about subject-verb agreement. “other country’s” – a high school senior who doesn’t know the difference between a plural and a possessive?
    Now maybe nobody has ever taught you these things, but I doubt that. I am concerned that you have been so busy objecting to homework that felt boring and useless to you that you have simply not absorbed a lot of basics. Yes, grammar homework is a bore, but mastering those rules makes your writing flow and your ideas come across clearly. Ignoring them makes you sound uneducated. Buckle down, learn what your teachers want you to learn, and then if you still think you have too much homework you can write your complaints like a pro.
    – back to basics mom

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  3. Thank you for pointing that out but actually I had substitute teachers continously throughout fifth grad. Nothing was taught in that class and all we did that year was watch movies. I am a motivated student and I learn what I am taught. Thank you for the imput anyway. Many students don’t want to learn so they will blame it on others. I am not that way.

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  4. Anonymous: Alexandra was very gracious in accepting your criticism but that doesn’t mean your criticism was warranted. Alexandra writes well and, contrary to your assertion, she does not sound uneducated. She sounds thoughtful and passionate and she writes better than students I have had in post-graduate classes.

    I highly doubt that doing boring grammar homework, as you suggested, would improve her writing skills. In fact, it’s that kind of homework that interferes with students’ time to read. And, as any educator knows, people become better writers by reading.

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  5. I completely agree with Sara that boring grammar homework would not necessarily improve Alexandra’s writing. As a recent college graduate I write and read better than a number of people I know. This is definitely not from extensive drilling of grammar rules as much of my English grammar is instinctive. I learned the basics as a child, but middle and high school grammar never stuck with me.
    I truly feel my writing skills came from being an early and avid reader. I also have a decent vocabulary, not from vocab lessons in school, but from reading as much as possible when I was younger.

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  6. I am so glad to see this kind of activism! Kudos to you, Alexandra. (Kudos to you, also, Sara, for your tactful response to the insensitive criticism of “Anonymous.”) I am also a high school senior and have been endlessly frustrated by homework since about fifth grade. I have only recently been able to take control of how homework affects me–and unfortunately, it was not through the work of sympathetic teachers or a reduction in the volume of homework, but my own decision to hold my well-being above trying to meet unrealistic expectations. When I try to talk to my peers and teachers about homework, teachers dismiss it, saying that if standards aren’t beyond reach then students won’t be challenged enough. Students, meanwhile, say “Yeah! Definitely!” But when pressed, they kind of shrug and say, “Well, what can we do about it, right?” in a resigned way. Some combat excessive work by just not doing it.

    Like you, I consider myself a a very motivated student. Homework made me hate school, but I have come to realize that I do really love to learn. I also figured out that I was motivated not by intellectual curiosity, but by an irrational fear of failure and disappointment. My teachers made me believe (whether or not they intended to) that if I did not do my homework, they no longer “approved” of me as a person. This damaged me psychologically. I was consumed by a passionate hatred for the hours of homework I had even at a young age and a deep-seated conviction that I “had” to do it, just to get that approval from teachers that I craved.

    This dynamic developed into an extensive self-esteem issue. What I did not know was that a person should NEVER feel that he or she has to impress or attain the approval of someone else in order to be happy. Such a belief can spiral out of control: it is the basis of abusive relationships. Self-confidence means knowing that the only person whose “approval” you need is your own. Luckily, I realized this not a moment too soon–but how many other high school kids will realize this before it’s too late?

    Now I am learning to do my work because I want to, because I see its value, and because I am intrinsically motivated to do so, rather than because I feel that I have to. External motivation like that makes students resent work. I know I did–I now believe that my rampant procrastination problem was the result of my extreme resentment for schoolwork, and that the late nights and nervous breakdowns it caused occurred because my insecurities, my “I have to” side, won out over the procrastinating one.

    I also agree that the main reason I can write as well as I do is my early love of reading. It makes me so sad to see children like my little brother who hate reading. They are missing out on so much, and I would be willing to bet that if teachers learned a better way to foster enthusiasm for reading, 99% of those same kids would enjoy it and learn infinitely more than they would otherwise. I am convinced that I would not have done half so well in school as I have if I had not read so avidly. The cruel irony is that once I got into high school, I no longer had enough time to read books outside of school–I forced myself not to read.

    One person in particular has opened my eyes to the possibilities of changing education in the U.S.: Monty Roberts, a so-called “horse whisperer.” Now that I do allow myself to read books outside of school, I have read one of his books, among others, that inspired me: Horse Sense for People. I am a horse person, but this book is for anyone and everyone. Roberts’ unbelievably deep understanding of horses and humans leads to some ideas for solutions that immediately made sense to me. He understands how to get the student to WANT to learn, rather than how to FORCE the student to “learn.”

    I could go on and on and on, so much does this topic impassion me, but I’ll refrain myself. In closing, I just want to reiterate my support for this cause and make sure anyone who reads this understands what a serious issue this is. All over the country, students are graduating with no actual appreciation of learning. As soon as they are no longer forced to do schoolwork, they will abandon scholarly pursuits because of the negative reinforcement with which they associate it. Isn’t it better to actually encourage students to love learning? Isn’t it better that school help improve self-esteem rather than break it?

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will join your group straightaway.

    Sincerely,
    Sarah

    P.S. Sorry for the length!

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  7. I am so glad to read this and will share it with my son who is a sophomore. Homework is a bane. It interferes with family time. It is a form of social control. It isolates young people at a time when they rely heavily upon social interactions. Homework contributes to our unhealthy culture of fear and achievement. I would go so far as to say that homework is a public health issue. Consider this: one in 8 teenagers suffer from depression. Homework exasperates this condition by creating an unnecessary stresser associated with multiple and definitive requirements and due dates; by cutting into important leisure time that should be used to unwind and/or be physically active, creative, or exploratory; by forcing young adults to stay up later and later and consume large amounts of caffienated drinks at a time when they need more sleep and stability. I could go on…

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  8. Blacksburg Mom, I loved your post. Are you in Blacksburg, VA, home to Virginia Tech?

    I’m the one who wrote recently about entire Thanksgiving travel plans smashed because my high school junior daughter came home from school the day before break with fifteen homework assignments, including a history research paper, all due the Monday and Tuesday immediately following break. The Monday homework clearly would have had to be done over break, as it had just been assigned. The “Tuesday” homework is sneaky, euphemistically called Monday homework. But. There’s no way she could have completed all of that in one afternoon, especially since her one and only extra-curricular school activity is on Monday evening.

    I’m responding directly to some of your comments, Blacksburg. You come first and my remarks separate yours by >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

    I am so glad to read this and will share it with my son who is a sophomore. Homework is a bane. It interferes with family time.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    There’s no question. Our family has just endured one of the most horrid weekends in our history. The sad thing is that we’d been such a healthy family, full of love and intellect. But the homework pressure has been unrelenting since that marathon Thanksgiving homework ordeal and again, we were all shut in for two days straight.

    Typically, my husband and I won’t go out and play all day if our daughter is granted that same right.. We aren’t talking about the occasional gripping project she wants to embellish and has chosen to give up her weekends. That’s a state of flow. There is something delicious about hard work, good work, a project that my daughter would sink her teeth into and hyper-focus on for hours. That’s not what this is. This is pounding relentless chronic overwork and sleep deprivation. This is grim resolve. This is, I don’t want to do this, I want to play, but I am responsible, I have to.

    I counted that by the time my daughter leaves school early for break (unavoidable), she will have worked 29 straight days without a break. I just read an introduction to a posted piece by Susan Ohanian how bomb and other sniffing canines used in law enforcement must get regular periods of rest or their focus is thrown off and they are no longer effective. I shake my head. We do this for dogs, but not for our children?

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    It is a form of social control. It isolates young people at a time when they rely heavily upon social interactions.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Children need to play and especially form social connections the way we all need water. And I’d like to give you another perspective on socialization. If your child is quiet and introverted, buried in homework is about the worst thing you can do to her because she loses social skills practicing, slides backwards. But a need to learn socialization through trial and error applies to ALL children. Do you all shudder at the dysfunctional adults all our children will become?

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Homework contributes to our unhealthy culture of fear and achievement.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I was thinking about this a lot this weekend. After all, I was stuck in the house so had a great deal of time to ponder. As if I need more ponderings.

    We are teaching children to work for the grade. We are teaching them only the individual counts. Not family, not worship, not community service or social justice activities or holidays or reading a book for pleasure. We are preparing them for the Global Economy by teaching them to be Type A, work incredibly long days and ignore everything else. Including their own health and well being. It produces a narcissistic individual, consumed only with self and individual progress.

    I can’t even say this satisfies the individual. My daughter is earnest and serious and loves to learn. I’m not advocating watering down the curriculum. I know parents who equate less or no homework with a slothful attitude. How can I possibly convince school officials that staggering into school on six hours sleep will not produce an energetic fully engaged child. If anything, I would argue that we lose precious hours of learning each day because high schoolers are struggling to stay awake and keeping on top of their game.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    I would go so far as to say that homework is a public health issue. Consider this: one in 8 teenagers suffer from depression.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Anxiety and depression. And obesity. I’ve raised my daughter in a household with little or no tv. Our personal preference so that nature and books take precendence, television is not center stage. But eight hours sitting doing homework on a Sunday is just as sendentary. Lugging all those oversized textbooks back and forth will surely give her back problems, if it hasn’t already. Sleep deprivation stunts growth and brain development and those casualties are permanent.. Inability to awaken easily in the morning means gulping down some dry cherrios for breakfast. Physics lab during lunch means no nutrition consumed all day.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Homework exasperates this condition by creating an unnecessary stresser associated with multiple and definitive requirements and due dates;

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    That whole cycle of guilt and punishment and completion of assignments motivated by fear rather than a desire to learn. When students feel helpless in the face of their teachers, that fear will eventually spill over into dread of any person in a position of authority.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    and consume large amounts of caffienated drinks at a time when they need more sleep and stability. I could go on…

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    A consultant I worked with once told me caffeine is the gateway drug. Starbucks is very popular in our high school. Some time ago our paper did a piece on high schoolers and caffeine. Starbucks is not supposed to market to minors but they do. One high achieving teen pointed out wryly, “see this menu? The frothy pink sugar and cream drinks with the cherry on top? That’s the kid’s menu!”

    Teachers and parents don’t take the caffeine addiction seriously. They shrug it off with a laugh. “It’s junior year!” The kids are lectured to endlessly about drugs in “health” class but on caffeine and sleep deprivation, nary a peep.

    Thanks, Blacksburg, for telling it like it is.

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  9. Correction: I just wrote:

    “Typically, my husband and I won’t go out and play all day if our daughter is granted that same right.”

    Insert NOT. NOT granted the same right. That one itsy bitsy word makes all the difference.

    I’m usually such a good proofer. I hit SUBMIT and then catch all my mistakes :(. I can’t wait for the day when my sleep apnea is either gone or I screw up the resolve to wear the mask every night!

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  10. Sarah (above, before BlacksburgMom), congratulations for composing such a well crafted and passionate essay. You are just one grade above my daughter. She too read early and often and now has to force herself not to read. Books in this house are all around her but yet if she picked one up and read all Sunday, she’d be irresponsible.

    I dread thinking she’s now more motivated by fear than joy. My husband and I work overtime to make learning meaningful and exciting but we resent being involuntary cheerleaders.

    Sarah, don’t apologize for the length of your post. Every word was important. And besides, I still beat you in the length department!

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  11. Alexandra did a fantastic job expressing her view, regardless of a couple of probable typos. I’m very impressed. Back to basics mom was not so impressive. I hope she’s not so scathing with regard to her own child.

    Great blog post Alexandra. Keep up your good work!

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