extreme workloads, coupled with other school responsibilities, cause stress for students
or many high schoolers, a Friday afternoon well-spent means having fun with reckless abandon or flopping mindlessly on a couch—anything that will allow them to forget about school and rest wearied heads.
For junior Jojo Ruf, however, Friday, Mar 7 means delaying movie night with her friends to do the unthinkable: sequester herself in her room after school to plow through a few hours' worth of homework.
Although Ruf, who regularly works on assignments for about five hours a night, may be at the extreme end of the schoolwork spectrum, she is hardly alone. Many teens see carefree days taking a backseat to the burden of homework, grades and college preparation.
Homework, according to the U.S. Department of Education, is meant to review what students learn in school, to explore topics in more depth than class time allows and to promote good study habits. But an informal Silver Chips survey of 100 students on Feb 24 indicates that the negative aspects of schoolwork outweigh the potential benefits. Sixty-nine percent of Blazers believe that they receive too much work, and 81 percent feel homework is a constant source of stress in their lives.
Although the actual amount of homework assigned to today's students may feel unmanageable at times, a University of Michigan study found minimal change in the amounts of high school work assigned in 1981 and 1997, reports Education World, an online teacher resource.
But even if the exact amount of time that today's teens are spending in front of their books hasn't changed much, educators and officials attest that additional demands on students certainly have. Students and instructors are feeling the heat from mandatory standardized exams, as teachers must impart more information in a fixed amount of time. "With longer days and with more standardized testing, everyone is feeling more pressure," says Magnet math and thermodynamics teacher Mark Acton.
Former National Education Association President Bob Chase concurs, indicating that educators are noticing this trend nationwide. "Teachers, schools and students are being judged by these tests," he explains to Ladies' Home Journal. "Pressures are being applied from all angles."
Spending hour after hour on schoolwork is a necessity rather than a choice for many students who want good grades for scholarships. Others are compelled just by a motivation to do well. Ruf, for example, often can't sleep unless her work is done. "When I have a lot of stuff due the next day, I kinda freak out," Ruf says. "But then I focus so I can get it all done. I can't live with myself unless I finish all of it."
For teens who take accelerated courses because of their desire to learn, though, challenging work is expected. "When students take honors classes, it comes with the assumption that those classes have more homework and class work," CAP Coordinator Dolores D'Angelo explains.
Just because students expect to work hard doesn't mean the path isn't rocky. Sky-high piles of homework affect not only stressed-out teens but also parents who lose family time to their children's endless tasks. Betsy Taylor, a Blair parent and author of the book What Kids Really Want that Money Can't Buy, points out a 1998 Public Agenda poll in which 34 percent of parents reported homework as a source of stress and conflict in their family.
This figure rings true for Blair parent Rick Goodman. "[Constant homework] is a royal pain for our family," he says. "I could understand studying hard for finals or working hard on a paper or a special project. But there is no letup, ever."
Enough is enough?
Some school districts are taking action to address inordinate and possibly harmful amounts of work being piled on students. A Seattle school district adopted homework-limiting regulations that promote about two hours of homework nightly for high schoolers. Piscataway, New Jersey, schools also implemented a policy in 2000 to reduce homework for students.
Montgomery County currently has no homework policy even though the national Parent Teacher Association recommends about ten minutes of homework per grade level, meaning that sixth graders should work for 60 minutes each night.
Just having teachers be realistic about the tasks they assign can come as a relief for many Blazers. "It's nice when they realize you have other work to do," says junior Maya Jackson while she eats lunch on Feb 25 in the SAC. The period before, a teacher extended the due date on an essay because of days missed due to snow. "I was like, ‘Hallelujah! Bless you.' I was about to do a little dance," she says, shaking her hands in the air.
Actual consultations between teachers remain an unrealistic way to address crowded agendas because of Blair's large population and students' varying schedules. "There isn't a lot of that interdisciplinary communication, even in the areas that you would think, like physics and precalculus," math teacher Paul Grossman says. "The right hand doesn't know what the left is doing around here."
The issue of whether or not America's youth is being pushed past its limits is still controversial, but evidence is emerging that change may be necessary. "It's important to ask why we're doing this," Taylor says. "Why are parents and kids alike working longer and longer hours, facing sleep deprivation and measuring the quality of our lives primarily on how much we do and get done rather than how well we live, connect with other people and engage in meaningful activities?"
Beth Gula. Beth Gula is junior in the Communication Arts Program, and she enjoys playing Blair soccer and lacrosse (yeah lax!). Reading, listening to music, and hanging out with friends are all ways she spends rare free time. Random favorites include Weezer, cheesecake, the Baltimore Aquarium, and … More »