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December 2016: The Overworking of America’s Youth

Community Conversations: Unpacking Classism In Unusual Places

Why are Worker’s Rights important?
Today, in America, there is a strong effort to maintain the 40 hour work week. This is largely based in a desire to maintain health. Psychological, emotional, familial, physical...health is improved when humans have balance. Cooking a healthy meal and sitting down to eat it together takes far more time than throwing crap in a microwave and shoving it down one’s throat before leaving for a second job. Interestingly, as we fight to maintain the 40-hour work week (a benefit of the hard-won class wars of the past century)...European cultures have gone one further and, in some cases, have instituted a 30 hour work week!

What Matters?
Consider the importance of valuing our health, our lives, our relationships, the work we get paid to do, and our free time outside of work. Next, consider that your nation requires its children to work both a full-time 40 hour work week AND a part-time job (called homework). Then ask, “Why are we doing this?”

Full-time School is Enough.
An effective school system strives to meet the needs of all students. Perhaps one student loves her photography class so much that she joins the school newspaper as a photographer and hikes on weekends to practice landscape and nature photography. This student is “naturally passionate” about photography. But, another student finds that it’s just not her thing. So, she does in-class work, takes photographs during free time, etc. This student is not bad or lazy. She’s just not interested, and in-class assignments should earn her a passing (C) grade.

The Purpose of School.
Figuring out who you are is job #1! And, during a student’s 40-hour work week, he may discover that he loves history, finds botany interesting, hates anatomy and flees math like the plague. Great! Welcome to thyself! But, now…what happens after school lets out? In their free time, young people discover even more about themselves! From climbing trees to playing music to dancing to performing theatre to reading books to writing stories to long walks to sleeping in to late night adventures in the forest to relaxing with friends...after school is over, the learning doesn’t end!

The Grading Rubric Matters!
The grading rubric comprises the “rules” by which students and teachers are bound. And...it is created and designed by the teacher. You may assume a “good” teacher assigns homework in order to increase student success in exams. If so, check out what the CPE (Center for Public Education) states:
Myth 2: Without excessive homework, students’ test scores will not be internationally competitive.
What researchers say: Information from international assessments shows little relationship between the amount of homework students do and test scores. Students in Japan and Finland, for example, are assigned less homework but still outperform U.S. students on tests (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development 2004).

The Walmart Effect.
Walmart routinely asks employees to work overtime without pay. Their notorious method of using “loyalty” to elicit unpaid overtime has led to many lawsuits. When hourly-paid employees are pressured to work more than 40 hours a week…is it a surprise that we have schools doing the same to children?

Schooling Sets Expectations For Life
IF government funded-schools demand that students work more than 40 hours a week, and the adult/parent community backs them up...THEN we are normalizing the ethic of overworking, unpaid overtime, sleep deprivation, anxiety, cheap/fast food, caffeinated drinks and binge-recreating as a response to endless stress.
What Do We Get Back?
(1) These habits contribute hugely to our nation’s plague of lifestyle-caused diseases.
(2) Japan, and other high-pressure cultures, have skyrocketing youth student suicide rates.
(3) High Schools in large, American cities struggle to achieve even a 50% graduation rate. Over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States every year. That’s one student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day!
(4) And kids who do graduate (by doing all that homework) and land in a nice college? They are remarkably (and frighteningly) ignorant of the most basic issues! Go to Youtube and look up “Politically Challenged Texas Tech, George Mason, OSU).”

Reminding Ourselves That LIVING Matters.
There is so much more to life than government schooling, and homework deeply interferes with those important aspects of becoming a whole person. In a very weird way, it’s almost as if our society “fears” free time...which is ultimately the only form of “freedom” that really matters. I’ve even heard teachers say, “Well, if I don’t give them homework, they will just go home and play video games or watch TV.” When did it become a teacher’s job to manage (or judge) how children spend their time outside of school?

A Compulsory Schoolteacher’s Job is Straight Forward.
Ensure that the learning environment in their classroom is effective enough to provide a passing C level of education for all students who attend school full-time.

Homework Hurts Teachers & Impinges on Their Ability to Teach.
The time spent on “designing homework” and “assigning homework” and “collecting homework” and “grading homework” and “chasing missed homework” is a HUGE burden on our teachers. And our children’s education suffers. I have personally volunteered at McMurray Middle School, and watched while the teacher spent the entire class period grading homework.

Final Points:
(1) If the school gets to control my child’s life for 40 hours a week, then the school has an obligation to ensure that time is not wasted.
(2) The grading rubric should ensure that full-time engagement at school will result in a C, passing grade.
(3) Homework should be 100% optional & rare; ensuring our youth have enough free time to discover themselves and recover from the rigors of their full-time job.

Community Conversations is written by March Twisdale, with input from fellow islanders.
www.marchtwisdale.com