Do Schools Expect Too Much From Their Students?
April 12, 2007 2:04am CST
Modern American schools, despite (or perhaps because of) all the claims that they're falling behind, pressure our students into all sorts of "extras" that aren't strictly required for graduation (or even admission to good schools). Counselors recommend AP (college-level) classes (that colleges largely ignore on enrollment applications), extracurricular activities (that, again, make only a marginal difference in distinguishing applicants), and volunteer work to pretty much every student, promising rich rewards for students who actually follow through. A friend of mine is one such student. She's in chorus, participating in the school's spring semester play, and does all sorts of things to help out and participate at her school. She maintains straight A's in all her classes, too. The big spring play is coming up in a couple of days, and the school's drama club is in full preparation mode. The net result of this school's expectations are, in my humble opinion, far above and beyond what it could ever reasonably ask of any of its students: my friend has literally spent 13 hours per day at this school every day this week, and will continue doing so all the way through Friday, when the first of three public performances takes place. Saturday and Sunday there's a show, too. I'm not exaggerating on that number -- it's not hyperbole. She's in class from 7:30am to 3:30pm, gets a whole two hours off (only getting to spend about an hour and a half of that at home since her father can't get away from work to get her home any earlier than 4:15pm or so), then has to run back to the school by 5:30pm to stay until at *least* 9:30pm rehearsing and helping to set up. Meanwhile, although all her instructors/teachers know she's in chorus and in the play and that they're setting up for a big performance this weekend, not *one* of them gives her a moment's break from the usual homework schedule. She's expected to spend all that time in class and in rehearsals, *and* manage to get two hours' worth of homework done each night. Today, her chorus involvement took her out of classes entirely. Because it was a school-sanctioned activity, the instructors in the classes she missed as she fulfilled her "chorus" requirements for the day begrudgingly "excuse" her absences, but they don't give *any* slack in the homework or classwork department. When she returned from giving *five* separate performances at different schools with her chorus group today, arriving near the end of the last class she was due to miss for the day (to turn in the homework she was required to turn in anyway), the instructor actually made her (and one of her friends) sit down to have a "mini-lecture," where the instructor tried to cram the day's lesson into a few minutes. Talk to any teacher not involved in chorus, and you'll get the same answer: "well, it's not my fault she's in chorus, and I'm not making exceptions for anybody." Talk to the chorus or drama instructor and you get a similar answer: "it's not my fault your other teachers give you too much homework." In other words, nobody in the system thinks it's their fault that the "system" is creating a damned near impossible situation for its best students. By participating in the very activities these schools insist will help students get into college more easily, they're committing themselves to what amounts to slavery. Adults *can't* be made to work more than 12 hours in a day without some serious bonuses in pay (and certainly not without agreement by both parties well in advance). Adults certainly get paid for their efforts -- participation in normal school hours is compulsory for kids (and is unpaid) and the after-school stuff (the extras) aren't paid either. Do you find it odd that I'm comparing what my friend is going through to a "wage slave" job? Think about why you think it's weird -- she's putting in 12-13 hour days and isn't making a dime in doing so. She sold hundreds of dollars in ads in the program being distributed for this play, winning the "competition" to sell the most ads. She got a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant for her efforts; the school got nearly a thousand dollars in revenue. The show they're putting on isn't free -- each audience member has to pay $10 to get in the door. That includes the parents & family members of the students putting on the damned show. The school is up for at least one award if this performance goes well (especially in comparison to the other schools in the area). That award comes in the form of a trophy. The school keeps it, of course. If the students are lucky, they'll get a paper certificate for it if they win. Naturally, without these performers, the school wouldn't get jack squat, but that doesn't matter -- the school keeps the kudos for itself. Now what's wrong with this picture? Clearly she's doing this because she enjoys the end result, not because it's going to reap huge rewards (or even subtle ones) when she hits college. From what I've been able to glean, the school barely gives mention of the insane schedule required of its students when they participate in the chorus or drama groups, but it's clearly not enough. I'm sure they never come out and say to any student: "we will require you to attend and perform at events in the evenings and on weekends, sometimes scheduled with as little as 24 hours notice, sometimes at the school but often twenty or more miles away (we will rarely provide transportation or food), and you will get a failing grade if you miss more than a couple of these, no matter what your excuse is. We will charge your parents, family, and non-participating friends and acquaintances standard admission prices to attend the events you participate in. You will get no breaks from homework or classwork in any other classes; you're responsible for making up any work missed because of your participation in this club (and you'll get a crap grade in this class if you let your other classes distract you or otherwise get in the way)." How do schools even get away with this? What are other ways to get all this stuff mixed together without running students ragged? What can a cash-strapped school district do to take some of the stress out of this mess? How do we stop punishing our most promising students when all they want to do is put on a good show and do their best at everything they touch?
• United States
12 Apr 07
It sounds to me that this is more of problem of the drama/chorus club rather than her other classes. Her other teachers are right not to excuse her from her classwork or homework. If they did this for one student everyone would be running off to join chorus or drama and no work would ever get done. When I was in high school I was in band. My classes never once excused me from any of my classwork when we had a parade, concert or festival. I just knew when those dates were coming up and had to prepare ahead of time. These classes are only trying to prepare kids for what it's like in college. Do you think college classes would ever excuse you from any work ever? A lot of college students have to work, which could be compared to what your friend is doing in this play only she's not getting paid for it. Well the way I see it this is an opportunity for her to see what it's like to be in school and have to work. If she is having a hard time keeping up with everything maybe she needs to look at cutting a few things back that aren't necessary to graduate.
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