Thursday, December 13, 2012

Suburban Problems

In the Hebrew Bible, God provided for his people as they wandered through the desert. It never states that “God helps those who help themselves,” but while God provided the “manna from heaven” the people had to gather and collect for themselves.

Interestingly enough, they were not allowed to collect more than they needed. If they tried to double up on Monday so they could sleep in on Tuesday, their food would be spoiled by the morning. Except on Friday. No work on the Sabbath meant a little extra prep was needed to make sure one could take a day of rest.

So today, we ask if our students are overworked and/or too fatigued to learn.

Some systems are adjusting their start times to align with the natural sleep patterns of students. High schools and middle schools in our division all start between 8:50 and 9:05. It seems to work. My morning students are typically engaged and active. They don’t show significant signs of fatigue and typically, class averages in my morning classes are higher than those that follow.

Too nice to be the basement.
By the fourth block of the day, it’s a different story. My third and fourth block classes typically have two or three students that are likely to doze off during less engaging class activities. Energy levels are noticeably different. We frequently discuss the effects and importance of sleep in the context of the Psychology curriculum and at over half of my students report less than seven hours of sleep on a regular basis during the week.

By starting school at 9:00 a.m., the final bell rings at 3:45. If a student has a part-time job or participates in a sport, let’s start their shift or practice at 4:15. By 6:30 they’re leaving work or practice for home. A quick shower or break to decompress and it’s at least 7:00 pm. If they take time to enjoy a real dinner (perhaps even with family) and help out a little with preparation and clean-up it’s probably approaching 8:00 p.m. Assume this student is a senior and following the ten-minute per grade level homework rule has 120 minutes of work (most of my students would assert this is an underestimate by far) it is now 10:00 p.m. If the student needs to prepare for bed and start settling down by 11:00 to ensure being asleep by 11:30, thus guaranteeing eight hours of sleep, that leaves an hour of “discretionary” time.

An hour to watch t.v., read a book for pleasure, talk to friends, hang out with family, practice guitar, go to church, attend a basketball game, volunteer, etc.

I’m not a fool. I know that some kids get home from school by 4:30 and sit in front of the television, video games, or online until after mid-night.

What does this have to do with “manna from heaven?”

Perhaps God’s plan in the story was to teach the Hebrews in the desert that just because it’s there doesn’t mean you need to take it. You can over-achieve and collect more than you need, but in the end, what you have is rotten and spoiled.  And you’ve likely missed out on something you can never get back to get it. Sometimes it’s necessary to put in extra work, but when you do, it has a purpose. Getting a little ahead of life from time to time allows you to take a break and prepare for a new season of effort without stressing over everything that’s left undone.

The Hebrews needed guidance from their God to learn this lesson and our children need a higher guidance to learn it as well. It is a system issue, and it cannot be solved by the individual effort of students, parents, teachers, or administrators. It requires a cooperative effort from all involved to manage expectations and balance the drive to provide opportunities with the reasonable limitations on what students are allowed to do.

Of course, that only addresses the problem of kids who have ample opportunities and the means to take advantage of them, which leaves us with a whole different set of challenges to face.

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