Monday, January 11, 2010

Dr. Hall's Blog

If you haven't seen Dr. Hall's new blog, he recently discussed the book Nurture Shock. I just finished the book and was actually reading it at his recommendation. I have been struck by a number of topics in it but probably none more strongly than the "sleep chapter" in its relevance for the lives of our students and for myself. I echo Dr. Hall that the book deserves reading. The following blog is actually a response to a thoughtful parent who questions the dilemma caused when students get too little sleep because of the amount of homework. It is a great question for which I do not have a simple answer. But below are some of my own thoughts and wrestling with the topic.

There are a number of factors that make our situation far from ideal. At this point, how to go about fixing them is a whole other problem. As I see it, here are some of the mitigating factors.

1. American schools have shorter school days and shorter school years than most of the industrialized world. There are a number of reasons for this. The problem is that we competing with those schools around the world now, not just across town!

2. One of the ways we seek to compete in this country is by trying to find ways to get our kids "further faster" which generally results in pushing students to the AP level courses. That way they are getting prerequisite college courses out of the way so that they can do more advanced work more quickly during the undergrad years. Those classes become the capstone courses in each discipline and many of the colleges are wanting to see them on transcripts. So with colleges getting more selective, the pressure to take more college level work at the high school level increases. Mind you, we are already dealing with less time and now we are trying to squeeze in parts of freshmen year of college!

3. The part that exacerbates the problem is that not only are our kids trying to do so much in a compacted academic schedule, we are living in a society that does not place academics as highly on a value scale as some other cultures. For many students and families, sports or the fine arts take a priority that are unheard of in school systems outside of America. So balancing time for athletic teams that practice six days a week and high level fine art productions change the entire dynamic of an American high school. Thinking about student sleep, not only should they be getting eight hours, teens also would benefit from sleeping later in the morning. But while a 9 am start might be much preferred for student learning (which I think studies have clearly shown), the logistical issues it raises for after school practices and contests/matches, not to mention buses and transportation, make it a non-starter for some districts. Maybe it's time for it to be placed on the table for further discussion.

4. Then at CHCA, we have another level of constraint, because while we are doing all these other things to compete, we feel strongly that a Christ-centered education demands some other things. So not only are we adding an hour of chapel per week, but three and a half credits of Christian Studies classes and then one hundred and twenty hours of service on top of that. Again, please hear me in this--I am not bemoaning these features. I think they are central and make us who we are as a school. But it does impact the way student schedules become even more limited for time. I end up thinking about this issue as not just a homework issue but much more broadly as a school culture issue. To what degree are we willing to be counter-cultural as a school when it comes to our children and their time? In a culture that values busy-ness and achievement, can we accept less activities and accomplishments? What things are we willing to sacrifice? I worry if the answer becomes our children's sleep and emotional/psychological/spiritual well being. The ancient, and sadly outdated, principle of Sabbath could go a long way in a world like ours. "Rest" in our culture has become something for the lazy and unmotivated. It needs to be elevated again as a divine principle and mandate. (See Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath and Wayne Muller's Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives.)

Dr. Hall, thanks for getting the conversation started.