The most popular blog post I’ve ever written is one called “Schedules and Timetables”. I wrote it about a year and half ago, and it continues to get hits almost every day. I don’t really know why. I certainly don’t consider it my best work. It’s a pretty straightforward comparison of the American public school schedule of an 11th grade, university-bound friend with my daughter Anna’s British sixth form timetable for Year 12 (equivalent to US 11th grade). The difference between the two is in the pace. The British timetable left free periods between classes, light days that balanced the busy days, and opportunities to meet with teachers to get help when needed.
Anna is now settled into US public high school after spending last year in a British sixth form and her previous 10 school years homeschooling. A look at that “Schedules and Timetables” post reminds me that current discussions of school reform are ignoring one of most central problems.
The pace is simply frantic. Since she started US public school, Anna doesn’t get enough sleep at night. She wakes up each morning early, hurries out the door and runs through her hectic schedule…a dash to class to sit 47 minutes…think…write…work, then, at the bell, dash to the next, switching off thoughts of the previous 47 minutes to sit…think…write…work about a completely different topic.. again and again for seven different subjects each day.
When the final bell rings, she dashes off again to her various after-school activities. She has had to drop her involvement with our beloved community theater and most of her work hours because there is simply not enough time. She no longer reads for pleasure because there are so many assigned readings. But there are still dance classes, Quiz Bowl team, Girls Scouts, and more. By the time she gets home, she eats a quick meal and starts on the homework. Her weekends are filled with more homework, exercise to counteract the hours of sitting all week, part-time work, and precious time with friends.
An old yogi of mine used to say, “It is in the periods of rest that we absorb the benefit of our activity.” That doesn’t only apply to physical exercise. Without time between classes, I see that Anna doesn’t retain as much knowledge this year as she has in her previous years of schooling. It seems that the more school work she has, the less she really learns.
I also see the toll it’s taking on her physically in her eyes, her hair, and her skin. It takes a toll on her emotions as well. Sometimes she weeps for no reason, or no reason she can name. Sometimes she snaps.
Grant Wiggins’ blog recently highlighted the issue of the pace of school when he featured a report from a teacher who spent a day shadowing high school students. As a follow-up, Pernille Ripp is asking students to share pictures of their school day on February 5th, with the hashtag #studentlife, to show teachers what a student’s day is really like. I hope efforts like these will start a discussion of ways we can address the problem of our harried pace.