Research conducted at the University of Michigan finds that high school students who work beyond 15 hours per week are less likely to graduate from college than those who work fewer hours. The study echoes the findings of others that indicate a link between long work hours and increased problem behaviors and decreased school engagement.
Researchers are still interpreting the findings, but it seems obvious that the more time high school students spend working, texting, and playing video games, the less time they have left for mastering the subjects they are supposed to be learning in school.
I’ve heard students and parents assert that homework is an outrageous imposition because the schools “have” the students for six hours a day; they ought to be able to “do their job” in that amount of time. It’s the consumer mentality that sees education as a commodity or service, like a package of cereal or an oil change.
Education is a process, not a product or a service. Teachers are not dentists who can do their work while the patient sits there with his mouth open. Mere class attendance is not enough for mastering the content of a subject. Reinforcement between lessons is needed.
Students and parents understand that physical skills improve in proportion to practice, but fail to recognize that the development of intellectual skills also requires hours of focused practice between instructional sessions.
Until the six-hour school day is altered to include at least two free hours for reading and academic practice apart from direct instruction, the time for reinforcement must be found outside of school hours. And that means homework and quiet time at home devoted to reading.
Many things have changed about childhood since I was young, but one thing that remains the same is the number of hours in a day.
A day still contains 24 hours. The need for sleep, meals, and personal health and hygiene reduces the number of “expendable” hours for a teenager to about twelve. Parents who truly care about producing educated children need to take a hard look at how these allotted hours are filled.
During the school term, nine hours of the twelve available on a weekday should belong to school:
1 hour getting to school and back
6 hours in school
2 hours for homework and reading (without noise, texting, video or internet gossip)
That still leaves three hours a day–and more on the weekend–for socializing, playing football, watching movies, or, if absolutely necessary, working a paid job. Parents and children can decide what activities will fill those three weekday hours. A job may be necessary for the family’s survival, but if the only reason for a teen to work is to pay for a car and car insurance, then the job is not necessary.
Learning to drive may be a rite of passage for American teenagers, but car ownership is for employed adults. Unless there are extremely pressing reasons for a teen to maintain a car while in high school, parents must be willing to endure some inconvenience to spare their children the distraction, expense, and dangers of car ownership until after graduation.
Parents also have a responsibility to see that non-working children do not squander the time that belongs to acquiring an education.
According to a study by the Kaiser Famly Foundation,
[Children] ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with [electronic] devices, compared with less than six and a half hours five years ago, when the study was last conducted. And that does not count the hour and a half that youths spend texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cellphones.
Parents cannot afford to throw up their hands and abandon their children to the media and the cultural myth that every 16-year-old must have a car. They need to rid themselves of the notion that education is a commodity that can be dispensed by schools during a six-hour school day without any outside reinforcement.
Technology has changed childhood, but parents are still parents. They need to do their jobs and guide their children in a sensible use of time. Leave paid employment to weekends and summer holidays. School days are for school.