Training kids to be workaholics

Upper-middle-class parents are training our kids to be workaholics, writes Laura in Apt. 11d.

In the past six weeks, Jonah has been swamped with homework. He had five huge cumulative midterm exams and one huge project for an elective class that was supposed to be fun, but wasn’t. After he puts in a full day at school, he goes up to his room and works until 11 or so.

He’s not alone. A father told her husband “that his son, who goes to a magnet high school for smart kids, does homework until 1 am every evening.”

This is crazy, writes Laura. Children need time to “discover their interests and daydream.”

The key job market skill that kids will need in the future is adaptability. And the key life skill that all kids should acquire is how to have fun.

Sometimes I think that all this homework is a plot to train kids to work some soul-crushing, 80-hour per week UMC (upper middle class) job. It’s not teaching them knowledge. It’s training them to sit at a desk for hours and hours.

Parents should push back, writes Laura. “It’s better to be a B student and have a life, than to be an A student who has never had the time to develop.”

For students aspiring to elite colleges, high school is far more demanding than it used to be. But few upper-middle-class parents tell their children the key life skill is how to have fun.

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Comments

  1. Sounds like some students are either misplaced & need to drop down a level or they need some more efficient study skills. The ten min × grade level=hw rule works well here.

  2. No way you could have got me to do that as a child!

  3. Kids having to work hard? Terrible. A few generations ago they’d be apprenticed out or working the farm from “can see” to “can’t see”. That was so much more fulfiling.

    • “Kids having to work hard? Terrible.”
       
      Or maybe “kids having hours of pointless busy work? Terrible.”
       
      My son has a friend in 7th grade who seems to be routinely up until 1:00AM finishing homework. The friend attends the local public school (so we aren’t talking super high powered private prep school). This seems, to me, that something is wrong …

      • Is your son’s friend spending a good potion of the time posting on FB about how much work he is doing, and continually checking and replying to the “me toos”? I agree that elementary/middle school there can be way too many projects, but when it comes to high school, kids need to have the experience of studying hard. Helps prepare them for college.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          “Is your son’s friend spending a good potion of the time posting on FB about how much work he is doing, and continually checking and replying to the ‘me toos’?”
           
          I don’t know. He isn’t *supposed* to have a FB account and I don’t know if he has a computer in his bedroom. It is certainly possible that he is wasting lots of time. I’d kinda hope that his parents have already looked into this (because up ’till 1:00AM and then classes starting at 8:30AM does not work well for a 7th grader), but I don’t know.

          • Seriouly. He could be on FB, Tumblr, or playing games. Alternately, he could have a mild learning disability that has not been recognized. A good way to check is to have a parent really close by reading or doing something else quietly so they can observe. If the work gets done significantly faster, he needs some supervision – kids can be kids. If not, he may need some help. My father had a reading problem that did not surface until HS – he was smart enough to compensate until HS. He never was an avid reader, but he pulled straight A’s in college math/science.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I think the problem is the KIND of work we’re giving kids. These ‘projects’ are often artsy-fartsy busy-work. It’s one thing to work hard on a research paper that requires visits to university libraries, careful note-taking, thinking, and writing. (I had one of those in 8th grade. It ate up a huge amount of time, but it was awesome– all about the medical practices of the Medievals, the Aztecs, and the Ancient Chinese.) It’s another thing entirely to spend hours gluing toothpicks for a model of the Coliseum. One project teaches, the other torments.

    I think a lot of the recent pushback from parents is that, as tracking has disappeared and a single class can contain kids who are barely literate and kids who are AP-ready, the work has become more time consuming but less meaningful.

    Any child, regardless of academic ability can spend hours gluing toothpicks. (Well, not me, because my fine motor skills have always been atrocious, but lets imagine a person with muscle control) Meanwhile, it’s impossible to assign a meaningful project to such a diverse group of students.

    So…. the cries about too much work are actually about too much busy work.

    • Quite. There’s also the issue, beginning in ES, of very time-consuming homework where the kids try to figure out, on their own, how to do things which should have been taught to them by their teacher. The latter would leave homework in the “practice and reinforcement of class instruction” category – but it’s not done that way because “it’s not authentic”. Since the whole “process’ is so mysterious, even parents can’t do “whatever it is” that the teacher expects.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    If the hard working kid is at a STEM magnet school, then the kid is competing with hard working Asians. White kids have the choice of either working hard to compete with Asian students or giving up trying to work in STEM.

    Moving down to easier classes means giving up on the idea of being a physician or an engineer.

    What is amazing is that parents seem to easily tolerate the hours it takes to be a good athlete but not the hours it takes to learn hard subjects.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      But, at least in my experience, STEM magnet students didn’t complain about the magnet work. It was challenging, but we could see the value in it. Heck, writing papers for English wasn’t a problem. It was when non-magnet teachers gave us busy work. (i.e. do this packet of word finds for a history grade.) And, aside from a few large projects, the magnet work wasn’t outrageously time consuming. I mean, MAYBE 3 hours a night, *IF* you were watching TV or talking on the phone while you did it. Much faster if you actually used good study skills. And the magnet teachers talked to each other and staggered project due dates.

      So… the busy work was what kept you up late and drove you to tears. You could skip it, and get Bs in those classes, but if you wanted an A in a non-magnet class, you had to be willing to do worthless work.

      So, again, the problem isn’t that kids are being trained to be workaholics. The problem is that we’re training them to be unable to differentiate between USEFUL work and BUSY work. I guess that will be a useful life skill when the machines take our jobs and we need to find something to fill our time? That way, we’ll be able to be as fufilled by playing Farmville as designing bridges!

  6. “But few upper-middle-class parents tell their children the key life skill is how to have fun.”

    Sure they do. That’s why they support sports teams, tutors, country club memberships and fraternities. That’s why they give their children cars once they can drive.

    It’s important to separate the education reformer image of an “upper middle-class family” from the reality.

    • From my many years of raising kids in upper-middle class neighborhoods with highly competitive high schools sending many kids to Ivies etc, I would say that many kids’ homework-available hours are heavily impacted by extracurriculars. Serious extracurriculars, with leadership and/or state/regional level achievement, are necessary for a top resume. It’s not unusual for such kids to be committed (athletics, academics or arts) for 3-5 hours a day, not including travel time.

      • For the “winners,” it doesn’t stop at high school. http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/03/nonstop

        I don’t think going without sleep for extended periods makes any sense. I don’t think it correlates with academic excellence. All research points to the importance of sleep.

        MIT took an important step years ago by limiting the number of spaces on the application for extracurriculars to five. I think other colleges should follow suit.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          And after college there is grad school! Then maybe you can post-doc somewhere …

          • My mental image of a grad school student is not someone who divides her time between her social club, her nonprofit volunteering, and early morning workouts. And I don’t think extracurricular commitments play a big role in admissions to graduate school–do they?

            If you first sit down to tackle high school homework at 9:00 pm, you’ll be up to midnight or later, if you’re taking a full courseload.

            Focusing on academics to the exclusion of everything else is very different from trying to get perfect grades and be the leader in every activity. The problem is exacerbated by grade inflation. If a B is the equivalent of an F for someone on the honors track, it’s a trap. Then add in high school teachers who believe assigning much more homework than necessary is a good way to prepare students for college. I don’t care how hard you work, if you’re carrying six classes, and every class assigns an hour of homework a night, you are not going to sleep before 11.

            Unless you cheat…

          • Mark Roulo says:

            “My mental image of a grad school student is not someone who divides her time between her social club, her nonprofit volunteering, and early morning workouts.”
             
            I was thinking of grad school as an extension of the “way more than a 40 hour week.” And then you can post-doc and do the same 60+ hours/week!
             
            I may be a bit more sensitive to this than the typical person my age (mid-40s) here because my high school years had moments of fun, but are largely a blur. I didn’t do lots of extra-curriculars (speech and debate for three years, chess team for 2 or 3 … that’s it) and didn’t have my own non-profit or anything like that. But a typical day was to get up before 6:00, to be at the bus stop by 7:00, to be at school by 8:20. After school, if nothing went wrong on the buses I’d be home by 4:30. Dinner, an hour of TV and then homework and I’d be in bed by midnight.
             
            If something went wrong with the buses or I had anything after school, I’d get home around 7:00PM.
             
            After four years of this, I decided that I didn’t want to do it for another four years of college, and selected my college to avoid this sort of life. One of the brighter decisions I’ve made in my life.
             
            For the folks that kept on this path, however, they could do four more year of this for undergrad, then graduate school, then post-doc.
             
            With a bit of planning, you can miss all of your 20s.
             
            And I’m seeing this lifestyle getting pushed down into junior high. And I work with lots of folks from India, Korea, China where this is fairly common.
             
            Grrr …

          • Mark Ruolo,

            Do you realize your high school schedule would be less demanding than the competitive high school students of today? Not all, by any means. They do tend to cluster in certain districts and schools. However, for many students, home by 4:30, with time for dinner and an hour of tv, in bed by midnight, would seem to be a slacker’s dream.

            It is silly. It is not optimal. In my opinion, a bright kid who works hard should be able to contemplate the future, even though he received a B on a midterm.

            Some of it probably comes from parental influence; worry about the future probably makes a child’s high school GPA seem to be Exceedingly Important.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            “Do you realize your high school schedule would be less demanding than the competitive high school students of today? Not all, by any means. They do tend to cluster in certain districts and schools. However, for many students, home by 4:30, with time for dinner and an hour of tv, in bed by midnight, would seem to be a slacker’s dream.”
             
            Yes. Which is why the current trend to push the kids even harder and at an even earlier age strikes me as not good. If this schedule pushed me to the edge, then what happens when you add an additional 3+ hours to the daily schedule? And start this sort of thing before high school? And extend it to college and then often grad school? This does not strike me as a “sane” way to live.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    It is important to realize that this very competitive time-consuming reality exists at the same time as the reality that many kids don’t do anything academic out of school and don’t have terribly rigorous classes in school.

    In some places, less is expected of kids than thirty or sixty years ago. In other places, more is expected.

    Very few generalizations are true across the system.