Kirkwood High School student newspaper

Kain Stobbe

After 14 months, it looks like school is ready to go back to “normal.” But is “normal” really the best option?

Normal – Nathan Sweeney

I miss fourth quarter of last year. You know, when school was practically optional. I want to go back to when our grades couldn’t drop, we could do school work whenever we wanted, and we didn’t have to log onto Zoom. Sure, I was scared when the COVID-19 cases in Kirkwood hit double digits, but I was chillin’ doing one assignment a week with straight A’s. After all, having nothing to do in a borderline-apocalyptic, pandemic-torn society was better than being at school.

What does that say about school — the age-old system of strict schedules and busy work we’ve become so accustomed to? I’m not suggesting that we return to the way school was at the beginning of the pandemic, because, as nice as that would be, I don’t know a single person who actually learned anything during that time. What I am suggesting is that everyone takes a moment to reflect upon everything that has happened in the past 14 months because all of the changes made to the way we learn shouldn’t immediately be tossed aside once the pandemic is deemed “over.” Everybody is in such a rush to return to normal, but we may never return to the way things were. Plus, I’m not so sure “normal” is the best option.

I’m not so sure “normal” is the best option.”

Pre-pandemic, I never had less than two hours of homework each night, and that’s not uncommon for teenagers across the country. According to a Challenge Success survey of more than 50,000 high school students from Oct. 2018 to Jan. 2020, students reported doing an average of 2.7 hours of homework per weeknight and 3.0 hours on weekends. That’s in addition to the seven hours spent at school and, for many students, doing extracurriculars and working a part-time job. That leaves hardly any time at night for maintaining a healthy family and social life, and decent mental health.

During the first few months of the school year, the homework load eased slightly. But now, as the threat of the pandemic slowly diminishes, homework-attributed stress and anxiety are flooding back as if the school was just waiting for the moment it would be socially acceptable to bombard us with unmanageable amounts of work, just as they had before the pandemic. Ah, normalcy — so refreshing.

The quick solution to this problem would be to demand less homework, but obviously that solution is too controversial for most teachers and administrators to adopt. What I propose instead is to make homework optional.

Think about it: throughout the past 14 months, students were thrown multiple different learning styles and techniques. Because of this, we developed a better understanding of how we each learn best. Now more than ever, we know whether homework helps us absorb the material or if we’re only doing it because we’ll drop a letter grade if we don’t. If we go back to the “normal” system, we’d be destroying all of this self-discovery and growth.

Personally, teachers uploading recordings of their lessons is 100% more beneficial than any homework assignment I’ve ever been given. Most of the time, that’s all I need to grasp the concept and be ready for the test. But I know plenty of students who benefit greatly from having the homework for extra practice and concept reinforcement. So, teachers should continue to assign homework; we’ll complete it when we need to. But if students only sometimes need practice to understand the concept, they should not be penalized for not doing work they find unbeneficial. 

Still unconvinced? Think about how homework impacts students’ mental health. You’ve probably heard of the decline of mental health in teenagers due to the isolating and stressful qualities of the pandemic; those concerns are nothing new, and should not be forgotten when we go back to “normal.” Far before COVID-19, it was discovered that homework has counterproductive tendencies, specifically when it exceeds two hours per night. In other words, students are risking their mental health for something a lot of them deem useless.

…students are risking their mental health for something a lot of them deem useless.”

I have no idea what KSD has planned for next year, but I urge them to establish a new “normal.” We weren’t all frozen in an ice block for 14 months, just now reemerging, ready to rejoin society as the same people we were before the pandemic — we’re not Captain America. We are not the same as we used to be, and change is practically a precedent at this point. Making homework optional would be one way to improve the well-being of students while maintaining the same amount of academic success. And, if KSD is feeling generous, they should keep the lax deadlines and virtual options, too.

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