Call Ed: Pushing down on me, pushing down on you
This issue, the TKC staff decided to look at how pressures on high schoolers from teachers, parents and themselves affect their mental wellness. With expectations of taking high-level courses while participating in extracurricular activities, 76 percent (56/74) of our staff believes students should set personal limits so they do not have an overwhelming schedule that negatively affects their mental health.
February 15, 2018
When Dr. Michael Havener, KHS principal, established two upcoming no-homework weekends, students and teachers responded loudly. The trial came from an effort to release pressure on students so their mental health doesn’t suffer. The debate about how much is too much for high school students to handle is ongoing, from homework to class rank to college prerequisites. As teenage anxiety and depression rates continue to rise, school systems like GPA and other sources of pressure are under question.
“Homework is not the only thing,” Havener said. “This is a bigger scope. Overscheduling, not having a balanced schedule, trying to do too much after school [and] responsibilities at home [also affect students’ wellbeing]. I want to make sure we keep the social, emotional wellbeing of our students and staff at the forefront while we make decisions.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, high school students’ suicide rates have doubled in the past 10 years, with the highest rates occurring briefly after most schools begin in the fall. Since 2007, suicide has become the second leading cause of death among adolescents from ages 15 to 19, only surpassed by unintentional deaths. Implicating suicide as a direct effect of an overwhelming high school experience would be inaccurate, but we cannot deny that it would help students with mental health issues to make high school more self-motivated rather than a never-ending checklist of tasks. Students rarely get a break from streams of homework and busywork. Unfortunately, if they decide to skip an assignment or even stay home for the sake of their mental health, being behind in schoolwork can suck them into the rapids of missing assignments, teacher conferences and so on. Even one zero in the gradebook could put them at a loss for words when a classmate utters the inevitable, “Hey, what’s your grade in this class?” Evidently, Havener said pressures on students to keep up with a high workload is leading to an increase in some seeking help from support counselors at KHS.
Obsessing over filling a resume is unhealthy. The fact that some students base their self-worth on test scores, comparing them to their friends’, is unhealthy. Class rank, which pits kids against each other in a game of “How many AP classes fit in my schedule?” is unhealthy. The longer these systems remain, the more their negative influence will leak into younger ages, potentially making kids as young as sixth graders anxious about laying out the next seven years in order to get into college.
Nearly everything at KHS is geared toward college, and even our activities and grades from middle school make a difference on transcripts and applications. Of course, higher education is something to keep in mind while choosing classes and other activities throughout high school, but there needs to be more learning based on interest than on what would look good to an admissions board. According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 41 percent of college freshmen feel “overwhelmed by all [they] have to do,” an increase from 29 percent in 2010. If, while in high school, these students did not feel the need to fill the schedule to the brim with AP classes, sports and clubs they couldn’t manage, maybe they would have a better sense of what they wanted to do once in college. Sure, trying things from multiple areas is beneficial to become a well-rounded student, but no one should feel an obligation to finish a list of must-do’s and have-done’s. School should not have a “one size fits all” type of mentality. What is the purpose of pursuing new things if each student has the same background as the next?
It doesn’t seem that something as simple as banning homework for a few weekends would impact a student body’s mental health, but if it became a regular practice all the way down through elementary school, it could reform how students view learning. Unicef reported in 2013 that Dutch children were the happiest children in the world. Their school system is based more on real-life applications, and homework is rare in primary and secondary school. In fact, according to The Telegraph, they don’t usually learn structured skills like reading until age 6. It might be problematic sounding to American kids with parents who’ve shoved books in their faces since they first opened their eyes, but Dutch kids still catch up in literacy later on.
Maybe KHS and other high schools could learn a lesson from the Dutch. School shouldn’t be centered around filling out a resume. School should be about learning. That’s an obvious fact, but too often true learning is sacrificed for experiences only had to check off another box, forget the experience and keep the negativity.
Havener said he doesn’t see a set future for KHS when it comes to releasing pressure on students to accommodate their emotional wellbeing. But the most important thing moving forward is to keep the conversation open so students don’t follow blindly under systems that take blows at their mental health.