Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Was talking with a friend today at one of my volunteer gigs (great place--Animal Care League) about our kids. We both have daughters at our local high school, and we occasionally compare notes about how things are going for them. It was a refreshing conversation, as I think we're both in similar places about what we want for our girls--and what we don't want.

Me? I value learning and education. I value giving your best effort every day. I want my kids to grow up to be kind, happy people who aren't afraid of hard work, but want more than 60 hours a week and enough money to go to Disneyworld. But I don't think having my daughter stressed to her maximum physical and emotional capacity every day by school, with incredibly rigorous honors/AP courses that require 4 hours (or more) of homework a night, is the path to those values. My viewpoint seems to be in the minority in our twin towns, where achievement is all.

As I look over my daughter's shoulder, her work reminds me of challenging college classes I took long ago. It was great to be a college student, staying up all hours of the night, discussing Big Life Questions. It seems developmentally appropriate to encourage critical thinking as kids mature into adults, as I want my kids to be able to savor those questions, as well as attempt to figure out their own answers. Crack thinking skills will help them do that.

But is it necessary for them to reach such rigorous depths when they are 15? And to reach them to the exclusion of sleep, down time, and time playing cards with Mom? And what about making time for music and sports? It's awfully hard to cram in these extra activities around 4 hours of homework a night. And it is crammed, with minds racing to the next event, the next assignment, rather than enjoying being in the moment of playing with your teammates, smacking the ball, or making music.

The flip side of extra curricular activities in Achievementland? A was telling me yesterday that she didn't think she'd try out for Jazz Band this year. Too much homework. I had two initial reactions. First, I was disappointed for her, as she really enjoyed Jazz Band last year. Second, I started worrying about how it would look on her college application that she was doing so few extra curricular activities.

Gak. Since when did after school activities become things to do because they look good, rather than activities that are fun or healthy or cool? The idea of 15 year olds compiling their curriculum vitae is incredibly sad. Kids should be learning and growing with their family and their peers, focusing on now, not later.

Looking forward, preparing for the next step, seems to be one of the seminal ideas of current educational thought. Why do kids in middle school have to do so much organizational work? To get ready for high school, of course. Why do second graders have to write research papers? To get ready for middle school, of course.

What are we teaching our children to do, exactly, by always forcing them to look ahead and perform at the next level, rather than mastering the level they are at here and now? What kind of lives do we adults lead when we are constantly pushing forward, focusing on the next thing, rather than being here now? I think these lives become ones where we look back and mourn what we didn't savor at the time. Moments with growing children lost. Time spent visiting with your spouse, hearing about his day, lost.

These are not the lives I want for myself and my children. But what do I know? After all, I'm a failure in Achievementland, where I hold no job with titles, a corner office, and a big fat salary . . . . ;-)



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