Did Dublin Students Get a Homework Break over Spring Break?
As another Spring Break comes to an end I’d like to take a look at an insidious virus that infects school breaks – winter, spring and summer. It’s a virus that has proven very difficult to eradicate and vaccines challenging to perfect. I’m talking about the practice of assigning projects and homework over school breaks.
From Give Us a (Homework) Break written by a Dublin High School student a few years ago, “Homework policies make it increasingly hard to take a rest from school because of assignments and projects that are due after the break. Assignments over vacations can range from a simple homework worksheet to a project that requires hours and hours. What is the point of having breaks if you can’t enjoy them?” Being on break means detaching, means not having to worry about what is due, means not having to schedule time for that assignment, means not having to remember a textbook when packing for a camping trip; detaching means being completely detached from school and its daily press of structure and deadlines.
Some people might say:”But it’s just a few hours out of a full week!”, or “There’s a lot of material to cover and we just can’t afford to lose an entire week!”, or maybe even:”Getting into college is more and more competitive and I want my child to have the best possible chance of getting into a good college!”. But assignments looming over students like a dark cloud, following them wherever they go, always nagging and tugging until complete, steal from a student’s break. Parents know the feeling – it’s the feeling when a presentation at work is coming up or taxes are due soon.
And so the spring break busyness begins. My daughter had friends over earlier this week and I asked them – raise your hands if you were assigned projects or homework over the break. All hands went up. For parents this means inevitable vacation interrupting nagging and cajoling: “have you worked on your project? will you have enough time? make sure to work on your project in the morning so you can relax at night!”
According to Race to Nowhere and Beyond Measure filmmaker and author Vicki Abeles from her recent book of the same name, “‘Downtime actually isn’t down time,’ said the Harvard Innovation Lab‘s Tony Wagner when we met. ‘Downtime is up time. The research is very clear that the brain needs time off to synthesize, to integrate. Why is it that so often many of us get some of our best ideas when we are shaving or in the shower or taking a walk or doing yoga?'” (source)
And that’s the point. Unstructured free time provides students the opportunity to explore, create, daydream, sleep in, socialize, get distracted, be lazy, do nothing, overdose on videogames (the horror!), go hiking, bake some cookies (a win-win for child and parents), create a catalog of pointless selfies and most importantly choose for themselves how to use their time. Reading Beyond Measure over the past few weeks, and seeing the film of the same name at a recent screening at Dublin High School, has been eye-opening. Today’s students lead extraordinarily structured lives, particularly in communities like ours where families can afford expensive after school activities to round out a completely structured day.
I remember the hours I spent as a kid learning how to code with my brand new Apple II computer. This wasn’t for school, it wasn’t for my parents, it wasn’t for a course I was slotted into to make a college application look better, it wasn’t due to peer pressure. It was my choice to invest that time and because I had unstructured time available I was able to pursue that passion. Vicki Abeles from Beyond Measure, “It’s painfully clear that we adults need a remedy for our ‘disease of being busy,’ too. I know this as well as anyone … It’s hard to shake the compulsion to busyness once it’s in you – which is why we must work to wean our children and our families off it as early as possible.” Omid Safi from The Disease of Being Busy, “Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we over-schedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?”
When educators assign projects and homework over school breaks they are stealing time from their students and the students’ families. When parents demand that educators overtask students in a death spiral for college acceptance perfection it steals space from children to explore their own interests.
So what can we do to fight this virus?
- School Board Trustees and school administrators: codify in policy a ban of homework over winter and spring breaks. Ban means nothing can be due after a break – not a day after or a week after. Nothing.
- Educators: don’t wait for policy – decide now – stop the practice of assigning projects and assignments due after school breaks (and assignments announced before the break, but due a week later, are no different)
- Parents: push back – call out (respectfully) educators that steal breaks from students, and trust your students with unstructured time
This is such an easy problem to solve – it’s just a decision. Yet is has proven incredibly difficult to wean our students from structured busyness, if only for a school break.
Please share your thoughts and experiences on this topic.