I've blogged several times about the mental health impacts of over working and pressurising young minds.
Today I want to showcase the thoughts of a young mind. (I apologise to said author for describing him in such horribly patronising adult tones)
A good friend of mine posted their son's thoughts onto a social media site. He wants to point out the absurdity of the demands of the education system and the impact it has on his life. He is absolutely right. I don't actually know the lad in question, but I know he is keen to do well in school and generally motivated. I know his mum has brought him up with all the good stuff we as teachers would want parents to do. The point is, he's a 'good' learner who wants to do what he's told and values his education but has spotted the flaw in the instructions...
Below I share his post, (in his own words) as he has expressed the absurdity very succinctly.
"At school all teachers say we should read through our books for twenty to thirty minutes each night to reflect on what was noted last lesson. Altogether I have eight subjects each day and if you do the maths, school think I should read for 4 hours each night then taking in the factors of maybe extra curricular activities and other clubs in which we may participate which can take up to and hour so, altogether 5 hours is spent doing homework and activities. We leave school at 3:25 then depending on your bus journey to wherever you live, could potentially be another half an hour .
So let's say you arrive home at four then add on the 5 hours from before, and it's nine o'clock. The average amount of sleep should be ten hours for a person my age taking in the fact that you might have to wake up early to catch a bus.
On an average night I will go to bed at nine to wake up at seven, that is exactly ten hours so that's good but that means on most nights there will be no social activity or leisure.
So for five days straight you're practically being drilled by work and other things that may be on your agenda so your only free time is your weekend and at the end of maybe a seven week term you will have a lot of tired students that cannot perform to their maximum capability.
Hang on though I haven't even got time to do any of my set homework or even eat at the end of my day."
You can stop reading now if you like as that's the main point really, but I've got a few thoughts below.
1) If we train learners that overwork is 'normal' then we are not setting a good precedent for healthy lives in work. Even if a 15 yr old is 'tough' enough to last the course in education, continue to work all night every night and sooner or later the black dog is going to come knocking.
2) If our learners have no time to engage with news, culture, friendship, family, hobbies or whatever else how are they going to relate their knowledge to anything? How are they going to develop the ability to question anything they are told? How are they going learn anything deeper than the textbook?
How are they going to cope when the net of school is taken away and their time isn't planned and mapped out?
3) As a teacher I bemoan my lack of time. I feel anxiety when unscheduled events happen as my life is a never ending attempt to balance work and personal duties like sleep and occasionally acknowledging the existence of people like my child and elderly frail grandmother.
How does the child of a chaotic home feel? The child who is a carer, the child who suffers a trauma, the child for whom the demand of a 10/12 hour day is plain ludicrous. The child who struggles in a 'normal' day to get to school but is being told consistently that it's 'not enough'
I chose my career, I'm mature enough to have developed strategies and I still wobble close to the razor's edge of mental health all too often.
Learners haven't chosen their path, they haven't the pragmatism, the coping methods, the CPD and often the support network of caring and experienced colleagues who keep me sane.
If constant long hours and draining, intense days leave us empty, then why on earth are we making learners go through the same thing?
In conclusion (a slow build to a rousing crescendo)
I'm not going to say 'there's no place for homework' - there is, clearly, some place for learning and working and thinking between lessons especially at certain points in the year and as learners move higher in the system, they must learn to work independently.
However, it's reaching an absurd situation when it takes a pupil to point out to a school that they haven't factored in time to eat. What is the collective salary of that school's management? This lad isn't even sitting his GCSEs yet and he's worked out your advice is bobbins.
It's an absurd situation when 7 yr old kids are practising exams at home. WHAT FOR?! WHAT THE HELL ON EARTH FOR?! It's an utterly ludicrous disgrace of elephantine proportions when a thoughtful, clever, witty, worldly wise A-level student says to me "I don't have time to read anymore" - There's more knowledge and wisdom in the works of a great author than most a-level syllabus' combined.
Have we lost sight of what we actually want? It's not just about 'children being children' - that's an overly romantic and sentimental way of approaching a wider malaise. Deep down it's about understanding the value of wonder, play, daydreaming, rest, philosophising, exercise, friendship, exploration and freedom for all of us.
It's about our humanity. We are not just empty vessels to be 'filled up' by someone else - We are the sum of our experiences and the less time we have to have them and understand them, the less human we are. We learn all the time, from everything and education must be a focal point for making sense of our lives, working out who we are, what we want, helping us with choices and bringing clarity to thought but it must not be our lives.
Work does not make us free.
We demand a human education system, not a factory education system. If you're a teacher reading this, make it happen now. It matters. Stop being pathetic and bleating 'oh the government, oh the targets, oh my career development' - WE are the education system, not them.
Now read a good book and have a good night's sleep. You deserve it, you've worked damn hard today. You did your best. Tell yourself this more often and you might find the courage to tell your learners the same more often. They might not look so drained and the energy might be infectious. Hell, we might even enjoy ourselves from time to time.