3 kids at school. A new and promising school year. Some thoughts to start with.

Kid #1 will spend 38 hours at school, 5 days a week, an average of 7.6 hours per day, of those 8 breaks adding up to one hour recess time. She will be studying, if I am not mistaken, 12 or 13 topics. She goes on to study math in an afternoon program for additional 3.5 hours. She is 15 years old.

Kid #2 will spend 40 hours at school, spread on 6 days, of it an average of less than one hour per day recess time. He will be studying about 13 topics. He is 11 years old.

Kid #3 will spend 24 hours at school, spread on 6 days, with an average of 40 minutes recess time per day. He will study 8-9 topics. He is 7 years old.

Coming home from school they are pretty exhausted. So they eat, and rest, watch TV or play. They hope to squeeze in their afternoon time their choice of class – sports or arts, meeting with friends and playground time.

But they also have homework to prepare.

Kid #3 spends an average of 10-20 minutes, depending on how angry he is for the fact that he has to open his books at home.

The older kids spend anything between 20 minutes and 2 hours on their homework on a daily average.

Work Laws In Israel

In Israel the workers unions are very strong. There are very clear work laws, who relate to number of working hours per day and per week. Also specific rules exist for employing kids (ages 15 and up).

And the law specifies:

A work day will not be longer than 8 hours in a 45 hour working week (6 days) or more than 9 hours per day in a 43 hours working week (5 days). Kids can never be employed for more than 40 hours per week, and never longer than 9 hours per day. Kids under 16 can not be employed later than 20:00 unless with a special permission. In a 6 hour working day a teen is entitled to 45 minutes break, at least one break is of 30 minutes minimum.

School time is our kids’ working day. It’s what they do. Their occupation. If  I look at their week in light of the employment laws I can’t help wondering how much more can they bear.

My 15 year old spends 41 hours in the classroom and is required to spend an average of 10-20 additional hours on homework.

The 11 year old spends 40 hours in school, and I can understand his frustration when he is required to spend even 5 additional minutes on homework. He is only 11.

The 7 year old, a second grader, only 15 months ago spent most of his time playing at the nursery school. He is still shocked by the fact that most of his daytime is spent in a classroom, sitting at a desk. No need to describe what he feels about homework.

Last January a fifth grader from New York wrote an essay claiming homework is illegal slavery. His essay was published here and he got immense publicity such as this.

Still, homework seems here to stay in the crazy race to the top. Top of the class, best school, highest grades…

There are more topics taught today, so more class time is needed. Instead of using the growth of new topics to allow better personalization of learning by the students, there is less choice and schools are actually competing on giving more and more. Enrichment is a key word in the marketing of schools and if it’s not enough that we are drowning in a sea of information we are doing the same to the next generation, who find themselves skipping, skimming and unable to perform real research and exploration during their school years. We don’t use the accessibility of information to help fine-tune school experience and teach the kids to reach relevant information. We simply flood.

It’s a tough choice, really. Looking at my daughter’s list of school topics I see perhaps 3 or 4 she could do without. She wants to major in Physics, Chemistry  and biotechnology – so why does she need to do a final exam in literature or bible or grammar?

Obviously the repeated answer is that kids who graduate from school need to demonstrate a level of general knowledge and fine culture. But hey, how about leaving them some free time, so they can watch movies and read books and develop their taste and personal observation of culture, while actually enjoying it?