School used to be so easy. Take the hardest classes possible. Do your best. Success will follow.
But have high schools (and the college boards who wrote up the advanced placement curriculum) succeeded in making advanced placement classes so challenging that a student can’t do it all? Or are they just leading to teen stress and anxiety with little to no affect on life-long success?
Usually when I pose this question to parents and school administrators I get the answer that there are students doing it all.
But if you ask enough questions, it turns out they aren’t getting any sleep.
I also could make the counter argument that I certainly thought I could do it all at that age too. But it wasn’t until I was out of college that I found out it wasn’t normal for me to have a headache every afternoon. 🙂 At the time, I decided that my headaches had started around my junior year of high school.
To put this in perspective, I think it might be about time I pause and let you know that I do take education seriously. I’m one of those over-achievers.
- National Merit Scholar
- Welch Chemistry Scholarship
- High School Valedictorian
- 3rd place Health and Medicine International Science and Engineering Fair
- State Academic Competition in Math, Science, and Public Speaking
- State officer in an honor’s club
- Outstanding Freshman and Senior Chemistry major at my university
- PhD in Biology, NASA Graduate Fellowship
However, I don’t recall being short on sleep in high school; I got 8 hours most nights. (Except for the Saturdays that I got up at 5 am to go to math and science practice competitions.) I had no trouble getting up – I was slow getting ready and I had to beat my two sisters into the bathroom so I could wash my hair first.
But it’s worth noting that graduated from my high school before it offered advanced placement courses. And college was a different matter. That was where I learned the habit of the snooze button that I’ve never managed to break, where I learned how to take a quick 10 minute nap sitting at my books…
So, I’ve been there.
I should probably do some research into how advanced placement courses evolved. My initial hunch is that instead of basing the high school advanced placement courses on general courses of say, English, that all majors take, they instead based them on the first courses of students in the same major. But researching that won’t really solve anything for my kids. I doubt I could change anything about advanced placement in a timely manner, if ever!
So the question becomes how to guide my kids to get the most out of the system we have available. How can we do that?
I started this series by observing that students in our moderately academically competitive high school had ridiculously demanding course requirements. So we thought the answer was just to not take a full advanced placement course load. But we found some difficulties with that. Mainly, the students who paid attention in class were in the advanced placement courses. And the course material was more interesting in the AP classes.
But I still had the information about the importance of free time from Study Hacks which I discussed in a post questioning if all advanced classes are the best path to success. And I have the information I’ve personally heard from parents at our high school, that indicated that just taking the hardest classes and doing well wasn’t enough. The only guarantee was high levels of stress and lack of sleep. Success at getting into the university of choice and scholarships weren’t guaranteed.
Clearly, it seemed like the “easier” path to success was to find a passion and excel in one area. At 8th grade orientation, I was heartened to hear our new high school principal that the most important thing a student could do in high school is find a hobby that they’re passionate about. (This contrasted with the message we got when our son entered high school, which was to take absolutely every advanced placement course you could possibly manage. What they don’t tell you is the main reason they’re concerned about that is that it makes the high school look good.)
But helping a child to “find their passion” isn’t all that easy. 🙂 Truth be told, if we didn’t limit screen time our kids could easily tell you that their passion was computer games or Netflix (we don’t have cable.) That’s even though they have some really good skills in drawing, sewing, cooking, music, and mechanically fixing things.
One of the problems is, that even taking a partial load of advanced placement courses takes a ton of time. The homework projects and test studying from even a couple of the advanced classes can expand to take up all the time available. (Especially if you are even a little bit easily distracted. Which when your working on a sleep deficit, who isn’t?) And when you don’t have a lot of time, it’s a whole lot easier to turn on a screen than to start a project you won’t have time to finish.
One of the things we’re trying now is to tell our son that we want him to put his “passion hobby” and recreational reading on equal footing with his homework. He’s even allowed to do a certain amount of that first, before he starts his homework for the day. We’re having moderate success with that and he’s made some progress toward his computer programming goals.
But, it’s still difficult when push comes to shove on grades and homework. And his sister is even more conscientious about grades than he is. She gets a lot of high average awards every year. She’d really like to try for a high ranking in class average. It really seems like it’d be wrong to hold her back from her wish to excel by not “letting” her take all advanced placement course.
But then I run across news such as a study that “…claims that the perfectionistic, highly competitive environment of the UK’s top academies are making students prone to teen eating disorders.” A study like that is hard to ignore when it supports a personal story that I’ve heard. Then there are the other reports you’ve heard about rises in the rates of depression and suicide.
When I talk to other parents about their kids academically ambitious, over-packed schedules their typical remark is “they picked the schedule.” What they’re trying to say, is that that they haven’t told their child to over-load, they’re doing it themselves. Their kids want that schedule and are pushing themselves. But aren’t our kids just doing what we, and their teachers, have been trying to teach them to do their entire life? Do we, as parents and teachers, also have an obligation to help them learn their limits and balance?
So, like all important things in life, there’s no easy answer. What about you? Does your kid have an over-packed high school schedule?
Do you have a child who’s found their passion? How did you encourage them?