High school students need to be bored a whole lot more often.
Out of the sixty some seniors I taught this year, I can think of three or four that wouldn’t benefit from being locked in a room with nothing to do for an hour or two every day. No i-pod, no cell phone, not even a book (as much as I want them to read more). Nothing but a chair (but not too comfortable, don’t need them sleeping) and some quiet time to listen to their own brain. To daydream, to miss their girlfriend, to think about whether they should play the clarinet when they get to college or quit because they would rather spend more time drinking beer with their friends.
Harper Lee said that we are so fortunate now to have so many things that make our lives so easy, yet we walk around “with minds like empty rooms.” I watch my students put their headphones in for the walk to their next class, I watch them exchange homework to copy it as quickly as they can before leaving homeroom, I watch them start to shake when I take away a study guide for AP Gov. and promise to give it back when English class is over. I watch and I wonder.
Why are they cheating their brains out, they aren’t bad kids?
Why are they so afraid of not having music pouring into their ears constantly?
Why are they all so focused on the next step that they rarely notice what is happening right now?
Too much homework. Too many expectations. Too many demands and not nearly enough time to simply be bored.
When we got bored, sometimes we went outside and threw dirt clods at each other until, inevitably, someone threw one with a rock in it and someone’s head was bleeding signalling the end of the game. We dug holes, cut down trees and got yelled at for it, played in the river, laid on the floor and daydreamed about what it would be like if we got to drive a Porsche (occasionally engine noises would issue forth if no one was around to hear). We shot fireworks at each other, walked really far to a store to buy Big League Chew, fought with our siblings because there was nothing better to do.
We figured out who we were because we had time to listen to our very own voices.
Maybe it was because I blew off a lot of the homework I was assigned. Maybe I just didn’t have as much homework as I see my students with now.
But actually, I think its because we have gotten caught up in the idea that kids have to know more and more and more and we never give them a chance to slow down and get to know themselves.
So can too much homework hurt? I think the better question is, how in the world can that much homework help?