For the record, school/education is very important to me. I'm one of those parents who is at school regularly, who has bought books since the kids were old enough to be read to, who the librarians greet knowingly when I walk in the door, who checks homework, and is concerned about grades. I am the mom of one autistic son whose standardized test scores are about average, a daughter who is academically gifted, and according to the school system,talented in art, and a daughter whose only B in first grade was in spelling (other grades were all A's). In short, my girls are the kind of kids that make schools look good.
Today I read an article about high school students who were overworked and stressed out. It brought to mind some things I've been thinking lately so I've decided to write about them. As I've noted before, here in the New Orleans area, the schools of choice for the middle class are the Catholic schools. With few exceptions, people who can afford to avoid the public school system do so. Most of the Catholic high schools teach the kids seven classes a year. All the students are required to take four years of science, English, math, social studies, and religion, along with two years of physical education, two years of foreign language, a year of some fine art and a year of computer. A little math will tell you that the kids don't get many electives. The ones that are offered tend to be more of the same--ie more foreign language, an extra science course or more history or art or music or pe. They don't offer shop, home ec, drama, business courses or heaven forbid, vo-tech courses. Honors students begin taking high school English and math in eighth grade,but does this get them more chance to explore different areas? No, it allows them to take AP classes their senior year.
My daughter will be a junior at a magnet high school for bright students. She started taking high school classes in eighth grade (English and Algebra I) and they earn eight Carnegie Units a year. Assuming she passes everything this year, by the end of her junior year she'll have six credits of high school English, math and history under her belt, along with three years of science, two years of psychology, two years of Spanish, two years of art, and two of pe. If she passes the AP tests, she'll have six hours of college credit. For her senior year she'll take either college classes or AP classes, with maybe an elective or two (but electives at her school tend to be more language, more science, more history...) I can easily see her heading off to college with a semester or more of credit under her belt. Honestly, I'd rather see her take home economics or drama or journalism or photography, or web design or auto repair.
The chances of my daughter going to a school with highly competitive admissions are slim and none. I'm not paying for private college and I doubt she'd be willing to take out a loan for it. The pressure to prepare that perfect application to be chosen ahead of all those other kids is one she won't know. However, the pressure of demanding classwork with high homework demands is one she knows well. This summer she has to read
She also has to do fifty note cards on famous psychologists.
This is a kid who likes to read, but who doesn't blow through books like her mom does (and Mom would have trouble blowing through a couple of those). She doesn't have time to read much of what she wants during the school year because of homework and a good part of her summer will be spent reading these books she didn't choose and doing the required review--and people wonder why kids don't read.
I just have to wonder if we are doing the right thing for these kids. So what if she goes to college with her first semester done (or more)? That just means less time in easy classes getting used to a new environment. Maybe it will mean changing majors a time or two because she's never taken accounting, or photography, or journalism, or drama. I don't want her to spend her high school years playing, but why rush college credit? Why not give the kids the opportunity to explore the world, and PREPARE for college?