How much time should a student spend at school? In the age of electronic media, a school could be everywhere, or it could possibly be nowhere. Either scenario is alarming.
A cartoon I love has a young boy being dropped off at school, and he yells to his mom,
“You can make my body go to school, but my mind will be at home running through the sprinklers.”
He represents many children today. With a 1970s supercomputer literally in every adolescent’s pocket, they can play games, connect with friends, and watch their favorite show. This could happen between classes, at lunch, or – dare I say it? – in class.
I think the better question of many we should be asking is
How much time should a student engage with learning daily?
Should most learning time happen while they are physically at school?
Physical Presence Doesn’t Mean Mental Presence
Yes, kids shouldn’t be at school continuously. Children require time with parents, pets, and play. They need time on sports teams and to hang out with friends. But are students doing these things or are they physically present with their minds away whatever they are doing?
Is a child’s presence at school as important as their presence of mind?
It takes just moments for a child to lose connection with their face to face environment and escape into the cyber-addiction of their choice. Don’t believe me? Ask your pupils to pull out their phones and stare at them for 30 seconds. Then, set the timer for 3 minutes. Tell them 30 seconds is up after 3 minutes — they’ll complain it was too fast and not enough time. Many of the kids cannot put their phones down. Others will nervously twitch and try to continue to text as their phone flashes in their pocket. These behaviors are signs of the obsessive nature of the beast in their pocket.
And while I use cell phones to teach — Nearpod, Quizziz, Edpuzzle, and more are helpful to me – smartphones can be addictive as crack cocaine for some. A phone simply being on makes it hard for some adolescents to concentrate.
The Call of the Phone can be overpowering.
Faster Communication, Shallower Relationships
As my pastor, Dr. Michael Catt, said yesterday,
“Never in the history of mankind have people been able to communicate so quickly but be connected on such a shallow level.”
And our students feel it.
My school has class retreats at the beginning of the year. The students leave campus to connect, build teams, and nurture relationships. We know that kids need help to develop relationships but, sadly, in many schools, today building both peer and teacher relationships aren’t a priority. I see a difference in the relatability between students when they return from these retreats. Relationship building is important.
Today’s world is full of group habits that kids do alone.
From Xbox live to Snapchat to Marco Polo — students are often alone physically and online continually. They are alone together.
And then, there’s the schooling.
“Student engagement” has been a top conference topic for nearly ten years now for a reason. Many teachers know while kid’s bodies might be in the seats, their minds are away.
Engaging the will of this generation is challenging, but possible.
Some Kids Are Always At School
And while some students are not often engaged with learning, others have the opposite problem and are always studying.
There are the driven, hyper-focused students often with driven, hyper-focused parents who effectively never leave school. They may get on the bus at 4 pm but, once they are home, they are studying far into the night. Then, they awaken the next morning and rush to school to start it over again.
The pressure to have a college associate’s degree when they graduate from high school is a substantial demand placed on some teenagers.
- Is it possible to have a highly engaging school day with an hour of study a night?
- Is it possible for kids to limit their social media time and spend it building face-to-face relationships?
- Is it possible to limit the pressure put on kids to get too far into their college education while in high school?
Here are some can’s …
- Can people eat meals together?
- Can social media consume less time?
- Can we binge read a fascinating new book or binge paint a new artistic creation?
- Can we know how to be a human being and not just a human doing?
- Can we resist programming math in children and teach them to be mathematicians instead?
- Can kids read literature and write their own?
- Can we make robots out of scraps or must we always buy a kit?
- Can we go fishing or understand how to grow food?
And the biggest one…
- Can we use our time at school wisely and can our home lives be meaningful?
We’re struggling with a generation eager to find a purpose and a sea of meaning while wading in shallow tidal pools of social media and superficial pursuits. Many consume and do not create.
We’re also struggling with a generation so driven to grow up young that they’re missing on childhood and being denied the time to be childish sometimes.
So, how much time we spend at school is an important conversation. I consider the most serious questions to be:
- How much time should we spend engaged with learning? and
- How should a modern student be spending time so they are healthy and reaching their fullest potential?
And while we’re at it, maybe adults should ask the same questions. I’m not sure I’ve answered this month’s question. However, I hope we can agree that we live in a world where our behavior is less dictated by our physical location and more determined by where we give our mental concentration and focus.
We Shouldn’t Try to Program Kids
I wonder if today’s kids are living life with less purposeful intentionality and have become yet another thing for the adults of this world to program and manipulate. We need to take back childhood. Take back learning. Remember the important things about life.
School is important. However, if we’re not engaging their minds in learning while at school, I argue that school is less about schooling and now just a place where kids go to hang out.
And if we’re overreaching the limits of school by requiring our students to learn and study every moment of every day, then the school has turned into a burnout monster that is wasting waning childhoods in pursuing facts and figures. Those schools and parents are forgetting that adolescents are not automatons, they are creative masterpieces of wonder and amazement. When does the hamster wheel stop for some children?
We need balance. We need wisdom. And we need to realize that no school is a physical location – with electronic media – schooling can go with us. Or schooling can never happen. Neither is something we want for our children.
The most healthy solutions for learning are often in the middle ground where the wise minds meet and help achieve the balance and purpose this generation so desperately needs.
Let’s examine not how much time kids spend at school but how we use the time we have.