High Schools Consider Mandating Down Times

March 21, 2005

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that certain top-flight high schools are grappling with ways to ease stress on their competitive students. According to the story:

These days, a number of powerhouses are changing their rhetoric to preach the value of sleep, family time, relaxation, and less homework.

New Trier High School in suburban Chicago is one of the schools steeped in this self-evaluation. The Monitor reports:

Among the proposals New Trier’s board is expected to vote on Monday night is one that would make a lunch period mandatory, and require students who come in an hour early for “early bird” classes to take a free period later in the day. It seems a no-brainer – how could stopping for food not be a good thing? – but it’s one of the most controversial ideas, and it points to the complications of mandating relaxation.

Many of the lunch skippers – nearly 150, in a school of 4,025 – are artists and musicians, and eating in class is one way they get in more of the electives they love while still taking requirements.

If she had to take a free period, says sophomore Melissa Birkhold, she couldn’t take chamber orchestra next year. She already plays bassoon in concert orchestra and the wind ensemble, and aspires to be a professional musician. By senior year, she’d like to be taking four music classes.

Personally, I don’t believe the school should reduce the students’ options, even though I do think it’s fine if they want to stress the value of “recharging your battery.”

Having young children who are so active in extracurricular events I sometimes wonder if we don’t overdo things by encouraging or permitting young kids to get involved in too many activities too early in life. I am a great believer in the idea that kids should enjoy a robust childhood and not become adults too fast. This is a difficult balance for any parent who wants to encourage his/her children to participate in athletics and the arts, but it’s one the parents, not the schools ought to work out, in my opinion.

This principle applies even more in high school, where the kids are approaching adulthood. I don’t think the schools ought to be limiting choices and opportunities for students by mandating relaxation periods that, when coupled with other required subjects, will preclude them from pursuing their dreams. I believe that above all else students ought to be encouraged to pursue areas that most interest them, assuming they’re not some lightweight dead end courses. These mandatory relaxation periods might keep certain students from achieving their dreams. There are other ways to balance activities than to hold students back — which might be the greatest stress enhancer of all.