Many American high school students don't sleep enough. They're tested too often and overburdened with homework and activities. They're stressed out.
So says "Overloaded and Underprepared," the latest book to chronicle how teenage life has changed. Rarely do today's high schoolers engage in unstructured activities, the book says. Rarely do they get to let their imaginations or bodies wander.
Recently, a parent of a Bethlehem Central High School student told me that many kids there no longer take a lunch break. They skip it to stuff an extra class into the day and instead eat at their desks.
"There's a large number of our students who do take advantage of that option," said Sabre Sarnataro, a spokewoman for the Bethlehem school district, who added that students could only forgo their lunch period with parental permission.
But allowing kids to multitask through a meal doesn't encourage healthy eating habits. Plus, we need time to decompress. Our brains work better when they're not overloaded.
"Students of all ages need times during the day to switch gears, take much-needed breaks and refuel," say Denise Pope, Maureen Brown and Sarah Miles, authors of "Overloaded and Unprepared," which urges schools to consider schedules that are more humane.
Breaks? Time to refuel?
That's time that could be used for academic activities, test prep or after school activities:
The authors sketch a typical day for students at high-achieving high schools. It begins at 6:15 a.m., when many students awake for a school day that starts before 8 a.m.
Then it's go, go, go, with extracurricular activities and three to four hours of homework filling the time after classes. Many teens, the authors say, don't get to sleep until almost midnight.
Which means they're perpetually sleep-deprived.
"Studies show that 80 percent of teenagers don't get the recommended amount of sleep," the authors write. "At least 28 percent fall asleep in school and 22 percent fall asleep doing homework."
The piece notes that this is about "high-achieving students" in "high-performing schools," that students in "low-performing schools" might actually need a little "pressure to succeed."
The truth is, these days in many so-called "low-achieving schools," that pressure is there for kids, it's just that they may not respond to it the same way the kids in the "high-performing schools" do.
I see it every work day, students behind in credits and/or state tests given a 7 and 1/2 hour class schedule, no lunch (instead they take a class), test prep both during and after school five days a week.
A very, very small number of those students are able to succeed at that schedule (sometimes after doing it for a year or more), but many just simply give up, stop coming to school or continue to come to school but walk through the day like a zombie.
You see it in charter schools too, with the ten hour school day and the intense pressure to "succeed" such that students fear going to the bathroom during the school day and soil themselves instead.
The idea that it's only "high-achieving students" in "high-performing schools" who are "overburdened" yet "unprepared" for life is erroneous.
The pressures and stresses in schools across the spectrum might be variegated, but they're there.
And this has always been one of the goals of education reform - to use FEAR (of success, of failure, of the future, of economic opportunity) to have students and staff stress themselves out overworking and overburdening themselves such that they can't wonder why the system is the way it is and whether it can be changed or not.
What's the value of a culture that privileges a sociopath like Eva Moskowitz who makes kids so fear asking to go to the bathroom during the school day that they soil themselves or a sociopath like KIPP's David Levin who brags about working 80 hour+ work weeks and only seeing his kid on Sundays?
Oh, but this is "high-achieving," right?
High-achieving at what?
What kind of life do Americans live these days, in FEAR for their careers, their livelihoods, their financial stability, their financial futures, their retirements?
The primary force behind education reform is Wall Street, which, not coincidentally, is also the primary force behind the economic instability and uncertainty that Americans face in 2015.
As the Masters of the Universe suck up more and more of the money and resources in this country, they leave less for the rest of us, forcing more and more people to struggle to get their part of a smaller and smaller pot.
Then these same Masters of the Universe fund an education reform movement that brainwashes children to see that struggle as the natural order of things without giving them the time or critical thinking skills to challenge it.
Gee, isn't that convenient?
It's all rigged, folks, it's all rigged.
The wealthy sociopaths and Wall Street criminals have got many people thinking this is the only way things can be so of course they must play the game even if it's killing them.
And you can bet it's killing lots of people - first on the inside, in their souls, and then later physically, with health ailments.
Luckily the Masters of the Universe run Big Pharma, so they've got a plethora of pills you can take to get you through those physical and emotional health ailments.
And isn't that convenient too?
Oh, but if you'd rather just stuff your FEAR with an addiction, well, the Masters will have no problem if you use food, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping, or credit cards to stuff your feelings.
They make money off that stuff too.
Isn't that convenient?
It's all rigged, from the b.s. about the inevitability of globalization (we just can't fight it, we must join it!) to the jive behind education reform, to socialize Americans to believe this is the only way things can be, this is the natural order of things, and by golly, you had better start fighting for yourself and your family now or you'll be left behind.
What a screwed up culture America is.
All this "rigor" in the school system, yet most kids grow up without the critical thinking skills to see how badly they're getting screwed or the ability to step outside the system even if they do have an epiphany.
For, what real skills get taught in the Era of Education Reform?
What really gets taught in schools these days except indoctrination into a system that is killing us?
But on the plus side, at least kids will know how to eat lunch at their desks.
I mean, there's a skill that will come in handy in 21st Century America.