By Sarah Horvath ‘21, Editor-in-chief
A few weeks ago, representative Diana Hu from Freedom from Chemical Dependence (FCD) spoke to the high school students and hosted separate sessions about the use of substances for each grade. For the eleventh-grade session, Hu spoke about finding happiness and exercising stress-relief instead of turning to drugs. When she asked the juniors what gives us the most stress, we collectively answered, “Schoolwork.” The six teachers in the room laughed. Hu suggested finding time to meditate, cultivating a positive outlook, and getting more sleep. While the teachers in the room were interested in these solutions, what the teachers ignored was the root of the stress: homework. No matter how many coping mechanisms or workload-management tips students learn, the inordinate amount of work we have will invariably keep us stressed.
It is a given that a rigorous high school education comes with a heavy workload. Teachers state that with a rich curriculum and limited class time, it is impossible to stop work from stretching far into evenings and weekends. However, even with the supposed limit of thirty minutes of homework in each subject per night, students generally take about nine subjects, which means that this rule permits more than four hours of homework on many nights, not including studying for exams. Even that copious amount of time spent on homework assumes that everyone can complete the work in thirty minutes. This enormous quantity of work is overwhelming, causing students to have little time for sleep or much-deserved relaxation. Heschel needs a homework reduction in order to save students’ mental and physical health.
Proponents of homework stress the importance of providing students with an opportunity to review and practice the skills taught in class or to prepare for the day’s lesson. While this idea makes sense, why do students need so many of the same kinds of math and science questions? They are useful when preparing for tests and solidifying skills for certain types of problems, but they are not necessary as nightly homework assignments. Math and science teachers should reduce the number of problems they assign nightly and post extra problems for those who want more practice.
In some Talmud and Tanach classes, teachers encourage nightly review so that students can solidify their understanding of the material and prepare for a possible pop quiz. This assignment is often unrealistic. When students have a test in another subject or a major paper due, it is difficult to prioritize nightly review. Instead of assigning review every night, teachers should instead promote active listening and participation as a way to succeed in the class.
In a small school like Heschel, teachers should work together to ensure that students aren’t too overwhelmed. Teacher collaboration should not end with the grade dean balancing the test calendar, but should include a look at how nightly homework adds to tests and long-term projects.