Saturday, October 19, 2013

Answers To Government Survey, Part 2: Student Well-Being

Here is my answer to Question 2 of the Ontario government survey on the future of education in the province. (For an explanation of the survey and the public consultation process of which it is a part, see here.)

Question 2: What does student well-being mean to you, and what is the role of the school in supporting it? (1000 word-limit)

Student well-being is an important topic, given that we know that most students do not feel "well" while at school. School felt like prison to me, and several decades later it feels the same way—actually worse—to my own kids. Why? Well, for one thing, schools are anti-democratic. Still. One rarely feels good in an environment in which one has no real voice or power. So why not give kids some actual power over how their own schools are run? Do they want late start days? How many? How do they feel about the physical environment of the school? I know my own kids have yet to encounter a school lunchroom in which they feel comfortable eating. No care is taken to make sure kids feel good about the spaces they are forced to inhabit every day. It's not as if it would be impossible to take this aspect of school life into consideration. For instance, in Finland many schools have student lounges with comfortable sofas where kids can relax and socialize before and after school, as well as between classes. Some of these lounges actually have wood-burning fireplaces! Sound outrageous? Well there's your answer as to why many kids feel ill at ease in school. (Also, as an experiment, go check out the girls' or boys' bathroom in an average elementary, middle or secondary school. Would you want to use it? No, you wouldn't. Kids don't either.)

So one part of supporting student well-being is moving towards a more democratic model of schooling. (Cf. the Sudbury School model.) The other part—equally important, if not more so—is reducing the homework load. The amount of homework assigned to kids has more than quadrupled since I was a kid. (Okay, I made that statistic up, but I have researched this topic, and I know that homework has greatly increased over the last several decades.) And one has to ask, why? Are kids smarter or more academically prepared for life after school as a result of all this homework? Not necessarily. In fact, most of the evidence points to homework having very little appreciable effect on "achievement," however that is defined. Research also suggests that homework is a huge source of stress and strife in families. So why does it continue to be assigned in unreasonable amounts? When did we decide that it's okay for kids to put in more work hours (when one includes the "second shift" of homework) than the adults in their lives? It's actually unconscionable that we continue to immiserate the vast majority of kids in this way, throughout their entire childhood. We got rid of child labour, but we continue to believe that kids working on "fun" projects until midnight when they're ten years old is okay? It doesn't make sense.

So: the second simple way to enhance student well-being? Abolish or greatly reduce homework. Concentrate on work that takes place in the classroom. That is where improvements can and should be made.


  1. Loved your answer to this question!

    1. Thanks! Hope the ministry of education people feel the same way (if they read it!).