Monday, April 17, 2017

More On School Pressure

High school is not part of my research.   My goal for high school as a parent is to start my retirement and enjoy 4 years as a casual observer.  Yesterday I ran into a friend who teaches at Chicago's preeminent pressure cooker.  I walked away from the conversation amazed at what happened to high school since I drove around in a Ford De Luxe convertible combing grease into my hair.

Like Naperville, Chicago has a few intense high schools.  These schools work for the top students who are properly prepared, students who maintain the proper attitude and practices.  There is a growing group of students who fall apart during these 4 years and end up in mental health wards. This sounds like exaggeration but it is not.

My premise as an education parent is to endow my kids with the skills of the fabled ChemE major who never opened a book until 11 pm the night before the final exam and managed straight A's all the way through graduate school.   We are proceeding in this vein year-by-year and it's going well.  I'll be writing soon on some of more interesting innovations in this area.  This skill set is probably the biggest gap in education today.   School curriculum starting in about 1st grade is designed so that children don't know this skill set exists.  For now, I think this is the biggest problem.

Modern students have a few other challenges to face.

The syllabus, class notes, and homework for 7 classes shows up on the internet.   What this means for a high school student is that 2 or 3 hours of nightly homework takes about 7 or 8 hours to complete because online means online distractions like emails, messages, face time, and random google searches.

I asked my friend if these kids are getting to bed at 11 pm.  He said that 2 am is more common.

To get started in the morning after studying until 2 am, kids are stopping by Duncan Donuts for a big cup of coffee that they carry into class.

Without looking at any more factors, the lack of sleep and coffee as part of the routine is going to spell the mental health ward by Senior year.  This type of routine is equivalent to being in a World War 1 trench for 4 years.  I've written before that lack of sleep, meaning less than 8 hours, over a 2 night period puts a child 2 years behind in IQ.  4 years of it will destroy the child.

The small cadre of parents involved in this discussion decided that we would enforce lights out when our little ones hit high school.  I announced that it would be West Point 10:00 pm lights out in our house because it sounds more dramatic.  Plus, I think homework should start at dinner some nights because at least for 30 minutes it will be done the right way, with low pressure, some taking, and no internet.  [An hour later I decided this was a bad idea.  I'll replace it with something 'offliney' starting next year.]

On the ride home, I asked my 6th grader how much of his internet homework is actual work and how much is distraction.  He replied about 50 - 50.  He also mentioned that the 50% he spends actually doing homework most days is enough and backed it up.  The skill set will fix a lot of defects in other areas.

Parents are probably the number 3 factor.  If you are counting, #1 is the missing skill set, #2 is sleep and distractions during homework.  I don't see widespread issues with parenting, but for the kids who crack under the pressure, the parent always has a preeminent role in making a bad situation worse. On day 1 of first grade, I can pick these parents out in the first 15 minutes.  These are the parents who follow their rotten child around in uninterrupted admiration despite their child's rotten behavior.  My kids see right through my facade of disciple and know that I am at the mercy of my uninterrupted admiration of them, but they also know I think they're both rotten even on the best days.

A minor issue is the 7 classes that the child takes each semester.  It's not just hard to maintain interest in 7 subjects with 7 different teachers every 4 months for 4 years.  It's impossible.   Many parents expect their child to stay focused A after A because this is the most important thing in the world.  I'll deal with this in a few years.   Regular readers might suspect that I have something up my sleeve when they recall I told my kid 4th grade was a write off year and he took me up on the offer.  I'm revising this policy for the next one who will write off 5th grade because we're doing some really interesting stuff in reading next year.

With any luck, high school parents won't discover my blog and deluge me with comments, and I'll begin to outline how at age 5 I started preparing my kids to survive 7 AP classes each semester without breaking a sweat.   It is called How To Properly Teach N+2 to N.  Stay tuned.


  1. Hi, I have quick question. How would you prepare child (still 3rd grader; I like to start on time ) for admission to academic centers (7th grade entrance). If I understood correctly, the test administered is not test of knowledge, but rather test of cognitive skills (please correct me if I'm wrong, and I hope I am because it would be so much easier teaching child a math/reading than how to take test on cognitive skills)?

    1. You are correct, but you should check the website ahead of time because on it I just found out that they changed the 8th grade test in a big way. You are also correct that teaching cognitive skills is really hard for most people because it's the opposite of everything they believe in. Reading is the best way to teach cognitive skills, if you have 3 hours a night, and non-standard math is the second best way if you write insane math books for 3rd graders. The visual part of the test currently has zero useful material available. Check back with me this summer. I thought it would be easy to create but it's about 6 hours a question and like the first edition of TPM, I'm likely to write down the wrong answer. I thought about writing easy questions that even I can get correct but this goes against everything I believe in.

      Anyway, to answer your quick question, get a list of good 4th to 6th books for kids, eliminate the ones that don't have teachers guides on Amazon (which you don't need to buy because you can just google questions which aren't helpful anyway) and read them with your kid to make sure the kid are skipping over clues or interesting mysteries in each chapter, which you will point out by being baffled but not answer. Then your child will not only get into an academic center, but also won't get crushed by what follows. Next do TPM without letting your child cheat by writing down equations, and then go right to pre-algebra workbooks next year from Kumon. The difference between teaching math and reading and teaching cognitive skills is simply the material and following the recipe of the core skills. The test is just this: here's some weird shapes - are you going to think about it carefully and avoid mistakes? Or not?