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Reading for pleasure? Buried school kids can't fathom the concept

My husband and I have this conversation a lot: "Did you do hours and hours of schoolwork every night when you were a kid?"

As we ask it, we watch our girls hunkered over their computers and textbooks, occasionally muttering or asking each other questions, since they're in some of the same classes.

If you compare my memories of high school with theirs, you'll find the experiences don't have much in common. I was a hard-working student who got good grades, had to pull the occasional super-late-nighter to finish a term paper or study for a test, but had plenty of time to hang out with my friends, rehearse for the school play and do some volunteer reading for a blind college student who lived nearby.

If there was an extracurricular activity I wanted to be part of, I could. I could even take a nap after school on occasion if I was really wiped out. My family usually had dinner together around the table, the kids laughing and bickering and recounting the day. I also babysat like you wouldn't believe from a young age.

My kids often barely have time for dinner and a shower; even sleep gets overlooked. It's tough when you have several teachers who have given assignments — and some are not even due the next day, but that evening by time-stamped deadlines met with online submission.

It's a problem that KSL TV tackled recently with an indepth look at how much homework is too much. Nadine Wimmer interviewed experts like Dave Smith, the STEM coordinator for the Utah Office of Education, who noted that after two hours, there's not much benefit — too much homework, in fact, can be negative. And there's no benefit to homework for the youngest students.

My girls, my husband and I all want them to be well-rounded, and they're certainly trying. They are active volunteers, they both earn money through their own efforts and they have friends whose company they adore, although they can't often indulge that outside of school. No time.

What they're not too involved with is playtime or bedtime. Those get pushed back or skipped.

I think there are reasons for the homework push, but some should be rethought.

We want to be competitive when it comes to education. Science, math, language and other classes matter to our position in the world and the long-term success of our society. But I'm not sure how that lofty goal is furthered by exhausting adolescents who then go to school after maybe sleeping six hours (experts say eight is bare minimum for teen and they really need more). I've had a couple of teachers tell me my daughter seems exhausted. You think? Once, it came from a teacher who had students outline text by copying most of the book by hand.

I hear the same thing repeatedly from friends, and I think it's sad: The classes where the kids do tons of busy-work or drudgery are not the classes where they learn the topic and really flourish. Those classes usually have an occasional and important and creative project that will require some real effort in a student's after-school hours. Those classes are the creative ones where class time is put to great use, ideas are presented in different ways because kids learn differently, and the teacher explains things and pays attention to whether the concepts are being understood, rather than telling them to read the book and do the work at home.

The endless homework that simply depletes a student's will to learn is more often part of a self-guided class with teacher as doorman. And not the loveable, helpful doorman that you want to give a big tip, either.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco