Generation Terrorists

Quotes [new quotes]
When Letting Homework Slide Isn't a Bad Thing
Hubert B. Herring
The New York Times

There are, last I heard, still only 24 hours in a high school student's day.

Into these long hours must be crammed school, homework, chilling with friends, piano lessons, talking on the phone, tennis practice, a bare minimum of sleep and perhaps a few minutes of quality time bestowed grudgingly on parents.

It is all a bit like an overstuffed school backpack, and all pretty routine. The schoolwork grinds on, igniting a spark here, a spark there, but usually not much more.

But what happens when some huge passion smacks into this tightly-interlocked schedule like a fireball? (And no, I'm not talking about boy-girl matters; that fireball, from a planet of its own, is something else entirely.)

It might be a love of dance or ancient Greek, a devotion to soccer, even a mania for chess, that ultimate mental Stairmaster. But whatever it is, how can it be allowed to burn brightly without devouring much in its path, like essential homework time or sleep?

Let it devour, I say.

Some people would surely insist that homework get full attention first, and then let extra-curricular activities fill any gaps in the day. But I have no hesitation in saying: Let homework suffer for the far more glorious good. (Up to a point, of course.)

For how often are today's overscheduled, understimulated students swept away by something they can truly sink their teeth into, not to mention their hearts and souls?

Just such a fireball made a direct hit on our house not too long ago, when our daughter had the great good fortune to land a leading role in the high-school production of "Camelot", causing an exuberant disruption in our household for a good many exhausting weeks.

These disruptions, of course, can come in a variety of forms, some less fiery than others.

Our son, when he was in high school, spent far more hours than we would have liked at the time working at a local bakery, no doubt at the expense of some homework.

But, in retrospect, I realise that for him to master this job the way he did was an immensely valuable experience, giving him a real sense of what it takes to tackle a job, to learn about taking responsibility. He made the right choice.

I can think of nothing though, that matches the intensity, the sheer number of hours, of rehearsing for a lead role in a musical. With just a few rehearsals a week, the actual disruption to her schedule was minor at first (though she did, sadly, have to drop out of another performance group because of schedule conflicts.)

But passion kicked in without delay.

When she was in her room, supposedly studying biology or history, we would suddenly hear strains of Lusty Month Of May or I Loved You Once In Silence wafting through the door.

Some homework did not get done as well as it should have been. Some examination grades left a bit to be desired. She even started missing her beloved Gilmore Girls on television. (Now that's a sacrifice for art.)

As the rehearsal pace picked up, dance classes were missed and piano lessons were stuffed into odd corners of the week. Rapidly, it became clear that we had to monitor her time carefully and, in fact, a separate calendar hung on the kitchen wall, devote solely to her tightly-packed schedule, to keep her grades from dropping, her health from suffering, her life from spinning out of control.

When it got to the final weeks, when there were often four of five hours of rehearsal a day, it became clear that her daily schedule had become what could only be called a mathematical impossibility.

For us, the wary, holding-our-breath stage parents, the primary goal now became for her to get enough sleep and not - please, please, oh gods of the vocal chords - get a sore throat. We sometimes even let her sleep in and get to school late.

But the triumph of the performance weekend made it all worth it. Even if her grades had suffered greatly - which, in the end, miraculously, they didn't the experience she got would have been more important.

The experience of tackling a big role, working hard and shining in it cannot be duplicated. If, in the process, a B plus had become a B minus, that would have been a small price indeed. (Or a D? Let me think about that.)

If she sticks to her passion for performing, she will be choosing a frighteningly tough career, and we have told her that. But there is no way we will be like those parents who struggle to fit a round peg into a square hole, insisting that a born dancer go to medical or law school (or stuffing a born lawyer into toe shoes.)

We may nudge a bit here, sand the peg a bit there, make sure college is in the mix. But beyond that, the passion's the thing.

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