It’s a New Year, and the Christmas break is over. Time to hit the books with a vengeance. The problem is that SuzyQ and I are at loggerheads about what a full course-load should be and what the schedule of a junior in high school should look like. Apparently, we have very different notions about what should be expected of a high-achieving high school student. Whom do I blame for this dispute? Disney and Nickelodeon. I knew I should have pulled the plug on cable TV long ago, before SuzyQ became interested in “Hannah Montana,” “I Carly,” and other sitcoms that depict the lives of so-called “normal” teenagers. She may be too old for them now, but those shows have already done their damage.
Once kids start watching TV programs about high school kids, their sense of what is normal becomes skewed. These shows, and others like them, follow teen characters throughout their typical days, which are filled with free time. Hannah Montana, international rock star, has time to hang out at the beach with her friends and never has homework. In “I Carly,” the main character attends school, but spends most of her time chatting with friends there; and if she has homework, it doesn’t keep her from starring in her self-produced internet program. Can you think of any TV shows that depict hard-working students? Certainly, this is nothing new. None of the characters on “The Brady Bunch,” “Family Ties,” or “The Cosby Show” sacrificed a social life for their schoolwork. Somehow, the kids in the world of TV shows are able to play sports, hold down jobs, and preside over school newspapers or Glee Clubs or Matheletes and still have time to hang out at the mall or spend hours on the phone.
So naturally, SuzyQ feels that she is the only tortured high school soul on earth who has no free time. Her logic is that, especially since she’s homeschooled, she should have waaay more time to read, hang out with friends, learn to cook, or do crafts. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that she has never enjoyed crafts or expressed an interest in cooking. She may be doing her correspondence school work at home, but she’s taking 6 classes, including a few AP courses, physics, and pre-calculus. No matter how you slice it, those classes come with hours of work: problems to work, novels to read, and essays to write. Add to that her extracurriculars–chorus, karate, youth group, and music lessons–and you run out of hours in the day. They even bleed into the weekends. Oh, and don’t forget the SAT prep and driving school.
Back in the dark ages when I was her age, I spent my junior and senior years of high school meeting myself coming and going. I never took AP classes, but I still had plenty of homework. After school, I had chorus or newspaper or honor society. I had church choir rehearsals some evenings. Then there were chores to do. I’ve tried to explain all of this to SuzyQ. I’ve told her that my friends were just as busy as I was, so we didn’t really “hang out” except in homeroom or waiting for the bus or during one of our shared extracurriculars. Lunch periods were usually spent finishing up homework or studying for the test next period. We talked on the phone, but a lot of that was about the calculus or physics problems that we couldn’t figure out.
I’m fairly certain SuzyQ’s non-homeschooled friends are just as swamped as she is. Yes, they get a change of scenery by leaving home to sit in classrooms every day. And they squeeze in a football game or a dance every now and then. But they are definitely not killing time at the mall every weekend or watching hours of TV.
No, it’s not her fault that she has to compete with some of the largest numbers of students ever applying to colleges. And she’s not responsible for the Great Recession, which means that scholarship money will be scarcer than ever. Yet the fantasy of what the high school years are “supposed” to be like continues.