The promise: schools for sanity?


Here's what I'm wondering: should our schools' bedrock promise to parents be that we'll cultivate sanity? A stray thought stuck in my mind yesterday, while driving to meet a friend: the problem of the 21st century life is staying sane. So many of us struggle with being overbooked, overcommitted, overwhelmed. And we feel like much of the work we do — and especially, what our kids do in school — borders on meaningless.

What if a new kind of school could design itself around providing the opposite?

This is a fresh thought, and I'd like your help in fleshing it out — and deciding whether how useful it is.

Here are a few consequences I'd imagine coming from our schools dedicating themselves to sanity:

  • Minimal homework in grade school and middle school. There seems to be ample evidence suggesting that homework in grade school isn't useful, and in fact may be counterproductive for students' academic achievement. I'm wondering if the harm goes further: I hear stories of my parents-of-middle-schoolers friends who talk about having to walk their kids through literal reams of homework past 11pm most nights. This amount of homework is not good for families: not for the middle-and-upper-class families who can (sometimes) achieve it, and not good for the lower-class families who cannot. School shouldn't be easy, but it should be simple — at least, simpler than this.
  • Meaningful homework throughoutWhen we give homework in the early and middle grades, it better damned well be meaningful! For example, we could encourage families to let their child help make a big family dinner once a week. (Eating dinner together, not incidentally, correlates more strongly with academic achievement than does doing homework. But it's also delicious, and a great ingredient for sane living!) Or, for a different example, we could have students pose some of their weekly questions (posed and hunted in our question-posing and answer-hunting curricula!) to their parents, siblings, and extended family, as well as to other community members (e.g. the mailcarrier, the Starbucks barista). Homework can be a vehicle for intergenerational connection — it can make us more sane. 
  • No AP classes. I took two AP classes in high school, and both were excellent. (Quick shout-out to Rudy Mueller and Mary Ann Penglase!) But I've observed that these are the exceptions: through my SAT coaching business, I work with so many smart, hard-working high schoolers who torture themselves through AP textbooks, understanding almost nothing and hating every evening of it. I heard a friend who started a Froebelian kindergarten once say that her school aims to be "intellectual, but not academic". There's something wonderful in that. I've noticed that one of the most prestigious local Seattle high schools (Lakeside Academy) flaunts how it doesn't have AP classes — I wonder if we should want to do the same.

Thoughts? And how else could the experience of schooling be less maddening?

(Thanks to for the image!)

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA