Here's my response/reasoning for my FaceBook post last Friday when I asked if ACISD offers a homework free night: I recently watched a documentary called "Race To Nowhere" talking about the relentless pressures and piles of homework that are being placed on students yet several consequences are happening as result; little family time during weeknights, students are sleep deprived because long hours of homework leading into the early morning, illness and headaches, depression from the stress and pressure, suicide in teens and older children because of the stress and/or fear of failure, short-term learning for the sake of a test but not actual learning with reasoning skills, and an epidemic of cheating because of either the fact they can't finish it all or the pressures to pass or have a certain GPA for college applications. The documentary went on to share some of the benefits teachers have seen when they have required less homework, and when districts have mandated homework free nights. Those benefits included higher grades and better attitudes toward learning...I know all media, including documentaries such as this, are biased. I know that not all school districts are the same. I realize this; however, one of the realities that I know first hand is that another consequence of sooo much homework is students dropping from the church and youth ministry. Time and time again, I have seen students as they get older and further into HS taper off in the church and youth ministry, especially coming to mid-week activities, which is our prime youth ministry time. As I've approached those students that taper off, many (not all) will tell me (in what appears in all sincerity) that they want to come or would come but they have too much homework. Also, many that do come to our mid-week services have mentioned that they are often distracted by the homework that awaits them when they get home. This bothers me tremendously, not because I pridefully want them to come hear me or to my activities, but the biblical truth that when we neglect to meet together as believers and connect to the body of Christ our faith becomes wavering and weak. We need the body of believers to stir us up to love and good works, to build and encourage one another in maturity of the faith (Heb. 10:23-25; Eph 4:12-15) The habit of neglecting the body will lead to a weak and meaningless faith because you cannot live the Christian life alone. I don't say this - Jesus through Scripture tells us this. When students as teenagers begin making it a habit of neglect now, how much more will this habit continue into their college or adult life as stresses take a different form?
What can we do?
Here are just a few quick thoughts:
1. I think one thing we could do is propose a weekly homework free night in our districts. I would suggest Wednesday because most youth church activities in our community happen that evening (not just FBC). Due to my lack of children in the district, my voice probably wouldn't be strong enough, but perhaps a combination of voices could make a difference. This can take away some of the excuse of homework for lack of church participation, but it also gives the students a stress free evening in the middle of the week.
2. Parents, we have to live it out the faith in front of our children and teens, meaning it's best when we all come together to church at the same time. I remember as a child and all throughout my teen years my parents had the "I don't care" attitude. They would say "I don't care what you have due or if you feel like it, we're going to church, no discussion." You know what, they didn't just bring me to church, they came too and proved to me the importance of worshipping together. We've got to come to worship together as a family. Students will begin to value and imitate what you prove to them is valuable and worth your time. My parents relentlessly drug me to church, and the outcome, I'm now in full-time ministry in the church. My parents weren't pastors, but they showed me the importance of coming together to build one another up in love and good works. My faith matured as a direct result of connecting with people in the local body, the church. I find it interesting that a majority of friends in full-time or vocational ministry were brought to church by the parents time after time as a child and/or teen.
3. I should preface what I'm about to say by stating that I believe education is important. I graduated with excellence from my high school, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications degree from a 4-year state university, and earned a Masters of Divinity from a top theological school. I've done all that, and I still think that more higher education will probably be in my future. However; I think as parents we have to be careful about the academic pressures that we place on our children. Academic pressures, along with extra-curricular pressures and others can crowd out any room for personal time with Christ let alone time together at church. I know you want your child to succeed. I want your child to succeed, but I also want your child to succeed in their relationship with Christ. I pray that the thing you value most in your child's life is their spiritual condition and eternal life than the temporal, materialistic successes of this world. Mark 8:36 states, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"
Going back to the documentary, the reason that the producer created this documentary was due to the fact that a 13-year old girl in the producer's community recently committed suicide because of all the academic stresses and fear of failure, even though she was actually a high performing student. What a tragic story. What heartbreak. We must remind our children, you weren't born in this world just to make all A's or to earn a spot at a top school, and that is not what defines you. You were born in this world to glorify God and spend your life in a response of worship to Him. Your grades or what you do don't define who you are. Only God can do that, and as a follower of Christ, I am defined as a child of the King of kings.