Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Open Letter to Omaha Public Schools

Dear Public School System,

I am writing to you because of a crisis we are facing in our society. It is a crisis involving our teenagers, who you are trying to help us mold.
Unfortunately, I think you are creating the problem rather than helping it. Let me explain...
The public school system already complains (and rightly so) that our kids are "too tired" and that they "lack concentration." There seems to be more apathy than ever towards schoolwork and school-related items.

But here's the problem...
You complain that our kids are too tired, but then you make them stay after school for HOURS of extracurricular practice! They lack concentration, so you lengthen their school year. You make them work at camps from 9:00 to 5:00 IN THE SUMMERTIME!
I have teenagers in my church youth group who seem to be able to do NOTHING other than school! Does this produce well-rounded citizens? Why do we think that ALL their time needs to be occupied? Why can we not let them dream anymore? (They don't have time to dream!) What ever happened to lazy summers?

First of all, it is COMPLETELY UNFAIR to take away their summer "vacation." Teens in my church group are going to be BACK at Show Choir Camp just TWO WEEKS after they got out for summer vacation! EVERYONE needs time for rest and renewal, but you don't seem to grasp this concept. Our children are overbooked and overworked. Please, let them have a vacation!

Secondly, this scheduling is detracting from family time...a much-needed (but quickly vanishing) pasttime. Even though many parents are working longer hours and some working through the summers, there are still parents who don't see their kids til 9:00 PM because of schoolwork. Summers are decimated by camp schedules and other things. Families are passing each other by on their way to the next activity.

Third, overscheduling is unfair to other organizations. My youth ministry is trying to affect the same kind of results as you are. I would LOVE to work in conjunction with the schools, but the schools want ALL the time. While YOU are working on increasing the knowledge and athleticism of these kids, I would like to help work on their character, but my time to do so is increasingly taken away. It is very frustrating when schools tell kids (or give them the impression) that their GRADES depend on attendance of all ballgames, shows,etc. Even during the summer! I agree with the old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." I certainly do not wish to do away with schooling, but I wish kids could experience more help from church, work, and non-profit organizations.

Lastly, overscheduling is not necessary. It seems that the schedules have been left up to the competitive minds of the local coaches. While I admire their tenacity, I would also question their motives. Are they trying to teach the kids something, or just put another trophy on their shelf? Many kids are working their tails off for those coaches, but they have NO collegiate or professional careers in sight. While hard work is a desired trait, it can also be a boon. Many families are being ripped apart because of dads who never come home. Could it be that we are overworking kids just like we are overworking their parents?

It used to be that we had the WHOLE summer off. Soon, August became "Back-to-school-camps" month with band, choir, etc. Now, the schools have taken June as well. ONE MONTH for summer vacation is not enough! PLEASE leave them alone until August!! Let them have a solid eight weeks of vacation. Let them rest. Let them dream. Let them be gone long enough to actually "miss" school!
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.

Franklin Wood
Omaha, NE


Karen said...

Please tell me you really did send this letter somewhere (preferably the letters page of the Omaha paper). You are so right!

Dannielle said...

AMEN, brother!

Brian said...

You took the words right out of my mouth! Excellent.

Jordan said...

interesting stuff. I put a link on my site.


Matt Cleaver said...

I put a linky up as well. Some nice points you make.

Theresa said...

I'm torn on this one. I can't totally see where you're coming from. Hannah already has homework or something for school regularly, and you don't want to know how much make-up work she gets when she misses for illness. I purposely give pretty minimal homework to my students, knowing other teachers may give lots and how involved my kids are in extra-curriculars.

However, 2 things prevent me from totally blaming the schools for emphasis on extracurriculars.

1. extracurricular activities benefit kids - they make them more competitive for college admission (grades are no longer enough), and they create a sense of belonging and positively correlate to successful completion of high school and college; a school that doesn't offer and encourage students to get involved is putting them at a disadvantage for college and other post graduate pursuits

2. parents are so often to blame in not putting the brakes on their kids' involvement/busyness; we fail to teach our kids limits and prioritizing and push them to live out our dreams (furthermore, I know so many kids who work full time jobs just for spending money to afford things their parents can't - maybe it's guilt that leads the parents to let them?). Also, most of the kids I know who AREN'T involved in extracurriculars are out partying and otherwise getting into trouble.

Just another perspective, for what it's worth.

Franklin Wood said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! It's been interesting to see the reactions...
1. Karen - I have NOT sent this letter in...YET!
2. Welcome Brian, Jordan and Matt! Jordan, I could not track down your website. Could you share so I can visit?
3. Theresa - I think you at least understand my sentiment that kids are TOO BUSY! I appreciate you pointing out the points about extra-curriculars helping for college and parents. Here's what I think...
First of all, I understand that colleges are asking more of their students as they enroll. However, MOST of these kids will not go on to the professional level of football, or band, or debate. At least that's my impression. It just seems like they're giving a lot of time for a hobby.
Also, it is frustrating as a youth minister that SCHOOLS can make things "mandatory", but I cannot...and youth group activities are SO much more important in the long run! Does that make sense?
Secondly, I TOTALLY agree that there is responsibility with the parents! Unfortunately, Johnny comes home and says, "Coach told me that I can't miss any practices." And the parent does not question that statement.
Please don't feel like I'm mad at YOU. You are one of the FEW who has said they LIMIT their homework because they know kids are busy!
Thanks for your comments. Am I still off-base?

Celeste said...

I think you should definitely send in your letter to the local paper. It is written respectfully, but you also do a great job of challenging the status quo. I think that parents and school staff will read it and at least give things a second thought! It's just really encouraging to have someone put things I have been thinking and feeling for a long time, down on paper.

It is so saddening to me to see church and youth ministry activities literally become an afterthought to families. Church has become more "we'll fit it in around sports, homework, clubs, band, etc." rather than making building our relationships with the Lord a total priority...and allowing everything else to fall into place!!

Anonymous said...

You stated my thoughts!
I was in public school for 3 years, and I was totally bogged down. Extra-curriculars are good, yes, but not so good when you have no life besides school.
I certainly hope you will be sending this in! It is written so respectfully, yet the point is clear!
Thanks Franklin!

Theresa said...

Hey, thanks for addressing my comments :)

I completely agree with you that youth group activities are more important in the long run - and I would add in the short run, too! I myself was very active in my youth group and only moderately active with school activities. In fact, I continued to do so my freshman year in college, as we still had no youth group leader and I felt its importance in young lives.

I agree it seems a lot of time spent on what will be hobbies for most. However, often kids don't know yet what will be a hobby and what will their career of choice and extracurriculars give them both experience to figure that out AND teach them about responsibility and commitment, sportsmanship, follow-through and accountability, regardless of whether they pursue said activity beyond school. Many a ministry leader today has learned leadership qualities from clubs/sports and it helps one to relate to and reach nonbelievers.

By the way, I never felt attacked by your thoughtful, honest letter - not in the slightest. I merely intended to offer another perspective on the matter. I don't feel you're off-base either. The biggest decision and commitment any of us has is to follow Christ, and we cannot do it alone - especially not at the season, as Jim put it, of adolescence. Thanks for fighting for our kids' souls!

Brenda said...

Oh my goodness! I couldn't agree more! So glad someone has written it down.

I see parents allowing their kids to participate in so many things and the kids never stop to think "I'll miss church!". I don't allow my kids to participate in anything that is on a Sunday morning or Wednesday night. They ask why and I tell them "We go to church...and that's what we do!"
No questions asked.

We have many teachers here in the public school where my kids go that do not give homework on Wednesday nights because they know we live in the Bible belt and it's not going to get done, or they only do it half way.

I belive in extracurricular activities, but not at the expense of giving up church time. We look for things that will not conflict with that time.
I have 3 kids and each of them is allowed to participate in 1 event per season. There is no need for them to be running all over the place doing a 3-4 activities at one time. They are kids! As adults, we do that to ourselves enough, why on earth would we pass that chaos onto our kids? It just doesn't make sense. Even God rested!
I think this is a perfect letter for you to send in. Will it fall on deaf ears...or eyes?? Who knows, but if you don't, then you can't say you ever voiced your opinion and stood up youth of today with this school system.

As a mother, I would be proud of a youth minister who would stand firm on these beliefs, stand up for our children, and stand up for God!
Absolutely perfect letter!

amanda said...

Let me add my Amen. My children are grown now but during their time in high school, Wednesday night was still sacred.

I'm notorious for writing letters to government officials, may just have to add this topic to my list.

Thanks! By the way, I put your link on my site also...

just a girl said...

kinda fell upon your site today, and wanted to ask ya a few questions in regard to this conversation. first, have you read Hurt by Chap Clark? One thought.

Second, I hear what you're saying - i work in YM, I'm in school for a masters (and more) in this field, and right now tutor high school students to put myself through seminary. I have to wonder though - is the problem just the schools, just the parents, or just the church's? the blame game that we foster here is dangerous. schools foster overwork, but so do churches and parents. The problem in my mind is the expectations we have on kids from a number of adults. Everyone tells them something different: focus on grades, future (i.e. college), mission trips, etc.

I don't want to force my students to come to church just because they must because its good for their discipleship. I want to uphold in their eyes the value of coming - which some (certainly not all) extracurriculars do. Does that make sense? A student knows that going to baseball practice might get them a scholarship (again, as mentioned, not everyone does) or team-building lessons. Do they want to come to church because their youth pastor wants them to come, or because they want to grow deeper in their relationship with God in community?

Until the church is willing and able to recognize that going is volitional - that that student can get in the car or not, and its our invitation to be a part of community that fosters growth and discipleship, we're not going to have any more success getting them church than if their schedules were lighter.

The schools are too busy - but like someone mentioned, parents have got to model boundaries, commitment, as well as church. I have chosen to not force a kid to choose between camp and a mission trip - it's theirs to choose.

Whoa, I just rambled a bit there - but two cents from someone random! Feel free to rip my argument to threads, and thanks for your heart for students! Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Franklin Wood said...

Just a Girl,
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Hope seminary is treating you well!
I have NOT read "Hurt" by Clark yet, though it has been recommended to me.
Playing the blame game is indeed dangerous, but then who is responsible for the lives of these kids? Just as I must take responsibility for not adding to my students' "activities plate," shouldn't others be held responsible for that, too?
It seems that church, school, extracurriculars, work are out of balance, and that is what this letter was all about. I agree that there ARE churches that overwork their students, but I can barely get them to attend on Sunday mornings, much less anything else!
I definitely agree with you that we cannot FORCE kids to come. I don't really want them to come if their heart is not in it.
But then again...what if somewhere along the way of being "dragged" to church, they make the connection? Please don't misunderstand, I'm not necessarily talking about forcing...but suggesting something more strongly than we usually do.
You mentioned that parents should model boundaries. Shouldn't they also model a commitment to faith community? It just seems like more parents are letting their kids make the call on how they spend their time rather than helping them.
I don't want to force the kids to choose between a school activity and a church-related one, although I believe SOME church-related activities will be more of a blessing to their faith than other activities.
For example, I don't care so much if a kid misses the annual Six Flags trip, but I DO think they will be blessed and learn at church camp or mission trips.
Again, thanks for your comments. Hope I'm not coming across as mean or forceful, it's just I'm passionate about these kids!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Karen that this letter needs to be sent somewhere. Our family has always attended church and our kids have never even thought of questioning their attendance. They also always choose Youth Group activities over other activities and schedule their work times around church and YG activities. Thanks for all you do Franklin!

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