Friday, August 14, 2009

Meet the 2009 Davidson Fellows!

The Reno, NV-based Davidson Institute for Talent Development announced its 2009 Davidson Fellows this week. These young people, who will receive $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000 scholarships, are profiled here.

They're a fantastically talented group of students, as usual, and my one regret is that I'm probably not going to meet them in person this year (since my baby is due right before the awards ceremony in Washington in September). But I've been thinking about their achievements in the context of larger academic issues nonetheless, and especially in light of the cultural narrative about "overscheduled" or "overworked" children who've been "hothoused" their whole lives (to use a few of the ideas thrown out there). Many of these young people are in multiple activities, in addition to the hours required to produce their projects. To some pundits, this is a recipe for an anxious breakdown.

But just as I have argued that adults are not nearly as overworked or under-rested as many of us seem to think, I'd argue that most children are not nearly as overscheduled or overworked as people seem to think, either.

According to studies done for the sociology book Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, the average teenager does a mere 4.9 hours of homework weekly (0.7 hours, or 42 minutes per day). He/she spends just 30 hours in school, which gives us a grand total of about 35 hours devoted to the teen's chief job of learning. Most adults would think a 35-hour workweek sounds pretty reasonable.

Furthermore, only about half of children participate in structured activities (such as sports, Scouts, etc.) A far greater consumer of time? TV and leisure computer activities, which account for around 20 hours of teens' weeks (Nielsen tells us that the average teen watches 3 hours and 20 minutes of TV a day, but time diaries give us a lower number -- probably the TV is on, but the kid is doing something else).

In other words, it's a very small percentage of teenagers who are hitting the books for large numbers of hours per week, or loading up on activities. And judging by what some of the Davidson Fellows have been able to accomplish by devoting their non-school hours to focused, meaningful activities, I'd say that it's far from clear that the outcomes of being "overscheduled" are so bad!

As you can imagine (given all the stats crammed into these paragraphs) this is a topic I'm writing about in conjunction with the back-to-school season, so I welcome thoughts on gifted kids and extracurricular activities. Thanks!


peewiglet said...

Thanks for the link. I'm always humbled and staggered to read about the achievements of the Davidson Fellows :)

Anonymous said...

I'm all for having structured activities available, and my son has usually been in one or another. It's when kids' schedules are booked solid that I worry.

Kids *need* some unstructured time. That is when they learn to use their time wisely, entertain themselves, and engage with others in unsupervised settings.