I recently had the opportunity to view Two Million Minutes (see the trailer), a documentary on high school students from the United States, China, and India and how they use their two million minutes in high school to prepare for college and beyond.
I watched and squirmed in my seat as the film shared statistics that were troubling: 40% of US students never take a science higher than biology; 55% take only two maths - geometry and algebra. Meanwhile, I watched the students from China and India as they participated in rigorous plans of study, including getting up early to attend a 7:00 AM study group on a Saturday morning. Also, they laughed at the notion of majoring in music and said that their counterparts in America spend too much time socializing. (All this while Brittany from Indiana talks about wanting to join a sorority and "party and have some fun" while majoring in pre-med.)
While watching the film, I thought back to my own high school days and the two million minutes I spent preparing for college. Certainly there was a great deal of extracurricular activity going on. I took dance lessons twice a week and sometimes cheered at three games a week during my senior year. I was also a member of Junior Civinettes, the Service Club, and the Pep Club, and I was active in my Youth Group at church. At first I felt a little ashamed while watching the film and thought maybe I should have attended study groups on Saturdays. But then I remembered the work ethic I learned in those days.
Okay, I know what some say about cheerleading - like another teacher told me once: "Cheerleaders are fluff." And then a student's parent remarked to hearing that my daughter is a professional cheerleader, "Oh, you're one of those people." But I can tell you that I learned so much the year I was captain - so much about dealing with people with conflicting personalities, so much about being organized, and even a little about working with a budget. I developed leadership skills at the age of 17 that I've used my entire life. I scheduled practices, made decisions about game responsibilities and uniforms, worked with area businesses on fundraising and advertising...it was like running a little business, all while promoting school spirit and smiling. And I had to balance these responsibilities with studying and doing chores at home.
Okay, maybe the Chinese student who is a talented violin player will make it farther than I have, but as I continued to watch the documentary, I became more and more stressed at the lack of free time the students from the other countries have available to them. A boy from Shanghai remarked, "Studying is our top priority. I'm either in school or home. I may go to karaoke at Christmas."
Should we be so concerned about academics that we forget to live our lives? Or will using those two million minutes in a different way make our lives more meaningful? Watch the video and decide.
Meanwhile, these facts communicated in the video worry me:
American students spend 900 hours in a classroom a year, but 1500 hours in front of a television.
American students rank 24th out of 29th in math. (Finland ranks 1st.)
One commentator is quoted as saying, "Structurally the American educational system is broken."
I hate to think that I am contributing to a broken system...but tomorrow I'll be in Charlotte watching the Carolina Panthers play the Atlanta Falcons. My daughter will be doing something she loves and getting paid for it. I just can't believe that's all bad.