Saturday, September 27, 2008

How Did You Use Your Two Million Minutes?

Kelli is a professional cheerleader and a PhD student, studying clinical health psychology.

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 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.


Catherine said...

Hi Cindi ~

I am a huge fan of your blog! I'm a teacher as well...and I've had the same thoughtful dilemma that you've just shared. What I do know is that this quote shares a lot of truth. It reminds me that, while I may find success as a teacher by arriving at 5am to school and staying until 9pm, I will never hold an enlivened joy and passion that I also want to share with my students. Here's my motto:

If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all. -Anna Quindlen (1953 - )

Cindi Rigsbee said...

Beautiful quote, Miss P. Thanks for sharing!

Renee Peoples said...

This is certainly an area of concern for all teachers and parents. I believe that it will become more of an issue in the future when our students have to compete in a global market for 21st century jobs against those students you saw. Will they look back and regret their choices? Will we regret ours?
I do not know the answers but we certainly need to raise the questions!
Renee Peoples

Mrs. B said...

I'm not asking for my students to be as dedicated as the Chinese. All I'm asking is that they take notes and read them at home. I think there is a happy medium in there somewhere.

12RedRoses4U said...

I have to agree with miss w, give me a happy medium.

While it would be great to be number 1, I do question at what cost. With everything there has to be balance or at least there should be. What is the point of being number one if you have no time to enjoy it?

Individuals should pick what he or she enjoys and be the best at it. As a society we seem to believe we have to be best at everything. That sets the individual up for disappointment.

It is great your daughter has found something she loves and is good at, with your support while pursuing her education. Other students should be so lucky to find that same support for their passions rather than the pressures many parents and society put on them. Maybe then, we will see classes of students who take an active part in class, when they don't feel overwhelmed and defeated from the start.

YF said...

Sounds like an interesting film!

I wonder why working on assignments together doesn't count as socializing though?

Anyway, I'm not really into doom-scenario movies but will watch it anyway :)

I wonder how this movie was received? People are naturally optimistic - for example, most people think their intelligence is above avarage (haha I actually had to think for a second why this is not possible). And as my psych teacher once remarked - people tend to dismiss things they're not (naturally) good at as not being important so they won't feel bad about it (which is a good thing, because otherwise we'd be depressed all the time). So I could imagine people would tend to make excuses that 'we' focus on more important things than booksmarts. Is it reasonable to say that education is simply less important than all those other things, or do we point out all those other things we're doing as being important to not feel so bad about the education? On the other hand, since the US wants to be (/stay) #1, I could also imagine people running around in panic :)

I wonder though, if cheerleading was like running a small business - then why not run a small business? Why do we think of some things as being fun and not other things? Is that also simply taught? For example, if you told your kids that they're allowed to study after they finished football practice, would studying be seen as a reward? is this something that can be changed? Is it something you would want to change? I think it's curious that some have no problem working their ass off on the field while dreading reading for a few hours. Is it just because you want to do what you think you can do best or do we naturally enjoy different activities? And then there are of course also those majority of teens who are simply not doing anything useful at all (like watching TV). Do people naturally enjoy doing nothing at all? Or is it just enjoying the lack of pressure/stress? Or is it just pure habit to hang around the TV for hours? Because I know once the TV is on, I watch countless boring shows that don't interest me at all...

Anyway, sorry, just thinking, not really a well-thought-out comment! Can you tell I'm a student and not a teacher? :)

YF said...
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