Confessions of a Reluctant Teacher

January 13, 2010

New study demonstrates that autonomy increases well-being

“Weekend Effect makes people happier regardless of their job, study says”

This article describes the results of a study which indicate that people tend to feel better mentally and physically on the weekends, when they are free to spend their time as they like.  This holds true regardless of the status of the job, how many hours they work, “how educated they happen to be,” whatever their marital status.

If the feeling of autonomy improves mental and physical well-being for adults, even those with ‘interesting, high status jobs,’ when are students supposed to recuperate?  They are not only told what to do, where to sit, when to eat, and when to go to the bathroom for seven hours of the day, they have to work on all their homework on evenings and weekends, in the free time left over after extracurricular activities. This would indicate, in the terms of the study, a high level of feeling ‘controlled,’ which correlated to negative feelings. As the researchers were surprised to learn, “the analysis also found that people feel more competent during the weekend than they do at their day-to-day jobs.” (Emphasis mine.)

Please allow me a small extrapolation from the results of this study. It’s kind of ironic that although School purports to “educate” children to make them more competent, the very act of controlling what, when, and how they learn, could make them feel less competent. It’s almost like School ends up convincing students that they’re too stupid to ever amount to anything without constant instruction and supervision. I once had an employer who never said outright, “You’re incompetent and would single-handedly ruin my business if I ever took my eyes off of you,” but she implied it. She never let me (or anyone else) make a decision without first consulting her–even if the decision was as small as what part of the store to clean first. She was a kind and generous boss in many ways, but the total lack of autonomy made me miserable.

However, I at least got to escape once my shift was over. School extends its control into one’s “free time” via homework. When I remember my time in school, the strongest sense memory I have was that feeling of my stomach sinking. Yes, the bell had rung and I was out of class, but as soon as I’d had my afternoon snack, I had to finish reading assignments, study for quizzes and tests, complete worksheets, write essays, work on projects that would take a month to complete… There was never, really, any free time. There was always something to do. And even if I did manage to finish everything on my plate–well, you know, a good student always works ahead.

I touched on this briefly in a response to a New York Times op-ed piece that suggested lengthening the school day and eliminating summer vacation. I hope this study helps Harold Levy and other like-minded administrators to understand: Free time is essential to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of all people, “regardless of age.”

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1 Comment »

  1. We have an enormous number of problems and stresses in our society that might be satisfactorily addressed if even some of the talent currently buried in the school system could be moved into some sort of venue that stimulates free thought.

    There’s too much canned thinking and training at a time when we need to be thinking out of the box. People often forget that perhaps the greatest period of technological advancement in history–the Industrial Revolution–occured at a time when the average person had very little formal education. Thomas Edison, perhaps the greatest inventor of all time, was kicked out of school in the fourth grade!

    Was there a connection? Perhaps. A large amount of free thought is necessary to generate creativity, but that can’t happen if the answer to 2 plus 2 is always (and will always) be 4.

    Can students educated in and on structure come up with solutions when the structure itself is the problem?

    Comment by Kevin@OutOfYourRut — January 25, 2010 @ 9:50 pm | Reply

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