A typical scene in our home lately:
Dalton, our high school senior, normally an energetic, cheerful young man, walks through the front door sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., visibly bulldozed. His eyes are gloopy and glazed. He slumps under his backpack. His day began twelve hours earlier: Up at 6:00. Bus at 7:00. Courses started near 8:00. One 30-minute lunch break.
“Dinner at 7:00,” I tell him, giving him a hug, “Unless . . . do you need to eat over your books again?”
“Books,” he signals much of the time, “but right now I just need 20 mins.”
He’s running on fewer than 6 hours of sleep per day, so now he’ll flop into a 15 minute nap, then brisk-shower himself back to consciousness in order to head right into homework. Until midnight.
Why? Because, as coordinators of the full International Baccalaureate diploma program at his high school have informed us, you don’t just complete the IB. You conquer it.
“It’s a dragon,” we were told by a school administrator at this year’s orientation, “and your job is to slay it.”
“You’ll have to do whatever you can,” another faculty member addressed us parents, “to not let your senior student devote more than 45 hours per week to homework outside of class.”
Hmm. Let’s see. Quickie calculation tells me that. . . more than 45 hours per week is exactly what Dalton is doing, and just to keep ahead of the deadlines and keep his head from the dragon’s fiery jaws. From 6 p.m. to midnight every weekday, and then Saturdays all day long for another eight hours, and on Sundays, any remaining literary reading. He does precious little but hunker over his books, papers, and laptop. (A big luxury for him? Playing his guitar for 20-minute break. For that, he always sets a timer.)
It has been this way since fall of 2012. And it will be this way until spring of 2014. While he got to step back from formal studies during July and August (except for the daily math tutoring, the extended essay for which he was researching, and preparing for a second round of college entrance exams), he re-launched in September with the following caveat from an IB advisor given at a senior assembly: “Look, you guys’ll have break downs. Just prepare for that. Come about November, the pressure will be so great, you’ll crack, some of you. So go out right now and line up a massage. Or something.”
“Or line up some weed,” mumbled the student next to Dalton.
(In truth, the full IB is more than a fire-breathing, wingéd monstrosity, and though this IB dragon smokes big time, I’m not suggesting some oversimplified causal link between those academic pressures and the pronounced drug and booze problems that have existed in all three of the IB high schools my kids have attended. Someone else can write that post.)
What I’m suggesting, is that the dragon’s stressors are mythic. There are websites, established by students, called things like “Surviving the IB” and “IB Survival.com.” But crazy as it seems, our family keeps signing up for the IB everywhere we live. Why on earth do that? you’re asking.
Believe me. There are times I’m asking, too.
In the next posts, I’m going to delve into the reasons why I have strong feelings – both positive and negative – about the IB. I’ll be analyzing what I believe are the program’s many strengths, but will also question whether this kind of dragon battle actually gains the specific and immediate as well as the broad and long-term results we parents hope for in our educational choices for our children.
So if you are at all curious about the IB, or if you are invested in education and your children’s ability not only to slay some dragon, but to live intelligently and even nobly in an increasingly complex and tumultuous world, you’ll want to come back and comment.