Studies Show School Starts Too Damn Early

Before I launch into a perfectly argued, well-supported-by-both-passion-and-evidence post about why schools (and most things) start too damn early, let me assure you it is NOT because I am a dyed-in-the-feathers night owl who needs five espressos, 12 sun salutations, eight Hail Marys, a bath poured from pure Red Bull, and three lines of meth to get going in the morning.

Nor is it because my otherwise perfect daughter is forced to show up to class out of breath, after the Pledge of Allegiance with one only braid, unmatched socks, and frosting stains from the previous weekend’s birthday party on her face (even though it’s now Thursday.)

No, it would not be that at all. It’s all about the welfare of the teenagers, who I love when they’re not speeding down my street, walking on my lawn, spraying boozy whipped cream down their throats or doing this sick sexting stuff I’ve been hearing about on the evening news.


It's because we end up making those teens start out the day sleepless and groggy, and hence pretty much guarantee that they’ll stay that way for the rest of the day, unless they catch up on their dozing during Trig. Some of the nation’s high schools start as early as 7 a.m. I’d thought this was an ugly urban myth designed to scare children (and me), but apparently it’s true. Some 80 percent of kids from grades 6 to 12 don’t get the recommended amount of nightly rest, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Granted, those guys are totally biased in favor of sleep. But they’ve got a point. As the Los Angeles Times puts it:

Overtired kids, studies suggest, struggle with depression. They gain weight and get in more car accidents. Their grades suffer. And many turn to caffeine, with questionable results for productivity and unknown effects on the development of young brains.

Yes, the world is a tyranny of early risers, who force the rest of us to conform to their ways. They are everywhere, pushing some archaic, Founding Fathers-style notion that somehow sleeping through the sunrise is decadent. Well, just like the Founding Fathers, I think these folks are slave masters and it’s time for the rest of us to rise up. And some schools are doing it already. Like two -- one urban, one suburban -- in Minnesota.

The results:

Students were noticeably more alert in the first two periods of the day. The cafeteria was calmer. There were fewer fights in the halls. Students, who were now getting nearly an hour more sleep each night, said they felt less depressed. They were raising their hands instead of falling asleep at their desks. Even parents thought their kids were easier to live with.

I am not saying we need to wait until 10. But 9 a.m. is utterly reasonable. My small-town Utah elementary school started at 9:15, and this was the kind of hard-assed place where they never canceled school even in subzero temperatures, forbade shorts and sandals, and suspended you if you used a word like “hard-assed.”

Yes, I understand it may be tough to get childcare before school for parents. But wouldn’t it be easier to pay for one hour then, than for two and three after school?

And the primary argument you hear against it: “What about the sports?” You can’t have kids practicing into the darkness." Somehow pre-dawn darkness is just fine though, as my freshman basketball coach will tell you. And the notion that we would let the concerns of the football program determine what’s best for a school (more than it already does, I mean) should be laughed out of the classroom. Besides, shortening football practice will, you know, lessen the kids’ likelihood of paralysis or future Parkinson’s. So there’s that.

Oh, and also, Red Bull’s expensive. And you wouldn’t believe what they’re charging for meth these days.


Image via Flickr/MCQuinn

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