Student Well-Being

‘Absent From Class’

By Kevin Bushweller — September 13, 2007 1 min read
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Will Fitzhugh, the founder and president of the Concord Review, a journal of academic writing by high school students, has written a thought-provoking essay, “Absent From Class,” for that poses the question: Why do so many of our high school students do so little work?

This, of course, is a question educators have been asking for years. But what was especially interesting about Fitzhugh’s essay was how he contrasted the high levels of motivation today’s high school students show in sports and other extracurricular activities versus the disturbingly low levels of motivation they have for academic work.

“I cannot think of a single high school sport that asks for only three or four hours a week of practice,” Fitzhugh writes, citing a study indicating that only half of high school students spend more than 3-4 hours a week on homework. “So little time spent preparing would easily lead to an athletic failure to match the academic failure of so many of our students.”

Fitzhugh’s contrasting of motivation in sports versus academics raises some important questions and might point educators in the direction of figuring out how to get students more motivated to learn traditional academics.

But as a longtime youth sports coach who is now coaching high school boys in lacrosse, I am not convinced that today’s high school athlete is as highly motivated as Fitzhugh suggests. In fact, at times, they seem much less motivated than athletes of a generation ago. Some high school coaches I know have said that this generation simply has too many choices or distractions--and, hence, they have trouble focusing their efforts. Other coaches have seen a sense of entitlement among today’s teenagers, an attitude that they should be given special treatment regardless of how hard they work or whether they are willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the team.

So let the debate begin...What must be done to get today’s high school students more motivated? And do high school sports provide a model for figuring out how to motivate today’s teenagers to perform better in their classes?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.