I have found that I am typically highest paid for the hours I work for free. Seems like a contradiction, right? Here’s an example: When I started my tutoring company, I spent literally thousands of “unpaid” hours creating a curriculum, studying past exams, making training material for tutors, etc. I have “unpaid” in quotes because I have actually been well compensated for those hours and hours of work, but I was paid much later for them (and better than if I had done other work during that time). Similarly, I do hours of phone calls and emails with families each week; I never charge for those phone calls, but, in addition to just loving to help others decide on the best prep plan for their children, that freely given time builds relationships with potential and current families. In the end, even when not intending to do so, I end up being paid for unpaid time. The same is true of many other “unpaid” yet productive hours in life.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend 4 hours sharpening the ax.” Brilliant. Why? Because a dull ax is more-or-less useless. In contrast, a sharp ax will get the tree chopped down in less than 2 hours. Putting in the seemingly fruitless time sharpening (instead of chopping) made the chopping dramatically more efficient and the end result more productive.
So, how does this relate to homework and how much students are paid? Because doing homework is sharpening the ax that people use for the rest of their lives. That “unpaid” homework time is actually likely by far the highest hourly wage that most people ever make in their lives. On average, students are paid later in life for their homework at a rate of $298 for every hour spent on homework in high school and in college. Watched Netflix for an hour? Lost $298. Spent an hour playing video games? That’s another $298. Texting for an hour? Another $298. Wasting 3 hours per day becomes very, very costly. In essence, a student would spend $894 for the three hours to watch Netflix, play video games, and text. We all need free time, but students in particular need to understand that the opportunity cost of their time is actually likely higher than any other time in their life. As we age, we have less and less opportunity to learn fundamentals and less time to reap the compounding gains from any increase in skill or knowledge.
Thus, even though students feel unpaid for their time spent on homework, nothing could be further from the truth. They are making an investment in themselves, sharpening the ax, that will benefit them for the rest of their lives — and being paid extremely well to do so.
Math behind the $298/hr wage for homework: Each year in high school is 36 weeks. Each week, students spend an average of 16 hours on homework. (36 weeks)(16 hours per week)(4 years in high school) = 2,304 hours. Each year in college is 30 weeks. And, each week in college, students spend an average of 17 hours on homework. (30 weeks)(17 hours per week)(4 years in college) = 2,040 hours. Combined hours spent on homework in high school and college: 4,344 hours. As for earnings, a person who does not complete high school will, on average, earn $973,000 in their lifetime. For someone with a 4 year college degree, that same number is $2,268,000. Thus, a person with a 4 year degree will earn $1,295,000 more than someone who does not have a high school diploma. This additional pay ($1,295,000) divided by the 4,344 hours spent on homework results in a $298 hourly wage for every hour of homework in high school and college. Also, although there are many other variables (such as time in the classroom), I did not include that time because classroom time is more-or-less out of a student’s control and a student’s success will primarily depend on the time they independently allocate to their own success through completing assigned homework and studying. Classroom time will not advance a student if they fail out of school because they complete no homework and do no studying. Further variables: some students will work more than average, which could question whether they would then be paid less per hour. However, if students work harder, they are more likely to go to a better college and then get a better job later, which will compensate them for their additional time. And/or, the student who does better in high school might choose to go to a lower tier college than the highest tier they could attend in order to receive merit scholarships — then too the student would be compensated for their additional time spent on homework with the scholarship money.