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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, October 23, 2005

Homework is work

This doesn't hurt

Homework Hell

Today's 7-year-olds must do interviews, look through thousands of words, and answer 60 math questions in four minutes. This homework mania doesn't teach kids anything except that life is full of pain.

By Ayelet Waldman

Oct. 22, 2005 | It was the night we wove an Iroquois cradle board out of natural fibrous materials that drove me over the edge. It was 9 p.m., an hour after bedtime, when Sophie suddenly remembered that in addition to a written report, her Native American history assignment required a visual presentation.

"It's OK, I can do it," she said. "I just need some hemp."

Frankly, so did I.

I hate homework. I hate it more now than I did when I was the one lugging textbooks and binders back and forth from school. The hour my children are seated at the kitchen table, their books spread out before them, the crumbs of their after-school snack littering the table, is without a doubt the worst hour of my day. If my son Zeke's teacher, a delightful and intelligent woman, were to walk through my kitchen door between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. on a weekday, I could not guarantee her safety.

Eight-year-old Zeke routinely has an hour of homework a night. He's an interesting kid, one who's described as having a lot of "personality." He's the kind of kid who, left to his own devices, thinks it's funny to write "a Rottweiler" as the answer to every question on the homework page, even the math problems. Especially the math problems.

Accordingly, either my husband or I have to sit next to him and insist that he read the directions in his homework packet, instead of riffing on the crazy soundtrack that runs in his head.

School for Zeke is work, and by the end of a seven-hour workday, he's exhausted. But like a worker on a double shift, he has to keep going. When, halfway through kindergarten, we had to break it to him that this wasn't a one-year gig, that in fact he was looking at, conservatively, 17 more years of school, the expression on his face was one of deep, existential despair. That evening he calculated that the next time he could count on being really, truly happy was in 60 years, when he retires. His sister, however, is one of those cheerful Pollyanna types who finish their summer reading list before Memorial Day, and at 11 is already counting on getting at least one graduate degree. But even she hates homework.

When I sent out a feeler to mothers of other elementary-school students asking for their experiences with homework my in box was immediately flooded with replies, some furious, some rueful. "We had to set up an interview with someone in the community, transport the children, supervise the interview, take notes, take photos, print the photos, assist the students in making note cards for a speech, and help the kids make a poster about the community member," said Martha, the mother of twins in the Bay Area. Sounds like a nice project, doesn't it? It might have been -- for a 10-year-old. But Martha's boys are in second grade.

Six-year-old Katie Williams of Maryland spent days trolling newspapers looking for "io" and "ou" configurations in order to begin her "Rainbow Words" assignment. "Do you know how many thousands of words we had to read to come up with enough to satisfy that assignment?" asks her mother, Carlie. Once she found the words, Katie had to write each one over and over again, using every color of the rainbow. Get it? Rainbow words. What ever happened to using a No. 2 pencil?


So why the hell do Zeke and I have to spend every afternoon gnashing our teeth over the communicative and associative properties of numbers when we could be playing catch?

The reasons, Cooper says, extend beyond Zeke's achievement in this particular grade. Apparently, by slaving over homework with my son, I am expressing to him how important school is. (Of course, this rationale assumes that I'm not also expressing rage, or muttering curses about the authors of Zeke's math textbook.) When younger kids are given homework, Cooper says, it can also help them understand that all environments are learning ones, not just the classroom. For example, by helping calculate the cost of items on a trip to the grocery store, they can learn about math. The problem is, none of my children's assignments have this real-world, enjoyable feel to them. My children have never been assigned Cooper's favorite reading task -- the back of the Rice Krispies box. Instead, we're up all night weaving hemp.


Only boomer parents would think hard work is a bad thing for kids. These kids are coddled, not allowed to go outside, escorted from one supervised activity to another, and yet, when they face homework, a lot of homework, mommy says it's too much. You know, Americans ask the least from their schools, they pay the least for them and they get the worst results in the industialized world. We don't want the high pressure system of the Japanese, but American kids need more instruction, more intelligent and engaging instruction.

If you teach kids that they have to work for what they want, they work for what they want. If you blame homework, then they learn excuses.

My nephew's school starts at 7:45 and has an optional nighttime study session from 6-8. He's 10. They, among the schools in his area, also have gym every day. He's now the captain of the track and field team. In short, he's motivated and engaged in school, because he's encouraged to be challenged and perform. His mother isn't making excuses for his work load. Sure, we want him to get enough rest, but if the school can keep him engaged and promote the value of hard work, he will take that through his life.

Everyone hates homework. I hate looking for stories to post every day. We all do things we don't like. But sometimes we have to do them well.

So she admits her child has no real discipline, but an hour of homework is somehow wrong? Why? He's not getting enough TV and PS2 time.

I had an interesting conversation with my nephew yesterday. He was telling me about his weekly field trip, they take the kids to different places. Yseterday, it was sports. So they played football and kickball. He was playing wide reciever/ safety and scored a touchdown.

He told me that if he handed in his homework every day for the month, he would get to go to dinner. If he missed his homework, he would be on homework detention. I said to him he didn't want to do that. He said, "if I go on homework probation, I don't get to watch TV, play my PS2, anything good for the week."

What that means is that he's learning to be responsible. In his old school, he'd leave his homework, he'd lose hats, everything. Even though he is very bright, as Jen can attest to. What Waldman misses is homework is as much about responsiblity as actual work.

posted by Steve @ 1:25:00 PM

1:25:00 PM

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