Today’s guest blogger, Frank Bruni, the father of a 12-year-old seventh grader, lives in Toronto, Canada. Frank, who has been quoted extensively in the Canadian press, has been a driving force in pushing the Toronto District School Board to review and revamp its homework policy.
A Father’s Epiphany and Homework Reform
by Frank Bruni
Last year, when I was sitting in the doctor’s office with my 11-year-old son, the doctor said, “he should get more exercise.” I thought to myself, “and when he would do that?”
It is hard to describe the impact that that day had on everything that would follow. I started to think about how our family manipulated our lives around homework. In fact, we rarely made any decisions about how we were going to spend our free time without taking homework into consideration. I remembered my own childhood and could not recall having as much homework as my son. He was missing being a kid. It bothered me – it bothered me a lot.
And then I read “The Case against Homework”. It was just the motivation I needed. I was going to tackle this issue.
I started to do more research and although I gravitated to the literature that agreed with my point of view, I was careful to read articles that disagreed as well, knowing those were the arguments that I would have to overcome to achieve meaningful change. I was deeply disturbed by the rising rates of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes and felt the excessive homework was, at the very least, a contributing factor.
I decided that I was going to try to influence change board-wide, a daunting task, but I was naive at the time. I started with my local representative (called trustees in Toronto) and asked her to hold a ward ( local district ) meeting on the subject. It was one of the most well attended that year, especially by parents. With that success under my belt I was encouraged to make a presentation at a sub-committee of the Toronto District School Board that would be responsible for putting a recommendation forward to the full board. I would have two minutes to make my case.
I remember that evening vividly. I had practised my presentation about 50 times. I knew I could deliver it in two minutes but I was worried about the questions afterward. Did I know my material well enough? What if someone asked me a question about an article that I had not read?
Luckily, everything went extremely well and I learned the most valuable lesson that I have learned thus far. You must have an advocate. Someone on the school board that will help you navigate the organisation and politics of the board. My advocates came in the names of Trustee Josh Matlow and student Trustee Nick Kennedy. Without their advice and counsel this issue would not have the profile it does in Toronto.
Now, the Toronto District School Board is holding public meetings to gather input from parents, teachers and students, and then, along with the available research will come up with proposals for change that will be presented to the school board.
I have learned a few things from that may be of value to those of you who are trying to motivate change in your own communities. First, excess homework is no one’s fault. Even if it were, there is no benefit in finger pointing. Second, avoid the need for personal glory. Politicians hate glory-hounds and will dismiss you very quickly if they think you have an “agenda”. Third, get the press interested in the issue. Politicians hate bad press and react to the perceived pressure that it creates. Lastly, and most importantly, find an advocate on the school board, someone who will take up the cause, and BELIEVES IN IT.
There will be many road-blocks along the way. Persistence and being reasonable will keep you sane and give you hope.
Here in Toronto we are well on the way to meaningful homework reform. With the hard work of parents educators and the Toronto District School Board (and staff) we will achieve it – for the kids.