Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Success in San Anselmo, California

Today’s guest blogger, Torri Chappell, from San Anselmo, California, is the mother of a college freshman and a high school sophomore. She is also a teacher. After a decade of advocating for schools to reexamine educational practices that undermine learning and discourage learners (excessive homework, meaningless homework, standardized tests, timed reading/math quizzes), she has finally seen some results.

Gathering Voices and Inspiring Courage
by Torri Chappell

Before I tell my story a big thank you to all of you out there who are doing similar things across the country. You inspire me even more!

My story:

I am a teacher and a parent of a college freshman and a high school sophomore. This year started off with a bang..4+ hours of homework a night plus weekend papers, reading (The Odyssey…at what point does a classic just become OLD?) and group meetings for projects. My daughter’s health started being affected, she wasn’t getting enough sleep and our family time had evaporated. I set up a meeting with her teachers.

I was nervous but I had rehearsed ad nauseum and just hoped the right things would come out of my mouth…this was my chance. The meeting went well, albeit not without the teachers throwing out some zingers that I successfully let ‘hang in the air’ then respectfully agreed in theory followed by a respectful disagree in practice. Some of these may sound familiar:

Teacher: You know Torri, we just don’t hear this concern coming from a lot of parents.

Torri: (pause) That doesn’t surprise me actually but the shared concern exists. Parents are overwhelmed and actually afraid oftentimes to approach teachers. Not to mention that in high school parents are strongly discouraged from involving themselves.

Teacher: I actually believe it is most powerful when the STUDENTS approach us to tell us it is too much and they see that they can have an effect by having a voice.

Torri: (pause) I completely agree that students are empowered by having a voice and I always encourage that. This problem, however, is much bigger than that. It is an adult generated problem and adults need to fix it. That does not need to be on the already overburdened shoulders of our
children.

At the end of the meeting, they asked me to share research supporting my concerns and one teacher said he would consider taking it to the staff and administration. I left very encouraged, went home and sent 2 websites (challengesuccess and alfiekohn) and a news clip of Alfie Kohn and waited. I also had been communicating with a dozen or so parents in the same program by email trying to gather support and additional voices.

No response until 10/31 when I got a defensive email from one of the teachers. Her last line was, …”maybe the case against homework is more suited to elementary and middle schools.”

I was discouraged, but determined. I phoned all the people I had been emailing and more and encouraged them, if they had concerns. to let the teachers know.

The night before the election, my daughter came home excited to share that the teachers had pushed forward 3 big due dates… This meant that we could experience the historical election week without the cloud of homework stress!!!! Other parents MUST have found their voice. I was hopeful again!

I continued calling and talking with parents to make sure they shared concerns AND attended the regularly scheduled parent meeting on 11/13. Meanwhile, our very own Sara Bennett suggested a couple of high school specific articles that might be helpful. I sent those on to the teachers.

I still never heard from the teachers again until I emailed on 11/11 before the 11/13 meeting just to make sure they had received the additional articles. They did.

11/13 Parent meeting. It was very well attended and the TEACHERS put the topic of homework/stress on the agenda. Both meetings last year, I had brought it up but the fact that THEY brought it up meant to me that more voices had emerged. An hour long, sometimes heated discussion ensued with parents both objecting to the amount and stress and also embracing it. We
all agreed that the content of what these teachers give is positive but that the amount and pacing is what causes concern. This meeting was a mixed bag but the fact that it happened was positive.

11/17 We got an email from the teachers appreciating the discussion at the parent meeting and outlining their idea: With the exception of reading assignments and group project work, there will be no homework assigned due for points on Mon. for the remainder of the school year. Starting in Jan. there will be one ‘homework free’ week/month (again except for reading and group project work).

This was huge and I have been spreading the word. It remains to be seen how this plays out. My daughter was kind of ‘flat’ when she heard the news…she will believe it when she sees it.

I will keep you posted. Meanwhile…more voices, more voices, more voices!

Stay strong, hopeful and vocal!

3 Comments on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Success in San Anselmo, California”

  1. HomeworkBlues says:

    I am reading your post VERY VERY C A R E F U L L Y.

    I need to read this. You’re signing my song.I have rehearsed the most elegantly crafted well researched articulate case in the history of peoplekind. Yet I am already discouaged, even before the opening bell, that I will be shot down. I know what to say, I’ve spent years going over this in my head, writing about it, talking to parents, advocating but high school is a whole ‘nuther can of worms.

    I’m in your boat. I am requesting a meeting now. I need ammunition.

    You reference our esteemed Sara Bennet: “Meanwhile, our very own Sara Bennett suggested a couple of high school specific articles that might be helpful.”

    Sara, where can I quickly lay my hands on those references? I’ve accessed challengesuccess (I love that organization, but dare I say the new name will turn my school officials off, they are very achievement obsessed at this school), Harris Cooper’s comments on high school homework and Madeline Levine’s book. I’ll peruse this site to see if I can’t put my fingers on those articles quickly.

    Here’s the catch. I’ve already been told none of this applies to gifted kids, they don’t get homework limits. The parents who’ve agreed with me over the years just shake their heads. We can never understand why teachers of the gifted think gifted equates much much more work.
    When a child gets it the first time, you don’t all that review and repetition. It is expected that accelerated learning will be more in depth, our children come into it knowing they’ll have to work harder. But there still must be an adusted limit.

    Gifted shmifted. Who needs the gift when it feels more like punishment? Since when don’t children with high academic ability need play, imagination, the outdoors, down time? Where did this wrongheaded ideology come from? Oh, yes, the parents. No research expert I’ve spoken to or read in the world of gifted education has ever supported that misguided myth.

    In contrast, my daughter attends a gifted academic summer program where they are in class all day, have activities, two hours of study hall and my daughter cannot get enough. She attends only because she loves it. It works because she is inspired, love of learning is the raisen d’etre, she works hard in a meaningful healthy creative state of flow way, does not feel opressed one minute, and very strict lights out at 10:30, NO work ever allowed in the dorm rooms.

    I know this sounds like just more school but believe me, it’s anything but. The contrast allows my child to see the way learning was intended to be. I know it sounds crazy but my daughter talks about this program all year and begs me to send her. When she arrives there, she’s like a starving person at a buffet.

    Torri, CONGRATULATIONS. I’m the one who wrote how our Thanksgiving travel plans were smashed and I went into deep grief over that loss. As a loving committed mother, passionate about learning and musuems and books, NO ONE should ever have the right to take away my rights as a parent. If this level of involvment continues to be expected of me (teaching content, helping her to time manage, staying by her side for hours while she slaves away, running to the library to get her books because she has no time, racing out to get poster board before the store closes because the teacher decided to send a late email requiring it), I want to be put on the payroll.

    I knew there’d be homework, there’s always homework and I resigned myself angrily to the long homework car trips. But the magnitude of the Thanksgiving volume even caught me by surprise, jaded as I already am.

    December 3rd, 2008 at 1:22 pm
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  2. Sara Bennett says:

    Take a look at the articles suggested in the FAQ section on this blog. If you don’t like any of those articles, or want more, just let me know and I’ll be happy to send some your way.

    December 3rd, 2008 at 2:52 pm
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  3. Frank Bruni says:

    I love it!!!!!!!!!

    I keep signing the same tune. We have a voice we just need to use it and not give up.

    Great work and congratulations.

    December 3rd, 2008 at 4:57 pm
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