Traditionally minded folks might say the purpose of school is to impart to kids a set of basic skills and knowledge in core subjects like math, language, and history. More progressive folks might say the purpose is to keep kids interested and engaged, and impart the skills that will enable kids to pursue their own interests. My own dream school would meet both of these goals — give the kids a strong foundation in core subjects, while keeping them engaged and helping them to pursue their own interests.
I doubt that anyone, in designing a school system from scratch, would announce that the purpose of school is to teach kids how to go to school. And yet this is apparently the purpose of the schools we actually have.
Check out this description of middle school, from the web page of a private school our daughter won’t be attending:
“Our Middle School … transitions students from the self-contained, sixth grade classrooms to a fully departmentalized eighth grade program that includes grades at the end of each marking period.”
You might think I’m quoting out of context, but I can assure you that the admissions interviewer said the same thing, at great length. The purpose of middle school is to teach kids how to handle middle school. Why? Most likely, so they can handle high school next year.
We’ve all heard this: “our kids need lots of homework this year, because they’ll have a lot more homework next year!”, or “the kids need to practice test-taking skills this year, because they’ll be taking a big standardized test next year!”
So, it’s not just about teaching kids how to go to school; it’s specifically about teaching kids how to go to school, not this year, but next year.
Curiously, I have never heard the preparation theme expressed in terms of actual content. No one has ever said in my hearing, “the kids need to be able to write a coherent sentence by the end of this year, so they can start writing essays next year”, or “the kids need to be solid on their basic multiplication skills this year so they can work with decimals next year”, or “the kids need to understand the consequences of WWI by the end of this year, so they can study WWII next year”, or “the kids need to learn basic rendering skills this year, so they can study perspective next year.”
Now, there’s plenty of room for reasonable people to disagree about what content our kids need to learn, and at what stage. But I can’t believe that anyone in their right mind would design a system of education that imparts no content whatever. So why are our schools filled with content-free projects like posters, dioramas, and “character in a can”?
The grandmother of school for the sake of school is, of course, college admissions. Many parents believe that the entire goal of K–12 is to put together a good college application, as shown by the following dialogue:
Me: “Did your son get a good education at Quaker schools?”
Other Mom: “Yes! He got in to the University of Chicago.”
The suburban fairy tale goes like this: a child should attend “good” schools K-12, exhibiting total compliance with all school demands, and learning all the essential school skills like raising her hand to answer the teacher’s question, turning in homework on time, guessing the correct entry of four multiple-choice answers, filling in the bubble completely with a number 2 pencil, and packing the day with high-status classes and activities, including an unusual sport like fencing or crew. This will result in a boffo college application, which will vault the child to a high-status, competitive college. On graduating from the high-status college, the child will walk in to a highly paid job and live the American dream.
If this fairy tale ever made sense, it certainly doesn’t any more, in the worst recession since the Great Depression. We’re going to see a generation of burnt out young people graduating from their expensive colleges with thousands of dollars in debt, just to live in their parents’ basement, unemployed or underemployed. And then we will ask, what is the purpose of school?
Thank you FedUpMom for that well formulated question….it has been on my mind for quite some time too. It disturbs me too that I never thought about it until my child was actually in school and I was dragging my tired self to work everyday, and trying to keep all the balls in the air. Then and only then, did I stop to think….”What are we doing here? ” “Is what she’s being exposed to for 9 hours of the day really good for her?” “Hold on a second. I only get to see her for 2.75 hours per night and I’m supposed to do school work with her???? I don’t think so”
We aren’t in the public system but I still look at how she’s developing and worrying that she’s going to turn out like me…a good girl who pleases people. I don’t want that, but I do want her to understand the value of getting along with others but fighting for more fairness in the world. I want her eyes open to the whole thing, not just the slice that somebody decides is valuable. And mostly I don’t want the system to tell her that I don’t matter unless I’m doing what they tell me to do. What I say does count and it should count, and be respected.
I never thought for a second that I’d even contemplate this, but I’m not sure a university education is even that valuable anymore. Will it be in 10 years time?
My daughter is a first-year teacher of 7th grade remedial math and reading. She recently asked her kids “Why do YOU think you have to learn to read?” The response; “To get good grades so we can go to college” Now, most of these kids will never get to college and they KNOW it. They are mostly from underprivileged homes, and certainly won’t have the grades to get scholarships. Even if they could manage the maze of financial aid hoops, they certainly aren’t about to subject themselves to 4 EXTRA years of torture (which is all school has been to them so far). So, how much motivation do you think they have to improve their skills?
My daughter (a product of homeschooling) told them otherwise: You learn to read because: 1) once you can read, you can learn anything else you want to. 2) reading can take you anywhere you want to go- around the world, or to a fantasy world. 3) so that you can stay informed on politics and laws. An UN-informed public has no ability to shape their own government and ends up living under tyranny.
These kids had never heard any of these reasons in 7 years. Or if they had, it had not made an impression on them. If my daughter can only mange to get these ideas drilled into them, she will have done them more good than any reading lesson she teaches them.
Brava Wendy….you have taught your daughter well. Those students of hers are very fortunate to have a teacher like her. There has to to be that connection to LIFE! It has to make your life better, or else, why do it? Exactly….
I happened to run into a fellow parent this morning, and she told me that her daughter had pulled an all-nighter just prior to turning in her Science Fair project. This girl (along with my son) is in 8th Grade!
Yes, the project was assigned over a month ago. So what? Children are not skilled project managers. In fact, many adults who manage projects for a living are not skilled project managers (trust me on this one).
How on Earth does a teacher imagine that a 14-year-old child will, unaided and completely untrained, be able to break down a month-long assignment into dozens of steps, and track the progress of each one toward an overall due date?
And here’s another random thought for you. Has anyone else noticed that textbooks are getting bigger and bigger every year? Why is that? Surely the capacity of elementary and secondary students to absorb information isn’t growing to that extent. Here’s a wild guess. If you and I are textbook sellers, and we are both “pitching” to the Board of Education, and my book is 900 pages long, while yours is only 800, guess who gets the deal (assuming prices are relatively comparable)?
Then, guess who goes back to the office and passes the word along to the authors that 800 pages isn’t enough. This could have set off an “arms race” in textbook size, plus, the bigger the book, the more money you can charge for it (all else being equal).
All of this would still be (more or less) O.K. if no one cared whether or not a class finished the book in one school year. But, I am further guessing that that is often not the case. Can you imagine parents asking, “What do you mean, you aren’t going to finish the book? What are we paying you for?” Plus, authors of textbooks for the following years start to assume that prerequisite textbooks will have been covered in their entirety. And, makers of standardized tests start to assume that they can test on the full content.
To the extent that any of this is true, we end up with a situation where it is physically impossible to teach all of the material in the time allotted. What’s the remedy? Rush over it, and assign the gaps as homework. True learning with in-depth understanding goes out the window in the mad dash to go through all of the material quickly enough.
@ Mark Wallace –
Man, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought about that when it comes to the projects! My daughter was up until 12:30 the other night finishing a paper, and of course, I was just upset and frustrated that she’d waited until the last minute. (She’s in the 7th grade.) But you’re right: it doesn’t stop in college; it doesn’t even stop in the workforce! And let’s face it, sometimes it’s not procrastination, it’s just that things happen last minute and you only have so many hours to get it done.
I actually think I learned more about deadlines from performing and Opening Nights: while we may delay the curtain by a few minutes from time to time, never do we say, “sorry, we’re not ready folks. Come back next Fri.” No, Opening Night is opening night and the show must go on. But of course, most schools don’t have the performing arts anymore. *sigh*
She recently asked her kids “Why do YOU think you have to learn to read?” The response; “To get good grades so we can go to college” Now, most of these kids will never get to college and they KNOW it.
This is one of the saddest comments I’ve ever seen. These kids are saying that they can’t imagine reading as a normal part of their own lives in their own neighborhoods. They see reading as part of a pipe dream, a middle-class life that they know is not for them.
Re: the first comment, very interesting. That seems to be the point of the incessant shrieks for preschool now too, that without preschool the child will be hopelessly lost in Kindergarten! How long does it take to learn how to sit in a circle anyway?
I watched my beautiful 6-year old son who was very happy in a Montessori kindergarten begin 1st grade at a very well-respected private school which was extremely traditional and structured. Silly me at the time, I was seduced by the campus which was huge, with a swimming pool, tennis courts, football field, baseball field, etc., not to mention woodshop and other guy stuff. He did his first report in 1st grade – including two drafts of an outline, drafts of the report, a bibliography and his own drawings. Need I say more?! He’s a very bright kid who clearly thinks outside the box. Being in the wrong learning environment for him nearly destroyed both of us. At the same time, his father and I separated. I watched him begin to unravel, and again silly me, I attributed it to the divorce as his dad was saying some really awful things about me. So, I had his teachers saying how incredibly bright he is, and yet homework time at home was absolute torture. Jump to 3rd grade when I had done some research about learning styles, teaching styles, my son’s gifts and not so gifts, and we left that school for a more progressive, hands-on type approach. I learned that he was not wired to listen for a long time while a teacher just talked and talked. He needs to be doing, he needs to be able to ask questions and get thoughtful answers. It was a good transition, but still not what I had in mind. Fourth grade was pretty good, 5th grade was all right, and 6th grade was trying to get them ready to leave for middle school where they would all have lots of homework. His teacher told me, “he needs to get organized.” When I replied he had his own way of being organized, she thought I was crazy, but it’s true. Being disorganized in someone else’s eyes just means you do it differently than they do. And I am a super organized person … but not when it is something I have no interest in. When it was time to see where he’d go upon graduating 6th grade, I again looked at a long list of schools. After hearing each school’s wonderful attributes, I had one question only: please tell me honestly about the homework expectations in 7th grade. Well, I finally got it right. My son is finishing up 8th grade now and we have both absolutely loved the last two years. There is very little homework for middle school. Why? Because the learning is actually done in the classroom! What a concept! It is a very small school, 5-12 grades, 8-10 kids in a class, classes are 80 minutes and alternate every other day, so that there are only 4 classes in a day, plus two 20-minute breaks. The school’s philosophy is that kids need time to pursue their passions whether they be sports, music, chess, whatever. And, they need a good night’s sleep. My son sleeps 9 hours a night on school nights because that’s what makes him feel best. Homework til midnight so that kids can pass a test and promptly forget everything they crammed in, just for a test, should be child abuse. His grades have always been very good, but with very little homework, his grades are even better, because they are “involved” and “interested” in the learning process. And, I’ve noticed that what he’s learned the last couple of years has actually stayed in his head. So, I wish I had learned much, much earlier how ridiculous it is for young children to have so much homework, because I would have been a much better mom. But, I learned it when I did, and we were able to heal the past and go forward. I’m sure I get the award for the longest comment, and for that I apologize. Keep doing what you’re doing, Sara, parents need to learn this stuff early so they won’t have to watch their kids suffer like I did.
So did anyone else read the NYTimes front page article yesterday about elementary school recess being taken over by professional recess coaches? God forbid children should learn how to deal with social issues independently by actually dealing with social issues independently. Now it’s becoming just one more part of the school day that requires nothing more than blind obedience. http://nyti.ms/9PmAiu
I read Sherri’s comment and was struck again at how little the school system knows about children. I hear the same about my 8 year old…that she needs to work on organization. It’s absolute nonsense. What they really mean is, they have to be just like me, an adult. Even 14 year olds may not be particularly good at putting things in a nice orderly progression and to have the foresight to do tasks in a timely fashion. Gosh even some adults have trouble with that…It’s tax time folks….how many of you will be doing your taxes on the last day?
I’d like to just chime in (for now) and say, with others here, that the idea of carefully planning out and time-budgeting multiday assignments is a red herring — though it’s taken me some time to come to that realization. Not that I was any good, ever, at doing it! But I have been nearly swayed more than once in dealing with my daughter’s homework issues by teachers’ arguments to the effect of, “Well, she had X number of days to do it.”
What I would say to those teachers now is, How are YOU helping my child to manage these expectations? Are you working with them to help them learn how to budget their time? Suggesting ways in which they can approach the assignment? Breaking it into INTERESTING components? The reality seems to be, the teachers assign the homework that’s due, say, in a week, and then just wait to see who trips up.
There’s a real irony in this because I suspect teachers think these multiday projects are the kind of “engaging” assignments some of us are hoping for. But their just an excuse for more bad homework and unreasonable burdens and expectations put on our children.
In the extreme, my YOUNGER daughter — 2nd grade — was penalized for not remembering to bring a homework assignment to school for two days running (NOT not DOING the assignment, mind you) by losing a recess! I nipped that one in the bud, thank goodness!!
I am on this site for reasons similar to Sherri’s. Like her, I learned a lot, but a little too late for my oldest.
In elementary and middle school, teachers brought the hammer down on him about organization and homework, and I was co-opted into that. I’ll never forget our homework battles in 2nd through 7th grades, and I will always, always regret how I hung him out to dry then. For what? It wasn’t about building character, it was about power and compliance. Somehow, he did learn all along — mostly I think by reading on his own — in spite of how he was treated by the adults in his life.
I attended a PTO sponsored workshop on “Getting Your Child Organized” at the time and asked the “expert” if it was possible that there were developmental reasons why some students — many of them boys, according to a NYTimes article at the time — did not stay as organized as teachers expected them to (in the middle school here, teachers conduct “binder checks” that become part of the grades). She looked at me blankly, and said, “No.” She was wrong.
I know better now. Thankfully, he is now thriving in 9th grade and enjoying a learning process where there is, so far, much less emphasis on grinding out homework. I hope the parent/child rift that the early homework battles caused has healed, but I don’t know. I feel we really let him down.
Unfortunately, my two younger children are still caught in the worksheet/homework mill.
I agree Fred. With assigning projects to young children, I wonder too, who do the teachers think is going to pace the kids on getting these things done? Do they think that the child brings home the piece of paper and lays in down in front on Mom or Dad and says, “I have to do this”? That does not happen in my house.
Do they think I will ask everyday, “Are there any assignments or projects you’re supposed to do?
That doesn’t happen in my house and won’t ever.
I’m not getting e-mails from the teacher about assignments that are due….and I don’t care to.
So all this planning and step by step work is supposed to be happening…..magically. My kid doesn’t even know it’s supposed to be happening.
I wonder too. How are kids supposed to learn how to organize themselves?
To April’s comment, you are so right! As a writer, I was a pathological procrastinator right through college — I can’t tell you how many all-nighters I pulled — I even sought out a therapist at one point!
But one of my first jobs involved having to write on deadline for a monthly publication, and — like you and Opening Night — there was never any question of not getting it in on time. Problem solved!!
The bottom line here is MOTIVATION — POSITIVE motivation!!!!
I got my son’s homework reduced. He’s in 1st grade and his homework load was reasonable – a few small assignments on school nights. However it was just too much for him. He was spent after a 7 hr school day and couldn’t concentrate. The homework was meaningless. I anticipated resistance but to my relief his teacher was supportive. She was aware of the studies regarding homework. She says parents have asked for more homework; never less. Now my son is only assigned a some reading during the week and sight word practice. I would prefer no homework at all in elementary school, but this is a good compromise. My son is classified and does benefit from the reading practice.
Akalori makes a VERY key point. On many nights, my fifth grader’s homework load is by most measures “reasonable,” too — nothing like the 40 math problems frequently cited in Sara’s book; in fact, I was able to convince the math teacher to occasionally allow my daughter to complete a timed-delimited assignment rather than the complete set of problems.
And YET, the homework is often TOO MUCH FOR HER, she is SPENT, and the homework is MEANINGLESS!!
I have to say, it feels more challenging to go in and ask for homework relief when the homework load is “reasonable,” which perhaps illustrates the slippery slope of calling any homework “reasonable” or having arbitrary rules such as the 10-minute-per-grade rule.
I make my case (and that of other parents, too) to the school principal tomorrow morning. Stay tuned.
Growing up I always questioned why I had to do homework. My parents never made me do it, but I never thought to try and opt out and so from 4th grade on, my grades suffered. On the flip side though, I always did really well on tests and quizzes, in-class assignments and the like so I never did poorly enough that I was held back. I also got in trouble a lot when I was caught reading under my desk while the teacher was explaining something I already understood (or when it was something I didn’t find interesting). I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned from this site as well as from the books I’ve found on the subject. I even got some first hand experience trying to get a first grader to do a single worksheet while baby-sitting (even I preferred playing with the tinker toys).
On a happier note, has anyone read the news about the No Child Left Behind Act? Apparently, instead of forcing teachers and students to have to meet reading and math levels, there will be a more general measurement having to do with how prepared they are for college or a career. I’m hoping that this will lead to fewer state-mandated tests and therefore less teaching to the test. The article even said it was part of an effort to bring history and the arts back into schools. Maybe it’ll mean less homework too. Here’s hoping!
Now you see, that seems like a contradiction to me, to say that homework is meaningless and reasonable…how can that be?
What does reasonable, meaningless homework consist of?
I think what happens is that the homework seems “doable” to us as adults….maybe we even can see a point to it…but our kids can’t. And if our kids can’t then, why do it? That’s the point when the scales flip over to the “parent-as- teacher” side of the scale and we are expected to start ‘splainin”. And that’s where I fall down because I am not good or patient enough to do it the way a teacher would.
Good luck tomorrow Fred. We’ll all be anxious to hear how it goes.
I think the “reasonable” applies to the quantity, but a reasonable quantity doesn’t make homework more or less meaningful. I guess the bottom line is that there’s no amount of meaningless homework that’s reasonable!!
I’ll have more to say on some of this, but right now the thermometer says 56 degrees, I’m supposed to be on spring break, so I’m going to blow off my Stop Homework homework! 😉
A little about me.
I have taught for 15 years in grades pre-k to 8th grade. The last 8 years I have focused on middle school science. I taught in Los Angeles Unified School District for 7 years and then helped start a charter middle school and have always served limited English proficient, at risk students in Van Nuys, San Fernando and Pacoima, California. When I made the jump to focus on teaching one subject in middle school from elementary I was in shock. Not because of the so called “bad kids” or the lack of materials, especially for a science class, but because the students had no life in them, no passion, no spirit. They tried to tear me up! I knew the last thing they wanted to do was read a science text, answer questions and take tests, so I had to develop something different and fast. So I literally threw the textbook and all the worksheets I had been given by the science department chairman out the window and told the classes they are going to be responsible to construct their own class they way they wanted it. Homework was the first to go, they didn’t believe me. Ha! I showed them. Then we eliminated all tests and quizzes. They all wanted “A’s” I said “OK everyone in my class gets an A, what do I care I do not get paid more or less for bubbling in an A or C or F. I didn’t sign a contract that stated I couldn’t do that, but then I suggested that they grade themselves, a form of authentic assessment. I’ll talk about that later. No texts, no homework, no grades, no worksheets, I had the same results from each of my 5 classes. The kids were in shock, they still didn’t believe me. Now what? That night, it all came to me, I couldn’t sleep, hell I didn’t sleep for days.
The next morning, the science department chairman stormed into my classroom. He was claiming I had no right to do what I did, and that he was going to write me up. I told him to get the F out of my classroom. By lunch I had a note that the principal wanted to see me. Swell, I learned the person who was in charge of helping me was a cry baby. But I had an ace up my sleeve. What no one ever knew was that the principal use to work for my father for over 10 years in another department of Los Angeles Unified School District, the Title I Non-Public School Program and it was because of my father that he was able to become an administrator. He did not hire me, he had to accept me because they were moving the 6th grade to the middle school and I volunteered,. When I went to meet him it was just luck. Anyway, he told me he didn’t want to know what I was up to, just to go for it. He told me he had my back, and that I wouldn’t have to deal with cry baby anymore, but I better watch out how the other teachers perceive what I do.
Anyway to make a very long story short, the first year we tried out a ton of ideas and by the second year this is what we developed. The classroom is a laboratory, it does not look like a classroom, We got rid of all the stupid individual desk/chairs with their half desktops and replaced them with large tables, small tables and we built lab benches and counters. We created six to seven various small work spaces for small groups in the classroom, otherwise known as centers, in elementary school. Each center or station, was designed for a specific purpose. The students would become scientists, and we identified what scientists do. The students said scientists, ask questions, do research pertaining to their questions, conduct experiments and field work, network with other scientists and finally communicate what they learned. So, the stations were designed with that in mind. Furthermore, rather than having tests, we decided that the students would create projects or should I say “products” and then present their findings. We developed a research station with all sorts of books about various science topics, I took over half the books form the school’s library and I went to libraries all over different cities to get books at various reading levels. Every classroom had only 2 computers, and no internet access, but luckily my classroom was across the hall and down a little from the computer lab, so on one weekend I got the janitor I open the computer lab and I ( by the way the janitor and plant manager are the single most important people at the school, treat them with respect and buy them gifts, they got me my tables and many other favors) I ran a line from the computer lab into the ceiling rafters into and down the hall into my room). It would have taken school union workers about a year to get approval.
Now we had a real research station, my students could also communicate with real scientists (doctors, rocket scientists and geologists in the field, using e-mail and eventually video conferencing. We created a microscope station, with the ability to capture images on computer and print them. I bought special microscopes and special cameras with money from the principles special account. He granted me about 10K worth of materials that year and in subsequent years did the same, but I also went out into the business community door to door and raised over 60K worth of materials in 5 years. My biggest donor was a porn production company in Van Nuys, they wrote me a check for 10,000K and I had an interesting tour. We built a electronic probe station for experiments, with temperature sensors, O2 and CO2 gas sensors and all sorts of sensors the hook up with a computer that log the data in tables and graphs that can be printed out and saved (see vernier probes web site). We created an ecology station with over a 100 animals and plant growing racks with special grow lights. We have various ecosystem tanks and a real pond in the lab. Student did genetics experiments with plants and animals that have a life cycle of a month. We build a 10 foot long stream table to simulate the effects of erosion, a student decided to fill it with special orange/red sand from the pet store and we instantly had the surface of Mars. That in turn, led to another student team to design a eyeball camera mounted on a special coordinate graphing mechanism above the stream table and we had a way to simulate how the mars global surveyor mapped the planet. We took the images we produced in the classroom to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the scientist thought the picts were real. We designed many different stations using real scientific equipment and supplies.
We then created work processing stations where students organized the information they had been collecting at the research station and experiment stations, and all that information, graphs, pictures, emails, drawings, wonderings, leaf samples, all kinds of stuff were kept in a scientific journal, a real working scientific journal, not a diary. The students also had their info on disks and videotape. Students had the choice of creating multimedia productions or video documentaries as their final product. We also created a assessment station where the student groups and myself reviewed the groups progress toward the goals they constructed at the beginning of their project and make new goals, the groups also got approval for the experiments they wanted to conduct.
Well, what was I doing during all of this. I went from station to station, answering questions where I could or guiding the students with out giving the answers, taught them how to use the equipment, but mostly spent most of my time searching for the things they requested for their experiments and products. As the years went on I would have previous students as TA’s, 3 to 4 in my class who would become teachers and my classes really could run without me. One day I was just sitting on top of a lab bench watching the class buzz, and the principal walked in with the superintendent of the school district. I didn’t move are say a thing, they walked around and the students started explaining what they were working on. The superintendent said one word to me “wow”. Needless to say I got a note to visit the superintendent in the principals office after school. He wanted me to become a science curriculum advisor for the district and teach teachers, but he even realized it would next to impossible to replicate what my students and I created.
The students completed 3 to 4 team projects throughout the school year. Those projects revolved around the type of science I was teaching that year, biology, physics and earth sciences. The students chose their own projects from hot topics in the news to what ever ideas they generated. For example, in one group one of my students had cancer, so the group focus were on topics about cancer, ranging from how cells and heredity worked to stem cell research and causes and cures that were being work on at the time by real scientists. My middle school kids knew more about stem cells than President Bush. Another group loved the mars rovers, so they got into robotics, designed their own robotic rovers and built martian terrains to test them and got to actually work with the real scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Everyday they would enter the classroom and go directly to the station that working at that day with a rotational schedule, they could split their group of 3 to 4 and specialize in different areas and work a different stations when needed. We never had enough time, it would just fly by, then the kids had a few min. to clean up, discuss what they accomplished and make decisions for the next day.
I will spare you all my thoughts on the NYT article, found here http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/education/15recess.html but I have commented and wrote about this topic more times than most people change underwear, Until you’ve in the school and witnessed the horrors of recess, you should really give the professionals the benefit of the doubt on this one,
Chances are, recess now is not what it was when you were in school and fro a certified Physical Education teacher, I’m telling you that what they have done is no easy task. And, if you still doubt it, read the parent comments and how happy the majority of them are with the change in the situation. Sometimes you have to dig deep into the idea and decide that you are going to learn as much as possible before making a decisions and not rely particularly on how ti was when you were in school. I can promise you, now school, recess, the classroom, physical education…none of that resembles the school you and I attended.
And as I said, I’ve wrote that same story (just not as eloquently and with no statistical data) on many of my blogs a a guest blogger and even commented in many places, including here.
I was interviewed by Parenting Magazine on this topic, please step back and let the professionals do their job. With that statement, don’t slam me until you’ve read my position on homework because I don’t believe that the school officials are always right and I certain disagree with most homework policies but this subject is directly in line with my area of expertise and I know what I know here for sure.
Stepping off my soapbox briefly as I will be remounting it as I add a blog post about this on my education blog.
I never assigned homework, but a funny thing happened, the kids were taking books home, they were meeting together after school, they spent time gathering stuff for their experiments, they yearned for more. Not every single student but most of them. Many of these students came for some pretty messed up homes. Some were Jr. gang members. Some just came to the US and some had parents in jail or on drugs or with 6 of them living in a one bedroom apt. But guess what, I had no discipline problems what so ever. I let the kids chew gum and eat and drink in the class (boy, did I piss off some of the other teachers) and the kids were for lack of a better word on-task 95 percent of the time. They also kept the lab spotless. When I had a substitute, he or she didn’t know what to do, they had never seen anything like it before in their lives, I just left a note saying, just sit back and relax you don’t have to do anything. The kids ran everything and even learned how to solve problems, they help each other and encourage each other and were having FUN. I would get students who were failing and telling their other science teachers to F off and they would assimilate into our classes and become happy and productive.
At the end of the semester the students presented their projects and products on a special evening, with their parents, guest scientists and the principal in attendance. Followed by a pot luck dinner. No awards, or special recognitions, just a nice time and yummy food. For 5 years I gave A’s to all my students. I had a battle with a group of teachers who couldn’t handle it, but there was nothing they could do because all it says on my contract is that I had construct some type of assessment system and I did. The students had to justify why their earned their A. As time went on, we started adding a lot more field work, such as working field trips to the desert to climb into the San Anders Fault and get rock samples, or local canyons and tide pools to do plant and animal studies or even spend the day with a scientist at one of many local biotech companies.
I never attended science department meetings and some whole school teacher trainings after the first year because I had no time to waste. I made enemies with more than a few teachers because I didn’t conform and even almost got into a fight in the middle of a whole school meeting where the teacher was saying I couldn’t do some of the things I was doing. Another teacher tackled me before I landed a punch. I made some really good friends too, but nobody really saw that there are other way to teach. After a few more years, I saw a new charter middle school was opening. I took a video documentary I made about my program and they hired me on the spot. Same type of kids, incredibly small environment, and I was on the same page as the rest of the teachers. I actually got to work with the same group of kids 3 year in a row 6,7 and 8 grades.
I have a 9 year old daughter and currently home school her. I have taken a leave of absence for probably a few years to be with her while she is still a child, my wife was also a teacher and has been a house mom since my daughter was born. So it is now my time with my daughter, but I will love the day I jump back in it. Furthermore, before anyone asks how we can afford for both of us to not work, 3 years ago I won 2.3 million after taxes in a poker tournament, paid of the house completely and put all the rest into CD’s that are still drawing over 5% today. Anyways, I use to do teacher training and even some consulting work. During one of the trainings, a teacher actually asked me how do I keep my students to from putting their hands in the stream table and playing with the sand. OMG! The day I left the public middle school I went into the science department chairs classroom and took his file cabinet of worksheets, the whole file cabinet. I figured at least the student would be watching videos for the rest of the year rather than filling out those stupid things, he field a school police report accusing me but had no proof. I don’t have time to dick around with the teaching sheep.
This thread began with an interesting question about what kind of education we want our children to get. I agree with FedUp Mom to a point, that students can learn basic information (and skills, I would add), as well as how to learn (or how to be a lifelong learner).
However, all my experience, background, and what I do now — working at a top-tier progressive liberal arts college — tells me that the latter is more important. My college, Sarah Lawrence, is built on the whole premise that deep engagement based on self-directed inquiry produces the best education. Students created their own academic paths based on their interests; the faculty is there to guide them and help provide them with valuable information along the way.
It’s an interesting question that comes up at home for me, too. My wife often laments about the “holes” she perceives in her essential store of “information.” She went to a radically progressive alternative school from K-12, whereas I am mainly the product of NYC public schools and thus had a more conventional education.
But I’m not convinced I have that much greater a “storehouse” of raw data floating around in my brain than she does. Maybe a name here or a date there or a major historical event or whatever. As I’ve said elsewhere, including on my own blog, my ability to recall facts and put them in context today is overwhelmingly shaped by interest and enthusiasm. I’m sure I can’t remember what’s the difference between the Seven Year’s War, the War of the Roses (was that a movie?) or the Hundred Year War. But if I had a reason to learn about those things (again), I could, and if my interest was piqued enough, then I’d remember — just as I can cite events in the life of John James Audubon (my particular, peculiar) interest nearly to the month.
I stunk at math throughout most of my education, no matter how hard the schools tried to drill it into me. But when I went to graduate school many years later, I aced statistics because I was motivated to learn it and even loved it.
Most important, my wife not only had the tools to learn, but the ability and habit of questioning. For me, that has been a much more hard-earned task. And I think ultimately this has to do with politics. (So please don’t mind if I bring it into the conversation.) Conventional education — of the kind I got, and my daughters are getting now — is inherently conservative and unquestioning, hence the emphasis on conformity.
I’ll bet my wife didn’t have the usual lesson on “the first Thanksgiving” that so many of us get and my daughters slog through every year, it seems. In the last ten years I’ve read enough to know that most of that story is apocryphal, and even if it weren’t, it presents one version of a much larger story, and a sanitized one at that. What’s more important, really questioning “Thanksgiving” or being able to recite the date the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock (1620, and I only remember that because, if you’ve ever been to Plymouth, every pebble in every gift shop is a “Plymouth Rock” with 1620 stamped on it!!)?
Another tacit assumption of education alluded to by FedUp Mom is that a good college education will lead to “success,” whatever that is. Even more perniciously is the ad-nauseum repeated homily that we have to produce good sci/tech students so that they can compete in the “global marketplace.” But it is quite right to ask how that could possibly be true when even jobs at the near white-collar level are now virtually all offshored and done in India or China. If students can do anything, it’s learn how to examine reality!
So….I come back to this: As I embark on my homework crusade, there are some families (in this somewhat conservative town) who suspect that I really have a more political agenda. And while I don’t tell them this, in a way they are right. Homework is just a symptom of a larger issue about curriculum, school, and the purpose of learning.
There is a reason that I insist on homework being engaging, every bit as much as on reducing the overall load. I realize “engaging” is a loaded and debatable term, but I want my daughters to learn how to think and question and follow their bliss. (Hey — Joseph Campbell was a Sarah Lawrence professor once!!)
This week’s New Yorker has the absolutely perfect cartoon that sums up all of this! It shows a little girl sitting on the livingroom floor reading (books? comics?), and her mother standing over her, saying, “There will be plenty of time for playing after you get into college.”
‘Sleep lessons’ for grumpy teens
By Huw Willams
Reporter, Good Morning Scotland
Pupils at schools in Glasgow are being given lessons in how to sleep.
The sessions, run by the charity Sleep Scotland, aim to teach pupils tips such as the importance of a bed-time routine and avoiding late-night television.
Experts say teenagers who seem grumpy and uncommunicative could actually be sleep deprived because they go to bed after midnight – even on week nights.
The advice for pupils is that they should be sleeping for more than nine hours a night.
Researchers found that after going to bed at 2300 or midnight, teenagers were staying awake for hours watching television, playing on games consoles, or browsing the internet.
Some pupils were getting as little as four or five hours sleep a night.
One of the schools taking part in the project is Bellahouston Academy in south-west Glasgow.
Fiona Patterson, head of health and wellbeing, said the survey results were “absolutely shocking”.
“It doesn’t surprise. They can’t function on so little sleep,” she said.
“ I went to my bed at ten-ish rather than eleven, and I do feel a little bit more awake ”
Sleep Scotland says getting enough sleep boosts academic performance and sporting prowess. However going without can be linked to obesity and a greater risk of depression.
Jane Ansell, director of Sleep Scotland, said: “You wouldn’t send somebody to school without having the right amount of food, so why would you send them without enough sleep?”
The charity hopes to use the pilot project to develop a pack which could then be offered to schools across Scotland.
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, have welcomed the study but say teachers already watch out for all aspects of their pupils’ welfare.
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “We are committed to providing guidance to young people so they can get the right amount of sleep and maximise their learning potential.”
One 15-year-old who has attended the first of a series of sessions said he had tried going to bed early as a result of what he had been taught.
“I went to my bed at 10-ish rather than 11, and I do feel a little bit more awake,” he said.
“I wasn’t sleeping in French, as I usually do,” he added, “so my French teacher is pleased anyway.”
For anyone interested, I have posted a report on my blog about my meeting this morning with the principal of my daughters’ school, and I will be adding a post-mortem shortly: http://www.homeworkheadaches.blogspot.com. Thank you for all your support!
The recess coach topic is interesting. Given the right person in that job, I think it would benefit most schools…if the coach-led/facilitated games were VOLUNTARY, not mandatory for the kids. A fun, caring adult who sets up a game will automatically attract a bunch of kids, including some who might otherwise be lonely or bored. The school will be a happier place (even after recess) as a result. But you don’t need to force it.
Either I am the world’s greatest genius or the world’s biggest sucker. Or, let’s take the middle road and say that my second meeting with the principal was a qualified success.
We met at 8:00 a.m. in her office; also attending at the principal’s request were the school’s guidance counselor and the phys ed teacher, the latter because he is an “important part of the school administration.”
The meeting ended at 8:21.
Right away the principal acknowledged that this was not a meeting about my children, but a meeting about the homework issue in general, as I had requested. So far so good. She then conceded that she understood there was widespread concern among the fifth grade families about the homework. Better.
I then gave my brief overview, following a script (in my head) that I had prepared in advance: Two-thirds of the fifth grade families, and three-fourths of those who had responded to me, are experiencing similar homework problems and have expressed support for my meeting. We are continuing to have the struggles, tears, and late-night meltdowns, and my daughter’s attitude about school has become negative. Based on my conversation with other parents, these things, I believe, are representative of what many students and their families are going through.
Next, I reiterated my requests for a reduction in homework quantity, taking into consideration the possibility of a homework day off a week and weekends without homework, except as the exception, rather than the rule; and for homework that was more thoughtful, engaging, and varied — rather than the endless slog of worksheets, textbook exercises, spelling words, etc.
What happened then was a bit of deja vu from my first meeting with the principal. She said that she had been in communication with other families, had been hearing similar concerns, and was beginning to take steps to address them. (Interestingly, and coincidentally, a fifth grade parent told me yesterday that the principal had called him a couple of weeks ago to take an “informal survey” of how things were going for him and his son.) She said that the teachers had been meeting to discuss homework and were reading various articles and research on homework. The issue had even been discussed in a regional board of education meeting.
And she said — again — that changing the school’s and teachers’ homework practices would be a “process” and would not happen right away. It would require the buy-in of the teachers. It would involve, she said, at least “a couple more meetings.”
I asked how the process would proceed and what changes I could expect. For example, would there be a revision of the written homework policy? She was a little more vague about this. She said that before next fall she would expect some changes to be made, and that these might be reflected in the homework policy, or be announced in some form prior to that. The sense I got from her and from the others at the meeting — whether or not this is a dodge, I am not sure — is that changes really have to come with the agreement of the teachers.
The phys ed teacher asked me to describe a bit more what the biggest issue was for the students and families that led to the tear-filled nights: Was it the quantity, or the nature of the homework, either too unimaginative or too difficult? I had to say that it is all three: the quantity, which is not always excessive, but frequently is, and partly a problem because it is unpredictable and uneven; the fact that the homework is unengaging and unimaginative; and the frequently difficult-to-interpret problems, particularly in the math textbook, which require constant intervention by the parent and discourage the student.
I added that there were two other factors: the incredibly repetitious nature of the assignments — worksheets, textbook pages, spelling words, night after night; and, paradoxically, the types of multiday assignments that are passed off as “imaginative” or “engaging” but that challenge students’ abilities to budget their time, while they are given no support in doing so.
I was gratified to get some positive responses to these concerns. All at the meeting agreed that there needs to be better support for time management, with teachers getting more actively involved in suggesting how much time an assignment should take, how it should be done, and breaking out assignments into manageable tasks. The phys ed teacher repeated the idea that students “need to learn time management,” which, upon reflection, I’m not sure I agree with; at least, for an 11-year-old, it’s an overblown concern, and I’d rather she have a sense of fluid time, fund, and the joy of childhood. However, I did not challenge his statement at the meeting.
On the repetitious nature of the homework, and the overuse of textbooks and worksheets, the principal said that just yesterday the teachers had all attended a guest workshop on “inquiry-based learning.” (She gave me the name of the presenter, but I have forgotten it; will post when I get it.)
I mentioned that a good deal of the stress of homework also comes from the fact that everything is graded, especially in mathematics, and I really thought that it is killing any joy in doing math. To that I was told that there were also regionwide discussions taking place in subject areas among all the teachers in a particular subject, and that they would be looking at the homework issue as well, considering factors such as what students need to know by the time they reach ninth grade. Once again I was reminded of the importance of teacher buy-in.
At that point, there seemed to be no more for me to say, except to express my optimism that it sounded like movement was happening on this, that I would look for upcoming signs of progress, and that I was offering, as a former teacher, M.S.-level educator, and someone involved in higher education, to help in the process in any way I can, for example by meeting with the teachers myself to share some of my reading, research, and perspectives.
In my report on the meeting, I said I thought it was (probably) a qualified success.
Some will say that I’m just being jerked around by the school administration, and that is certainly a possibility. It’s certainly a legitimate criticism that I could have pushed much harder for concrete evidence of progress, or at least specific timetables and actions.
However, right or wrong, I have accepted the principal’s assurances in good faith, and I have been willing to accept that the changes will not take place overnight — that there is in fact a “process” that needs to happen that will result in gradual, but measurable, improvements.
I recognize the need to make sure this process is really happening and the results are real. I plan on following up with an e-mail to the principal asking that she give me periodic assurances and reports with evidence of changes taking place. Based on our meeting, I also will expect that there will be some real changes by summer, and that these will be reflected in the written homework policy in the fall.
In taking this approach, I also realize that I am likely giving up the hope of significant change this year, in effect condemning my own daughter (and family) to a miserable fifth grade year. Again, this would be a legitimate criticism, that I did not express greater urgency and the need for immediate changes. But in taking the longer view, I am hoping I will achieve deeper and more lasting results, which will, I hope, make the rest of my daughter’s middle school career less unhappy and will also benefit my younger daughter when she reaches middle school. I will also not stop speaking up with teachers and, if necessary, with the principal in cases of what I have termed clear “homework abuse.”
(One thing I forgot to add in my report is that, toward the end of the meeting, we discussed the fact that the abrupt transition from fourth grade to middle school is a major aggravating factor, something that all the participants seemed to agree upon. I will be following up to see if there are any structural changes made in the next year.)
What if no meaningful changes take place? Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meanwhile, I am willing to give it some time. As a legendary activist friend of mine says, “Endless pressure, endlessly applied.”
I welcome comments, pro, con, or otherwise, on my approach and how I am handling the issue.
@FedUpDad — your story reminds me of a favorite joke. It’s a wealthy father talking to his son:
Son: “Dad, if you were born into a poor family, how did you wind up rich?”
Father: “Well, son, I worked hard. We started with a small chicken coop, with just two laying hens. I peddled the eggs door-to-door, and after saving up the small profits for six months, I was able to buy another laying hen. I continued this way, putting most of the profits back into the egg business, until I married your mother. Two years later your grandfather died and left us a million bucks.”
Hmm. That presenter’s name is Donna Santman. I googled her, and it seems her greatest claim to fame is a book called “A Teacher’s Guide to Standardized Reading Tests: Knowledge Is Power.” Not sure what I think of that, but maybe I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover — or title. Will have to give it a look.
I’m considering looking into the possibility of starting a charter school for grades 6-12 in the East Bay (of California). But, we already have “good” schools here with high API scores and I’m not sure if I can sell my idea to enough people to make it a worthwhile endeavor. I’d like to know from readers who post comments on Sara’s website what, in your opinion, would an ideal 6th-12th grade school look like? I already have my own ideas, but want to generate more ideas from like-minded folks.
Fred–The meeting sound like a great start. They acknowledged there’s a problem and that they’re going to start to address it. If it were me, I, too would take what they say at face value. But I’d also tell them that while they’re figuring out a long-term solution (and I’d ask to be part of the discussion that leads to that long-term solution, there needs to be some short-term solution. Maybe something really simple like each parent who wants to can “opt out” (I’m a big dreamer), or putting a time limit on homework, or alternating days for different kinds of homework, etc.
Thanks, Anon. So, following the meeting, the principal sent me an e-mail with the name of that person and the this: “Remember change is a process not an event !”
Really interesting, a little mind-reading there? In any case, I sent the following reply/followup:
Thank you for the name. And thank you again for the meeting this morning. Please share this and my thanks with Mr. ____ and Mr. ____ — I do not have their e-mails.
I fully understand the need to adhere to an orderly process. I am in this for the long haul, so to speak, not only for my fifth grader’s sake but also for my second-grader’s — and for the benefit of all the students and families.
I continue to appreciate your responsive, thoughtful approach and commitment to change.
At the same time, there have to be visible, measurable, and meaningful changes; process cannot be simply for its own sake. To that end — and based on my sense of the timing from our meeting this morning — I would hope to have some indication by early summer (?) of where and how the process is going, what changes may be impelmented, and when. I will make a point of inquiring again then, and would also ask that if there are relevant discussions or changes prior to that, you would let me know.
There is also a risk in my mind of deferring action until later, though I understand the need for process. The risk is the continued deterioration of my daughter’s feelings about school. I am hopeful that we can at least cope with the difficulties and get through the year. However, I will need to continue to call out unnecessarily difficult, excessive, or poorly thought-out assignments if and when they arise. I will strive to do so directly with the teachers, but at some point I may need to bring you in the loop.
Finally, I want to reiterate my offer to participate in any way you would find productive, such as making a presentation to the faculty, and enourage you to consider taking advantage of this offer. My views are hardly strident, and I am interested in constructive engagement.
Enjoy the spring!”
Alas, I am given to an excess of words….but hopefully conveyed what needed to be conveyed….!!!
And now, I’m getting ready to roll on a few days of well-deserved vacation with aforementioned older daughter….By for now, and THANK YOU, SARA for making this wonderful forum happen!!
The principal knows that time is his greatest ally… If the principal can stall for a while, there is a good chance that the parents will cool off and let the problem slide. Or the parents will decide they “can’t fight city hall” and give up entirely. Even if the parents do pursue the problem, the principal might be able to stall until the end of the year, at which time the problem “solves” itself.
How can you tell if the principal is using a delaying tactic? He will listen politely to your comments and then insist that he needs some time to gather more information. He will say that he wants to discuss the problem with the teacher … Your best plan, therefore, is to schedule a date for the second meeting before you have left the first meeting; if you don’t, the delaying tactic will already be working effectively against you.
I’m considering looking into the possibility of starting a charter school for grades 6?–?12 in the East Bay (of California). But, we already have “good” schools here with high API scores and I’m not sure if I can sell my idea to enough people to make it a worthwhile endeavor. I’d like to know from readers who post comments on Sara’s website what, in your opinion, would an ideal 6th-12th grade school look like? I already have my own ideas, but want to generate more ideas from like-minded folks.
Take the school you are trying to get away from and do exactly the opposite. Unfortunatly, charter schools still have to play the same standardized test game. I entertained the thought of starting a private progressive unschool, but I’m not sure how committed I am. I know how much work it would take and I want to spend my time with my daughter while she is still young. However, reading some of the comments on this site get me all stirred up.
“The phys ed teacher repeated the idea that students “need to learn time management,”
Ah, yes, she ougtha know. After all, she is a pys ed teacher. Not knocking phys ed teachers, by any means, but her opinion in this matter counts why? There is her area of expertise, I am certain. It’s always a good thing when folks spout off group think without having researched or given the idea any legitimate thought.
The gym teacher clearly has picked up the “it’s not the teachers, it’s your kid’s time management” mantra from various meetings over the years and is simply regurgitating. As if you’d never heard it before. And if students need to learn “time management,” then let the schools teach it and manage it there.
I have a better and simpler solution for your principal, Fred. Eliminate elementary homework entirely. That solves the whole problem! That way you don’t need the “process.” The meetings, task forces, research studies, surveys, reports, changes that are all surely to follow. With a good chance there won’t be all that much improvement. No wonder schools love busy work so much. They spend most of their day engaging in it.
Just get rid of homework! Let the children read, draw, write novels, go to museums, nature centers, plays, lectures, puppet shows, make dinner, build a train set, build a shelf, build a forte in the woods, just to name a few, during their free after school time. Hey, I’d settle for a book list (not a log, just a list) if my daughter would have been allowed to read all afternoon. Can you imagine the great literature she would have had time to consume?
Tell the principal all that! What an education your children will receive. Of course then the onus is to use time wisely in school. That concept ougtha take six months of meetings alone.
In taking this approach, I also realize that I am likely giving up the hope of significant change this year, in effect condemning my own daughter (and family) to a miserable fifth grade year.
Fred, if your daughter is truly miserable, just get her the heck out of there. Is there someone at home, so you could just take her out of school? “Bad Teachers” by Guy Strickland says you can take a kid out for the last 8 weeks with no bad consequences from a public school.
If you can’t keep her home, try to give her as many “mental health days” as possible. If the school squawks about it, have your pediatrician write a note that your daughter is suffering from stress and anxiety.
Allowing your child’s unhappiness to continue while you wait for improvement from the school is a bad bargain.
No wonder schools love busy work so much. They spend most of their day engaging in it.
Right on, HWB. In the words of Lily Tomlin, “… and that’s the truth. Pbbbbblt.”
All at the meeting agreed that there needs to be better support for time management, with teachers getting more actively involved in suggesting how much time an assignment should take, how it should be done, and breaking out assignments into manageable tasks. The phys ed teacher repeated the idea that students “need to learn time management,”
“Time management” is all about pushing long-term work onto younger and younger kids, who are just not developmentally ready for it. And if the teachers break the assignments up, you’ll get crappy “note-taking” exercises like the one my daughter got in 5th grade: “write down 3 facts from page 18. Now write down 4 facts from page 19”, etc. Add in to the mix that they’re really asking the parents to manage the kids’ time in a way the school approves of, and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.
Nix the “time management” assignments. Just let the kids grow up.
FedUpMom writes: ““Bad Teachers” by Guy Strick land says you can take a kid out for the last 8 weeks with no bad consequences from a public school.”
FUM, I’ll do you one better. You can pull your child from school anytime! Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states in this union so there should never be bad repercussions. Fred, I’ll second FedUp’s suggestion. Why don’t you consider taking your girl out for the rest of the year? There are no negative consequences. I haven’t studied the homeschooling laws in New York, but in my state, it’s pretty simple. I didn’t yank my child out midyear but many folks I know did just that. My state requires you provide a Notice of Intent at the beginning (and this could be no more than a few paragraphs) and Proof of Progress at the end (I submitted a test) and they leave you alone in the middle.
Should you go this route, DON’T clarify the rules with the school. They are often wrong. My state has a wonderful state homeschooling organization, I got all my information from them. Also, remember. You do NOT need the school’s permission to homeschool. Even if you choose to go on a cruise for three months, in the eyes of the law, you have become a homechooler so you do have to file the appropriate paperwork.
Fred, think about it. If you plan to put your daughter back for 6th, this should be easy as pie. I’ll make it real simple for you. Take her out and unschool her. If you have someone at home to take her around, that’s all you need to do. Take her on a field trip every day. Have her read to abandon if that’s what she loves. Do a little math. That’s all you need.
Trust me on this. Your daughter does not need to suffer, you do not need to stick it out. And no, you won’t be teaching her to be a quitter. What you can do at home is so much more compelling than what she gets at school. And remember: schools are heading into test prep season. And after the tests, the teachers check out for the remaining six weeks and it’s project city. They waste time in school and it all comes home. At least it does in the gifted programs.
For the rest of the year, take her out and start learning now. You can get all your learning done during the day. There is no homework. In our case, Learning Never Ends. I’m not homeschooling now but the year we were, it wasn’t school and then homework. We didn’t bisect. It was seamless. Sometimes my daughter did her essay writing at night but that’s because we spent the whole day at the science museum and the essay was due at midnight. We always discussed, learned, created and read but she almost never did academics in the late evening as she did with school. And if it was essay deadline night (on line course) and she was working up to deadline, she got to sleep in the next morning.
Take her out. Tell the principal your daughter is suffering and there are so many neat things you don’t have time for now that you are taking her out. Tell the principal you’ll keep up with her and will return your child next year, at which point you are confident changes have been made.
I’d go for this, Fred. It’s three months. Three months of awesome learning where you have an opportunity to rekindle that spark. Childhood goes fast. You may think three months, three smonths, but when it all runs out on you, three months is a treasure. If you can grab it and have a great time with your family, nuke homework tears and frustration for three months, grab it.
Trust me. It’s what I would do. I have a 12th grader and contemplated doing just this in 5th grade to avoid that oppressive end of year project. I didn’t do it that year. It took another two and then I was left with only one year before high school. I regret my cold feet every day.
Hi Fred- Don’t mean to discourage you…..however, I find it interesting that the teachers who post here say they have very little latitude re: homework. On the other hand, the principal has told you the teachers must “buy in” to the concept of homework revision. What does this mean exactly? Would the teachers be afraid they could no longer outsource to the parents? Are they afraid of lower test scores without homework? Are they to rigid and/or unmotivated to re-design homework (probably). Does the principal need the consent of the school board to make any significant change re: homework policies?
By there very nature, bureaucracies and sacred cows (education) are resistant to change. What’s in it for them? Will the principal and the teachers be better off playing it safe and make no changes (to them it really isn’t that broken). It will be interesting to see how it plays out. One last thought, I believe you stated the Phys. Ed. teacher was a man. She might have just brought him in for intimidation factor because you are a man. In our school, I notice the response to every parent complaint is very well scripted on the part of the teachers/principal. Good Luck!
In the meanwhile, have you considered trying to just opt out of homework. Write some formal letter stating that you will take full responsibility for any negative impact on her learning process. Of course, they must agree to only base her grades on in-school assignments.
I find it annoying that the school day takes up at least half of a child’s awake hours, then there is homework nibbling away at the rest. There is more to life than academics and as parents we get very little time to prepare them for it. I just got my son’s homework load reduced and limited to reading assignments. Still homework feels intrusive. We had to stop playing chess yesterday so my son could complete his reading assignment and sight words. I fantasize about negotiating a “no homework plan” for my son. Maybe I could get it added to his IEP. I also fantasize about a nation-wide homework strike. Kids are stressed, pushed beyond their developmental limits, rushed out of childhood, and primed for mid-life heart attacks. However I’m afraid that many parents push their kids exceed expectations which just fuels the homework insanity. Maybe my son’s classification is a blessing because I had to readjust my expectations a long time ago. Look out “Your Baby Can Read” because “Your Baby Can Read in The Womb” is on the horizon.
Dear All, So many interesting and provocative comments to respond to, so little time — hey, I need some help with my time management! 😉 Especially since I’m enjoying my spring break with my daughter (having taken her out of school for two days to be with me).
So, to respond very quickly to just a few:
– My wife and I both work. Options are limited. There are private schools but that is hard for us to afford, or geographically difficult, and there is no guarantee they are any less conventional. In fact, at the nearest private middle school, which has 3/4 boarding students, I’ve heard it said that they’re all way stressed out and all on various meds!!
– I may have overstated a bit; I’m not sure my daughter’s miserable, but she is certainly bored. She does get some enjoyment from school, just the non-academic side: she is in the school musical, plays the saxophone, enjoys art and sports, has friends, etc.
– I don’t think I’d get very far if I walked in and said, just get rid of homework. I am maintaining a positive attitude and a deliberative approach. Why does the school do what it does and take the “default” route, as Alfie calls it? I don’t know for sure, but I believe ultimately that it is driven by fear of the standardized tests and curriculum standards and how the school will be judged and funded. I think the teachers have done things one way for a long time. I think the principal is probably right that she needs their buy-in.
– I have mixed feelings about opt-out. Maybe I’m being hypocritical here, but I feel as if it’s making my daughter the guinea pig. We have already won some concessions, such as the “right” to do an abbreviated, timed math assignment, and when I feel the need, I write notes to the teacher explaining why my daughter was excused from an assignment. (Although, as I discuss on my blog, that triggers the “homework slip.”) I would rather work for systemic change.
So…a post-script — and feel free to roll your eyes here 😉 but while enjoying breakfast with my daughter at a hotel yesterday, she casually said, “Hmm. Right now I’d be in science class.” Me: “What would you be doing?” She: “We’re coloring in parts of a model of the ear.” Me: “I thought that was what you were doing at home, coloring in a diagram of parts of the ear.” She: “Yes, and in school we’re making a model.” Me: “You mean a cool, 3-dimensional model, right?” She: “No, a paper model.” Me: “So, you’re doing the same thing in class as you’re doing for homework?” She: “Dad, you look like you’re fuming.”
I got up from the table at that instant and at 8:30 in the morning called the principal and got her voicemail. I left her a long message basically saying that what I’d just been told was so beyond the pale that I was outraged. Where is the real science? Why is school wasting my time and my daughter’s time?
Well, I haven’t heard back from the principal yet, and I don’t know what this is going to do to my slow-and-steady attempt to change the homework situation. Somehow I can accept that the homework problem can be gradually addressed, but not if it’s the same BS my children get in school. I really am going to raise the roof if this isn’t addressed yesterday. I think I’ve joined the ranks of the FedUp.
Fred, I think we all have a certain point where we just can’t take it any more.
You know how homework advocates say “it gives the parents useful insight into what their kids do at school”? How very right they are. Yes, the garbage your kid brings home is the same garbage they do at school.
“Science” in public school seems to be mostly about memorizing vocabulary. I remember a test my daughter brought home from public 5th grade — it was all about correctly labeling the parts of a microscope. She got a high score. Could she correctly label the microscope today, 2 years later? Almost certainly not. So what was the point?
“I’d like to know from readers who post comments on Sara’s website what, in your opinion, would an ideal 6th-12th grade school look like”.
Personally, I don’t think “the ideal school” can possibly exist. What would be the ideal school for one set of kids would NOT be ideal for another set. Just take the examples of (a) single-sex vs. coeducational (b) school size (c) relative emphasis on arts vs. STEM vs. some other emphasis.
That’s one of the reasons for the charter movement– more school choice, rather than the one-size-serves all traditional high school.
Now that said, as an “old private school hand” I have a very strong preference for schools that have articulated, and lived, sets of values –as to pedagogy, as to character traits of students, faculty and staff, and as to program elements.
The Athenian School, which is in your neck of the woods, is an example of such a school. It’s part of the Round Square consortium.
Round Square schools are founded on a philosophy which embraces a series of six pillars or precepts which can be summed up in the word IDEALS. They are Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service.
Another is Woodside Priory (across San Francisco Bay in Portola Valley) which takes the Rule of St. Benedict as its inspirational model
We believe in these Benedictine values:
Spirituality–God works in us, through us, and for us.
Hospitality–All are welcomed with honor and respect.
Integrity–Learning flourishes in an environment of honesty, trust, and personal responsibility.
Individuality–Every student has gifts to be discovered, nurtured, and treasured.
Community–Together we find strength and purpose in supporting one another.
We believe these values are made real in a community in which every student is known and loved.
As a private school with public purpose, Lick-Wilmerding encourages participation in community service and is committed to developing innovative educational programs that will benefit students and teachers throughout the Bay Area.
Fred, for me it was a slow progression too. But as a parent of a 12th grader, I saw the BS a long time ago and got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. And that’s when I pulled her out.
You can do your slow and steady approach. In my case, the time I spent working the system was time I could be designing our own program. We need to be at Step 2 now. I’d like to see a nationwide boycott. I think it’s time for all parents to stop playing nicey nice and soft peddling. I’m not knocking you for your reasoned rational diplomatic approach. You sound like a great guy and I’m glad you joined this forum. But given the massive research and anecdotal evidence, it’s time for some anger. Anger moves people.
I’m a rabid feminist. I’m not suggesting you or your wife quit work. I worked part time and was able to homeschool. Maybe look into a homeschool co-op. Can one of you take one day off? Co-ops are springing up where all the parents teach the kids and you need not be there every day.
You didn’t overstate. I understand your child likes aspects of the school. If our kids hated every drop, we would have yanked them years ago. There’s always a tug. My daughter wrote an essay her homeschooled year about what she loved and missed about her school. And it wasn’t the academics! What does that say?
We are all afraid of becoming shrill. Of going off the deep end. Worried we’ll appear rabid and reactionary.
I’m a normal person. I’m pretty sane. All I wanted for my daughter was a good education. I’d settle for decent. I just wrote a friend, I would have been happy if school did school and we could homeschool on the side. It’s when school crept into every corner of our lives. When I began to feel school had settled into my living room in some bizarre hostile takeover. I just wanted to take back our lives.
My daughter loves to learn. She loves to read. I got fed up with taking her books away (she was reading Wuthering Heights in 5th grade) and forcing her to stop writing a novel so she could spend hours on meaningless dribble. I got fed up with all the museums we could no longer go to, the parks, the walks, the talks. What is this, prison? She’s a child! I just got fed up.
Great post HWB (as usual). As parents (adults), why are we all so worried about what the schools think? They certainly don’t have the same consideration for parents. As Fred Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) says; “Maturity is the balance between courage and consideration.” I feel the culture of our public school system is essentially immature (no consideration for the parents). Ironically, the same people who gravitate towards these positions are trying to teach our children about character.
I chose to opt my son out of homework this year, not because the amount was all that excessive, but because the assignments had no value–they’re just busywork. I still have him do some of the bigger projects that are truly educational (in my view), and we work together to break those longer assignments down into “bite-size chunks”, but we never do the reading logs or the mindless worksheets.
My son reads and writes for pleasure all the time now, as well as exploring the outdoors, engaging in imaginative play, or just vegging out after a long day at school. Best decision I ever made!
Public school parents have more power than they think (remember who works for whom, after all). My son’s teacher looked a bit stunned when I politely but firmly stated that, no, thank you, we would not be participating in the homework assignments this year.because I don’t believe in it. He’s a fairly new teacher (only his 3rd year, I think, but not young–a second-career kind of teacher) and he didn’t seem to know quite how to respond (which I think worked to my advantage).
I did this at the first class meeting of the year (at our school we have parent meetings for just our class once a month, on a weeknight, with childcare provided), as soon as he announced the homework policy. Seriously, what can they do if you simply refuse? Kick you out? They don’t want to lose the money. You could claim it was on religious grounds, and they’d pretty much have to comply, but I chose to just tell him that I had done the research and I did not see that it would benefit my son’s education, so we would not be doing it. I offered to share my research with him and any other parent who would like to see it. After that, quite a number of other parents decided to do a full or partial opt-out for their children, too, and it had become the de facto homework “policy” for our class now, that homework is at the parent’s discretion.
So far there has been no downside. I know at some schools you would have to fight to keep your kid from being kept in at recess, but I was willing to fight that all the way to the state board of education if necessary–research is on my side. But in this case, the teacher just went along as the path of least resistance. Parents in other classes who hear about this sometimes are aghast–“you can do that?” I just had “hit the wall” on the homework battles and wasn’t going to play their game anymore (if you are reading this website, you probably have, too).
One pro-homework argument is that they have to be ready for middle school, where there will be lots of homework! This is the “BGUTI trap”–“Better Get Used To It”. When they get to [middle school, high school, college, their first job], things will be hard, so lets make sure they are prepared! So, your life is going to suck when you get to the next stage, so we are going to make sure it sucks now, so you are properly beaten down by the time you get there. Wouldn’t our time be better spent making the next level not suck, rather than making the present suck more? We may not be able to do much about reforming the workplace (where homework is rarely assigned…), but if we need to reform homework in middle school or high school, let’s work on that, too. Let’s work for a reasonable amount, and meaningful, thoughtful assignments at every level, and an end to busywork.
Well, I agree with your statement. Students should be prompted to do more AT school (where they are supervised) rather than at home. You would be surprised to see how many ways kids think of to ‘outsource’ their homework. Then, what is the purpose of homework? On the internet, you have tons of sits such as http://www.drspss.blogspot.com that cater to a new generation that simply does not want to trade a little bit of pleasure now for knowledge that will help them in the future.
I followed a chain of links from Ivy League Insecurities to Underground Moms to you… and I think we’re on the same page at least about the homework. My two cents on it echoes the more extensive work you’ve done, but the more of us who speak out, the more we realize we’re not alone in our view of things.
Thrilled to read the end of last week’s “dialogue”. Such intelligent discussion. I was amazed by Fred’s principal saying that the teacher’s had to “buy in”..when many of the teachers who write in to complain about us, (provocative parents) say they have no choice in the matter. They HAVE to assign homework.
Sounds like buck passing to me.
Another facet of all this, which has been a concern to me is this: What happens to our kids? Aside from any backlash they might get from teachers..do the kids feel caught or confused by our behaviour as parents. I ask my child if she gets kept in for recess on certain days when I’ve put my foot down about homework, and she sometimes gets defensive. She likes her teacher…heck, I like her teacher….but I don’t like the subversion.
“This is the “BGUTI trap”?–?“Better Get Used To It”. When they get to [middle school, high school, college, their first job], things will be hard, so lets make sure they are prepared! So, your life is going to suck when you get to the next stage, so we are going to make sure it sucks now, so you are properly beaten down by the time you get there. Wouldn’t our time be better spent making the next level not suck, rather than making the present suck more? We may not be able to do much about reforming the workplace (where homework is rarely assigned…), but if we need to reform homework in middle school or high school, let’s work on that, too.”
This is the best comment I’ve seen in a long time. Could not agree more!
Yes, I agree, Mary. Isn’t that a remarkable comment? We send the message to children loud and clear that life sucks. It sucks pretty bad in college and work, we tell them, so start being miserable now to get used to it.
What kind of role modeling is this anyway? Do adults who interact with our kids every day at school hold such a dim view of adulthood? Deep down, do they despise their jobs and value endurance over joy and accomplishment?Are they securing a place in heaven with all this “redemption through suffering?” Shouldn’t we be up in arms that the grownups in our children’s midst are sending sending them such bleak dreary messages?
Admittedly my next example comes from the mouth of a substitute teacher, not the regular one but there’s still no excuse. In 7th grade, a substitute teacher handed out a flyer for an upcoming event. Yes, they still handed out hard copies back then (five years ago). One boy lamented that he couldn’t go, he had too much homework. In fact, he added, I ALWAYS have too much homework and miss out on a lot.
To which the teacher responded, “Oh, you’d better get used to it. It’s only going to get worse. Just wait until you get to high school!” Gee, that oughta get the kid excited about high school. We tell our kids that if you think things are bad now, you ain’t see nuthin’ yet, and then we wonder why they approach school work the way I do when I’m climbing into the dentist’s chair? I don’t ever want an educator to position education and worse in the same sentence.
“It’s only going to get worse.” As if kids aren’t already nervous enough about middle school, high school, college. For any kid who gives it more than a passing thought, growing up is kind of scary. But it’s also supposed to be exciting. What is exciting about “It’s only going to get worse”? And we wonder why there are so many depressed kids.
That’s why I see school refusal as such big indicator in little kids, and by little I mean anyone under twelve. Kids should love school. They should always want to go to school because that’s where they are excited and happy to be. When that isn’t the case…it’s very serious because it means that there is something wrong. Though it’sdeveloping, kids don’t have many ways to truly express themselves but through their emotions. A happy kid means all is right with the world. A sad kid or stressed out kid can’t be much else but sad or stressed.
Yes, Mary, we wring our hands. Go to any major metropolitan area in this countyr and be a fly on the wall. Follow all the high achieving kids and see where they go. Ask your friends how it went when they tried to make appointments for their children for that top ___________________ (fill in the blank. Psychiatrist for anti-anxiety meds, psychologist, social worker, homework coach, organizational coach, diagnostician) and what will they tell you? Oh, he’s completely booked. Told me to check back in a year. Someone’s getting very rich off all that misery and it sure ain’t the parents.
Have I ever mentioned that my first job was in teaching…fifth grade? I wasn’t even a particularly good teacher; I was young and immature; but I was enthusiastic. And what I remember about fifth grade more than anything else is that 10- and 11-year-olds are awakening to the world and the life of the mind as never before; their curiosity is a beautiful thing to see.
That’s what makes this dreary year for my fifth grade daughter so unbearable and so sad. It’s everything that fifth grade should not be. And all it would take would be a little enthusiasm and vitality from just one of her teachers — a little, from just one! But instead, fifth grade is like a forced march through the swamps to an even drearier next year, and year after that, and after that….
A thought just occurred to me. Perhaps we don’t like to admit we watch American Idol, but if we could for a moment, I’d like to acknowledge something that we could maybe use from that pop icon in our arguement against homework and the uselessness of it.
I’ve watched almost every season of American Idol and some of Canadian Idol (just as talented, but without the glitter of American Idol)….so after hearing hundreds of kids sing, I now understand what Simon Cowell is saying. A sweet young thing will get up there and be perfectly fine..he or she will be in tune, it’ll be an OK performance. And Simon will say just that, plus, “it was utterly boring.” He gets booed but he’s right.
In the world of school, that’s an A student, who does all the things that are expected, all the homework, and pulls it all off. That’s fine, but totally fogettable. But that’s what the education system wants.
On American Idol, the ones that grab attention (they don’t even have to be perfectly in tune each time) have to be “interesting”. The winners usually have good voices, but they also have “something” special. And so it should be with all kids in school too. They are not all singers, dancers and actors, but they are also not all college-bound academics. As parents and educators, we need to draw out the uniqueness in each child. Yes, they have to have the life skills necessary to grow into viable adults but more than that, they need to be encouraged to find their inner “idol.” Why is it that many actors, singers and artists in general have bad educational histories? They drop out, they often don’t even have high school educations because they couldn’t conform. They had things to do that were more interesting and had the strength of character to fight the forces that would keep them bored, or they had support to follow their heart’s desire.
I’m just saying, that school should be about the kids and making them shine….not rubbing so hard that the shine comes off.