Stop Homework a resource created by Sara Bennett, co-author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.
Today’s guest blogger, the mother of a second grader, lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a masters degree in psychology and works full time doing psychometric testing of adults. She has written three previous entries here, here and here.
Musings on the News
by Psych Mom
Our local television station recently did a three part feature story on home and school education issues. The promos that were broadcast in the days ahead of the actual piece gave the message that this story was about informing parents on how they can be more involved in their children’s education and that their children would have better outcomes with parent involvement. The first evening featured the topic of homework, the second night was about communication between home and school, and the third night was, what parents can do to help the struggling student. Unfortunately I was only able to watch the second evening. A couple of parents were featured, and a couple of teachers, each with their perspective on the importance of communication. One mother indicated that she stays on top of her child’s homework as a means of knowing what he’s doing at school. The teachers, one male and one female, promoted the value of communication between home and school, so that parents would be able to assist the teacher better in teaching their children.
I sent in a message to the TV station to voice my concerns about the 1950’s style of the life that seems to be portrayed in the piece I saw. There was none of the chaos of getting home at 5:30 with hungry kids…it was Mom lovingly hovering over youngster working at the kitchen table, book and papers spread wide. Everyone is smiling. You could almost hear Ward Cleaver coming through the front door. The good parent is one who wants to know what the child is doing in school and you can only learn that through making sure your child does their homework. The other aspect of the story that was clear was the idea that the teacher and school are the leaders and decision makers. The good parent follows their lead.
Maybe the point of this series was to provide some energy for parents to get through the last piece of the school year. That would imply that school is drudgery and everyone is tired by now, so lets all just pull together and see this hell through. It wasn’t about learning, it was about how to help your child survive school. And in the same vein as the message that adults give kids about “we did it, so you have to do it”, the kindly lady on TV was providing the message , ”Listen up parents, we all know school is dreadful but we have to help our kids because if you want to be a good parent that’s what you should do.” Oh, and “Listen to the teacher….he/she knows best”
Two weeks ago, I turned over this space to Fedup Mom. In her first post she suggested that people read “Such, Such Were the Joys” by George Orwell and then answer several questions.
I read and loved the piece but I couldn’t be bothered to answer FedUp Mom’s questions and neither could anyone else. So for the next several Thursdays, FedUp Mom will answer the questions herself.
Such, Such Thursdays
by Fedup Mom
(from Such, Such Were the Joys)
Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas… At St. Cyprian’s the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else.
[Vocabulary: “confidence trick” is the British equivalent of the American “con”.]
How does Orwell’s experience relate to today’s standardized-testing-infested public schools? Compare and contrast, if possible.
FedUp Mom’s ANSWER:
The parallel here is so close it’s painful. There is nothing new in schools staking their reputation on their student’s performance. There is nothing new in students being force-fed just what they will need for an exam, and no more.
In Orwell’s day, schoolboys had to study Latin and Greek to do well on the exams that would take them to the best “public” schools. Once they were done with school, of course, only a tiny minority of students would have any use for the Latin and Greek they worked so hard to learn.
In our own time, we have cut out the middleman. We teach test-taking skills directly, with no intervening content. Our kids work hard to learn to write a 5-paragraph essay or Brief Constructed Response that they will have no use for when they’re done with school.
What gets tested is what gets taught. If our goal is to get all kids testing at grade level, the child who starts the year testing above grade level can comfortably be ignored. Even better, why not lock in the test scores, by starting the year with most of the kids performing above grade level? This can be achieved by pushing the goals of each year down to the previous year. Kindergarten is the new first grade, and high school is the new college.
Of course, kindergarten kids may not be developmentally ready for first grade, and high school students have nowhere near as much free time as college students, but if the standardized test scores look good, why should the schools care?
As Quebec debates a new report recommending eliminating elementary school homework, a piano teacher wrote the following letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen.
To the Editor
From a piano teacher
So here we are again, discussing the same issue that has been brought up countless times.
A few years ago, I wrote a letter to the Citizen, suggesting that homework impacts negatively on home life and extracurricular activities. As a piano teacher I was seeing several students a week come in embarrassed and apologetic because they hadn’t had time to practise. Many broke down in tears because they were so overworked and stressed. So much for piano for fun.
This situation has not changed. I am still seeing children as young as Grade 2 sobbing in my piano studio because there’s just no time to do anything other than school work.
Teachers don’t seem to understand; projects, summatives and tests are piled on indiscriminately and each teacher expects the most from each student. Multiply that by eight subjects in elementary school and four in high school.
Who has time to practise piano and enjoy it? Who has time for gymnastics or karate? Who has time just to play outside? I hear complaints from all ages of four to five hours of homework, from immediately after school, break for dinner, back to work till bedtime. Is this necessary?
Not only are we a society of burned-out adults, but we’re creating the same world for our children! School trustees and teachers, please, consider abolishing homework so that kids can be kids, so that I can see my wonderful students come in smiling and satisfied that they are prepared for their lesson, and ready to enjoy it.
And parents, please, take a stand and fight for your child’s emotional well being.
Good for parent Diane Hunter who declared there would be no more homework in the Hunter home. I admire her.
Since I know that free play is critically important to young children’s development (doesn’t everyone know that?), I’ve been really disturbed by the recent articles on recess coaches. But I was especially saddened when I read an op-ed in Friday’s New York Times by David Elkind, the author of The Hurried Child, a man I consider to be the grandfather of reasonable parenting.
Elkind readily admitted that in the past he would have been opposed to recess coaches. But he states that childhood as we knew it has disappeared, that the culture of childhood no longer exists, and that children no longer experience peer socialization. Rather than calling for an end to all of the nonsense, though, he writes that recess coaches are likely to be a good influence.
I think Elkind has set up a false dichotomy. If kids don’t know how to play anymore, then we need to give them time to play. If kids don’t have time for play, then we need to ensure that they have time to play. But we don’t have to either abolish recess in favor of more academics or have recess coaches. We need to let children play. And we need to let schools know that we won’t abide an end to real recess altogether.
I always knew that cheating was rampant so I wasn’t the least bit surprised to read this story about cheating at MIT.
The Class of 2022, a project of the Star News of North Carolina, is following a dozen kindergartners from around the Cape Fear region through their high school graduations to see what it’s like to grow up during the early years of the 21st century. Here’s a description of what kindergarten is like for these students:
“People have this conception of kindergarten as everybody gets cookies and milk and takes a nap, and you’re just not going to see that anymore,” said Kathy Fox, associate professor in the Watson School of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “The focus on academics has been pushed downward.”
In her 22 years teaching preschool through second grade, Fox has watched unstructured playtime shrink, replaced by worksheets and nightly homework. Fox remembers the shift starting in the 1990s, when studies ranked students in the United States well below those in other developed nations like Japan in math and reading. There was a push to close that gap, Fox recalls, and one solution was to start emphasizing academic subjects at a younger age.
Walking into [a] classroom at Castle Hayne Elementary, parents will see fewer toys and more tables and chairs than they might expect, according to teacher Tina Weldon. Students have a 30-minute recess every day, and the rest of the time is scheduled for specific activities. The school day has stretched, from half a day to the full six and a half hours.
“It seems like kindergarten now is like what first or second grade was like when I was in school,” Weldon said.,
(I really enjoyed last week’s open dialogue and over the next few weeks I’ll be putting some of the comments into main posts. Don’t wait until the next Open Dialogue week to let me know what’s on your mind. Post a comment, drop me an email, or let me know that you’d like to write a guest blog entry.)
The Conseil supérieur de l’éducation, an influential body that advises the Quebec government, just issued a 124-page report recommending that elementary school homework be re-examined, refocused, and maybe even abolished.
In addition to finding that scientific studies show no definitive link between homework and academic success, the report took into account the reality of today’s families, where many are headed by single parents or where both parents work, and where there is little time to help children with homework.
This week I’m trying something different. Please write about whatever’s on your mind in the Comments.