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.

Archive for Guest Bloggers

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 2)

Be sure to read yesterday’s post before reading today’s, which is Part 2.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years:
One Parent’s Perspective
Part 2
by northTOmom

Before I attempt to answer the question, “why two years later am I complaining about my children’s homework?” I should note that many parents I’ve spoken to have indeed noticed a decrease in their children’s homework. But my experience—and that of other French immersion parents I’ve consulted—has been that teachers continue to assign homework inconsistent with the new policy.

Grade 4 – French Immersion
On curriculum night in September 2008, the Grade 4 teacher warned parents to expect a difficult year. She explained that the nature of “mid-immersion”—its compression compared to immersion programs starting in Kindergarten—made it necessary to work the children particularly hard. (There was scant mention of the new homework policy, no hint that the program might have to be adjusted in order to comply with it.)

She was not kidding. On a nightly basis, students were expected to review

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The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 1)

Today’s guest blogger, northTOmom is a freelance writer and blogger from Toronto, and the mother of ten-year-old twin girls. In today’s piece, part 1 of 2, she discusses the “family friendly” homework policy instituted in Toronto 2 years ago.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years:
One Parent’s Perspective
Part 1
by northTOmom

On a recent Saturday morning, my 10-year-old daughter emerged from the basement on the verge of tears: “The temple’s collapsed,” she announced. Though it sounded dire, she was speaking not of an actual building, but of the model of an ancient Greek temple she and a classmate had constructed out of cardboard the previous week. They had piled on the white paint, and the structure had simply buckled under the weight. Later that day I glanced out the window to see my two daughters turning cartwheels on the back lawn while my husband diligently sawed wooden cylinders into pillars for the new temple. It was a brilliant spring day, and soon my husband would finish his task and call my reluctant daughter in out of the sunshine to start rebuilding the temple. What is wrong with this picture?

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Such, Such Were the Joys (cont’d)

Today, FedUp Mom answers the final question she posed five weeks ago in her guest post where she suggested that people read Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell. Read her answers to the other questions she posed here, here, here, and here. And, of course, don’t forget to chime in with your own answer.

(A big thanks to FedUp Mom for taking the time to write and for her thought-provoking posts. If you want to write your own guest post, please email me.)

Such, Such Thursdays
by FedUp Mom
(part 5)

QUESTION #5 (Extra Credit):

(from Such, Such Were the Joys)

“There never was, I suppose, in the history of the world a time when the sheer vulgar fatness of wealth, without any kind of aristocratic elegance to redeem it, was so obtrusive as in those years before 1914… The extraordinary thing was the way in which everyone took it for granted that this oozing, bulging wealth of the English upper and upper-middle classes would last for ever, and was part of the order of things… How would St. Cyprian’s appear to me now, if I could go back, at my present age, and see it as it was in 1915 [when Orwell left the school]? … I should see them [the Headmaster and his wife] as a couple of silly, shallow, ineffectual people, eagerly clambering up a social ladder which any thinking person could see to be on the point of collapse.”

How does Orwell’s historical moment compare to our own? Is our social ladder on the point of collapse?

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The moment Orwell describes, of smug wealth on the verge of catastrophe, is of course very similar to our situation about two years ago, and similar to the situation in the US on the verge of the Great Depression. Now that we have embarked on another economic collapse, what changes can we expect to see to our schools?

It is clear that the public schools will soon be hurting badly. They were kept afloat for a while by federal stimulus money, but that will run out over the next couple of years. We will see programs being cut. I’ve heard through the grapevine that our local public elementary school is already experiencing overcrowded classrooms. The job market for new teachers is terrible.

At the same time, NCLB remains in place, and everyone is fixated on test scores. So less money will mean fewer “frills” like gifted ed, arts, and music . The grade-level tests, which were meant to function as a floor, have become the ceiling that nobody bothers to teach beyond.

As the recession continues to unravel our economy, the public schools will continue their descent. If we’re lucky, we’ll see some growth in alternative schooling, including homeschooling co-ops. Anyone who can manage it will send their kids to private schools.

What do you predict?

Such, Such Were the Joys (cont’d)

Today, FedUp Mom answers a question she posed four weeks ago in her guest post where she suggested that people read Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell. Read her answers to the other questions she posed here, here and here. And, of course, don’t forget to chime in with your own answer.

Such, Such Thursdays
by FedUp Mom
(part 4)

QUESTION #4:

(from Such, Such Were the Joys)

“That was the pattern of school life — a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Virtue consisted in winning: it consisted in being bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular, more elegant, more unscrupulous than other people … Life was hierarchical and whatever happened was right. There were the strong, who deserved to win and always did win, and there were the weak, who deserved to lose and always did lose, everlastingly.”

Has anything changed? Support your answer.

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The hierarchies of school happen on the micro level (the power trips within the individual school), and also on the macro level (the unequal status between schools.)

On the macro level, we will soon have a Supreme Court populated exclusively by graduates of Harvard and Yale law schools. England has a new Prime Minister educated at Eton and Oxford. The finishing schools of the rich and powerful keep doing their job.

On the micro level, Orwell nailed it. School is all about hierarchy, power, and control. Homework is a continual reminder of who has power over whom, and a way for school to exert control, not just over the students in the classroom, but over the entire family at home.

Such, Such were the Joys (cont’d)

Today, FedUp Mom answers a question she posed three weeks ago in her guest post where she suggested that people read Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell. Read her answers to the first and second questions she posed here and here. And, of course, don’t forget to chime in with your own answer.

Such, Such Thursdays
by FedUp Mom
(part 3)

QUESTION #3:

(from Such, Such Were the Joys)
3.) “Looking back, I realize that I then worked harder than I have ever done since, and yet at the time it never seemed possible to make quite the effort that was demanded of one…All through my boyhood I had a profound conviction that I was no good, that I was wasting my time, wrecking my talents, behaving with monstrous folly and wickedness and ingratitude — and all this, it seemed, was inescapable, because I lived among laws which were absolute, like the law of gravity, but which it was not possible for me to keep…The conviction that it was not possible for me to be a success went deep enough to influence my actions till far into adult life.”

Would Orwell have fared better or worse in your local “gifted” program? Explain.

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FedUp Mom’s ANSWER:

I see echos of Orwell when I look at my daughter’s experience at our nominally high-performing public school. My daughter was singled out as bright because of her performance on various exams. Once the school figured out she was bright, they figured they could squeeze a lot of achievement out of her that would make the school look good. When I complained that she was becoming anxious and depressed, it made no difference.

For a sensitive child, as many gifted children are, the experience of constantly being judged “not good enough” is devastating. This is why I can’t agree with those who think that what gifted children need is harder classes, and that the experience of failure will somehow be good for them.

It is true that some gifted children don’t learn study skills, because everything the school hands them is so far below their actual level. This happened to me, actually. When I got to college, I took an intro Biology course that I enjoyed a lot. I attended every lecture with great interest. When our first test came back, I was astonished to discover that I had flunked it, big time (less than 20/100, I think.) I had the following conversation with the teacher:
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Such, Such Were the Joys (cont’d)

Today, FedUp Mom answers a question she posed two weeks ago in her guest post where she suggested that people read Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell. Read her answer to the first question she posed here. And, of course, don’t forget to chime in with your own answer.

Such, Such Thursdays
by FedUp Mom
(part 2)

QUESTION #2:

(from Such, Such Were the Joys)
“Indeed, it was universally taken for granted at St. Cyprian’s that unless you went to a ‘good’ public school (and only about fifteen schools came under this heading) you were ruined for life… Over a period of about two years, I do not think there was ever a day when ‘the exam’, as I called it, was quite out of my waking thoughts… For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible.”

[Vocabulary: in British usage, “public” schools are so called because they are not open to the public. It’s pronounced “Chumley”.]

How does Orwell’s quest for a ‘good’ public school compare to today’s upper-middle-class quest for an Ivy League school? How is ‘the exam’, which got Orwell to Eton, similar to today’s SAT? Compare, contrast, and weep.

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FedUp Mom’s ANSWER:

The phrase “the ambitious middle class, the examination passers” knocks me out. If our school district had a sign over it, that’s what it should say (second choice: “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”)

“A bleak, laborious kind of success” is what people in my neighborhood aspire to, and everyone wants to send their kids to the same few high-status universities. Some people get into the Ivy League by being born into the right family (does anyone believe that George W. Bush went to Yale because of his academic excellence?) Others get to the Ivy League because of the enormous resources their family can put towards getting them there (for instance, kids at elite private schools, who are carefully groomed, and the path cleared before them). But the kids in our district have to work like donkeys, and the competition is ferocious. The ironic thing is that if you really want your kid to go to the Ivy League, you’d be better off moving somewhere else and hoping your kid will get a break for “geographical diversity”.

Guest Blogger – Playing Ball With No Adults Around

A few weeks ago, Mike Lanza, founder and chief play officer of Playborhood, a blog that helps parents give their children a life of neighborhood play, dropped a comment, which prompted me to write to him. The founder and CEO of five software/Internet companies, Mike holds way too many degrees from Stanford University – an MA and BA in Economics, an MBA, and an MA in Education. He lives in Palo Alto, CA, with his wife and three boys (5-1/2, 2-1/2, and 10 months).

Here’s an interesting post he’s written about the importance of playing without parental interference.

Playing Ball With No Adults Around
by Mike Lanza
posted originally here.

Many of my best childhood memories involve playing pickup games with no adults around. Yes, I played organized baseball – Little League, for instance – but those experiences simply don’t compare with pickup games with my neighborhood buddies.

I would argue that pickup ball is both more fun and better for children’s social and intellectual development. It’s also more inclusive, or egalitarian.

In this article, I’ll discuss each of these advantages of “pickup ball,” and then conclude by analyzing why it’s vanishing from American childhoods.

Social Development
Think about all the social tasks you had to perform in playing a pickup game that kids of today don’t have to for their organized sports games:
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Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – More from Halifax, Nova Scotia

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”

Guest Blogger: Don’t Let Play Disappear Says School Psychologist

Today’s guest blogger is Nini Engel, a school psychologist for almost twenty years in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. Nini, a mother of three daughters, ages 21, 18, and 13, became a homework reduction advocate four years ago when her middle daughter’s new high school assigned upwards of 4 hours of homework per night. The last time Nini wrote here was almost three years ago. Take a look.

Don’t Let Play Disappear
by Nini Engel

I’m writing as a school psychologist, as a mother of three daughters, and as a former child. We need to value the complexity and deep worth of play in our children’s lives and our own. I’m concerned that play is being crowded out of our schools and homes. Several years ago, I came to this website and the homework debate as a concerned parent of a sleep and play-deprived adolescent.

As a psychology undergraduate, I took a folklore class at the University of Pennsylvania, entitled “Play and Games,” taught by an engaging New Zealander named Brian Sutton-Smith. While my friends teased me about whether I was playing Clue in class, the experience was a pivotal one in my education. Children and young mammals play. Humans play house, war and school; dogs pretend to hunt. “A nip connotes a bit but not what a bite connotes,” was the quote that stuck. That, and the concept of “flow,” Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of a state where we are so engaged in activity that our surroundings, the passage of time, and ego awareness cease to register. We play and process our emotions; we play and try on different roles; we play and master skills and fears. We need play and play has intrinsic value.

In a balanced world, children could learn and work hard to master real skills, but still have time to run and pretend at recess. Play could infuse education and make it less boring, but there are still times when children and adults have to work. Those of us lucky enough to have work we love, even experience “flow” when we’re earning money. However, in civilized societies we assume that no one has to work all the time. This assumption varies from culture to culture and shifts in historic periods, but we give at least lip service to leisure.

I want to argue that afternoons, evenings and weekends should primarily be safeguarded for play, family interaction, and developing the responsibilities of being a member of a household unit. I know many upper-middle class families where teenagers have few family responsibilities because their homework loads are too heavy. I admit that my teenagers are frequently members of this group. When am I to teach them how to cook, to balance a checkbook, to organize a family celebration? When can we play cards or Scrabble, chase the dog around the backyard, or sing around the piano? I want to raise intelligent, educated, ethical children who can relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Otherwise, what is the ultimate point of all this work?

Day 5 with FedUpMom

(Today is the last in a week of posts by FedUpMom. I really enjoyed showcasing her voice here and would like to give others that opportunity as well. So please email me with your ideas. And, don’t worry. FedUpMom will be back a week from Friday, where she’ll answer some of the questions she posed about George Orwell’s essay on her first post last week. A big thanks to FedUpMom for her hard work.)

Guest Post #5
by FedUp Mom

Talent vs. Hard Work

Recently there’s been a cultural meme claiming that achievement is all about hours of practice. It began with the book Outliers, which I heard quoted so much that I never bothered to read it, and continued recently with articles in the New York Times.

On the one hand, I agree that talent takes a great deal of hard work to develop properly. On the other hand, I don’t believe for a moment that the biggest difference between me and Mozart is that Mozart got more practice. Equally, if you had taken me at the same age Michael Phelps was when he started swimming, and made me spend the same number of hours swimming that he did, I would never have gone to the Olympics. Why? I don’t have the build, the energy, the coordination, or the ability. In short (and how!), I don’t have athletic talent.

My biggest fear about the idea of hours of practice is that it will be applied unthinkingly to our kids, many of whom are already overworked.

If you are passionate about something, the hours of practice can fly by. There must be a balance that will allow our kids to find their passion, and spend their energy wisely and effectively.

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