So many readers have pointed me to an article in the Wall Street Journal How Homework Is Hurting Our Family by Jeff Opdyke that I’m posting it here. He begins:
I hate school!
Yes, I know that’s a bit immature for someone 41 years old. But it’s true. I hate school — so much so that my wife, Amy, and I have hired a college student to help our fifth-grade son manage his schoolwork a few times a week.
It’s not that we can’t do the work with him, or that we don’t want to. Just this evening we helped him study for a reading test, and over the weekend I was quizzing him on customary and metric units of measurement one day and biological definitions the next.
No, it’s that the volume of homework and tests that fill his docket is, in a word, ridiculous.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point U.S. schools decided that if you can’t teach ’em, test ’em…or pile on more homework.
The result is that my son’s life — and by extension our family life — is a constant, stress-laden stream of homework and tests and projects. It overshadows everything we do, always hanging over our head. It affects our weekends, our meals, our vacations, our work time, our playtime, our pocketbooks.
And to what end? Maybe I’m missing something, but when did schools determine that the best place for kids to learn math, science and English is at their own kitchen table?
* * *
Obviously, learning is what school is about. I have nothing against homework or school projects or a certain level of anxiety about it all. How a student deals with those demands and that anxiety is great preparation for later life.
But the level of homework and anxiety my son deals with on a daily basis is well beyond anything healthy. And from talking to other parents, this problem is hardly unique to our family.
Amy and I knew there was a problem several weeks ago when our son brought home a D and a C. This was the first time that he earned anything less than a B. And then, a week later, another D.
At first we were mad. He’s just not paying attention to the questions; he’s rushing through the tests; he’s being careless. We quizzed him before the test and again afterward. How is it that he can know the information before and after, yet not during?
It turns out he’s stressed out. He told Amy that he wishes he could do better. But he already wakes up on school days between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., panicked that he doesn’t know the material he has already studied. He wakes up Amy to help him go over his notes one more time. He studies in the car on the way to school. Some nights he’s up past 10 p.m., writing, reading or memorizing. He spends parts of many weekends reading and doing projects.
Then he sees the Ds and Cs and gets dejected, wondering how he could possibly study any harder or any longer.
The truth is, he can’t. His childhood is already all but consumed by textbooks, notebooks and flashcards.
* * *
Compounding the problem, as Amy says, is that this barrage of schoolwork “is killing our family.” Amy says it makes her “feel like the worst mom in the world.” Here’s why: Many times our efforts to help our son lead to short tempers and blown fuses because at some point he simply has had enough of all this studying. He just wants to be outside on a Saturday, but he’s stuck inside on a project, or reciting the synonyms and antonyms to justify, villain and abandon.
One of Amy’s colleagues calls it the Bermuda Triangle, because first the child gets mad, then the parent helping gets mad, and then the parent listening to the meltdown gets mad.
Our four-year-old daughter gets caught up in this Bermuda Triangle as well, of course. Besides getting less focused attention from Mom and Dad, she picks up on all the angst. After a recent homework meltdown, she went up to her brother and said, “All you have to do is do your homework, and Mommy won’t be mad.”
Then there’s the effect on our jobs. I’m not saying work takes precedence over our son’s education. But let’s be realistic: At some point, the ability of Mom and Dad to keep the family clothed, sheltered and fed is relatively high on the Things To Do Today list. When I’m cutting interviews short to make a practice quiz, or Amy’s going to work late — or rising at 4 a.m. — to help him prepare for a test, something’s rotten with the system.
Perhaps the worst part is that many parents we’ve talked to are angry because they face the same issue. Some have felt compelled to put their elementary-age kids on medication for anxiety to cope with the stress of so much schoolwork. How insane that because of an overabundance of studying, prescribed as a way to prepare students for standardized tests that theoretically prove the schools are doing their jobs, kids are popping pills to keep jangled nerves in check.
Amy and I continue to help our fifth-grader nightly. He knows the material, but he continues to awaken early, worried about doing poorly. He continues to get burned out by the volume of homework he’s responsible for, and the family continues to creak under the weight of all the stress.
Beyond hiring someone to help our son — and, in effect, us — Amy is meeting with our son’s teachers to determine if there’s anything else we can do to help him manage his load. Something, we hope, has to work.