Guest Blogger: My Life as a Homework Protester

Today’s guest blogger is “FedUpMom”, the mother of a 10-year-old who attends a public school in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

My Life as a Homework Protester
by FedUpMom

My life as a homework protester began last year, when my daughter was in 4th grade. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an assignment which came home every week: look up 10 spelling words in the dictionary and copy out the definitions. My daughter is a slow writer and this added up to an hour’s misery. I was furious. I went to her teacher and said, “the definitions homework takes my daughter forever; we’re not doing it.” He said, “Oh, if it takes her too long to write out, she can look it up on the internet and print it out. That’s what a lot of the kids do.” This might be quicker, but it’s still pointless, and I pity the tree that gets killed to provide the paper. I said, “if the goal is that my daughter should know the meaning of those words, we will discuss the words with her and make sure she knows the meaning. Then we’ll write a note telling you what we did”. He agreed. Right there my child’s homework headache was cut way down.

Next, I went to the principal to talk about homework overload. I wanted to send a survey to the parents, asking how they felt about homework: the principal rejected the idea on the grounds that it was “too adversarial”. (You want to see adversarial? Go visit some of those parents at 7:00 p.m. when they’re trying to get their kids through a mountain of homework.) Then she touched on several themes that would return every time I talked to her.

1.) “Maybe you can arrange for less homework now, but I’m warning you, when she gets to 5th grade, she’ll be required to do a lot of homework, and she needs to be prepared”. Now that my daughter is in 5th grade, Ms. Principal warns me about the heavy homework load in 6th grade. Is my daughter supposed to spend 4th grade learning how to handle 5th grade, 5th grade learning how to handle 6th grade, and so on forever? When does she learn something that’s worth learning for its own sake?

2.) “Your daughter should join the after-school homework club.” This is a cop-out. Kids have better things to do after school.

3.) “Your daughter is lazy and stubborn; you are emotional and over-involved.” Absolutely right. And those are our good qualities!

22 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: My Life as a Homework Protester

  1. I wish I had time to rebut every absurd point your principal made. But for now, I’ll just touch on the first one:

    1.) “Maybe you can arrange for less homework now, but I’m warning you, when she gets to 5th grade, she’ll be required to do a lot of homework, and she needs to be prepared”.

    I hear this all the time. In the years my daughter has spent in public school, so much time has been wasted on “preparing” them for the next step. Silly assignments about cheese to get them ready for middle school, weeks wasted on this when they could have been getting the assignments done in school.

    My child is now in 10th grade. 11th grade is known to be the killer year so now with only one quarter left in the school year, they are suddenly piling on homework worse than ever. This presumably is to prepare my child for what lies ahead in five months. As if burning her out now will produce a more diligent student by fall.

    The best analogy I can think of is something a sage homeschool consultant told me. “If you knew a famine was coming next week, would you begin to starve your child today?”


  2. Next, I went to the principal to talk about homework overload. I wanted to send a survey to the parents, asking how they felt about homework: the principal rejected the idea on the grounds that it was “too adversarial”.


    Do realize you do not need the principal’s permission to begin circulating a survey, sent directly to the parents. The principal won’t like it but that’s a battle you seem prepared to take on. Please don’t feel you need a green light from the principal to proceed.

    Here’s a story about submission: In 6th grade, a parent was becoming increasingly frustrated and angry over homework. Her son was so overloaded, he never had time to visit his father (the parents were divorced). The mother canvassed parents and she arranged a meeting with those who responded affirmatively to this problem the principal and assistant principal and the two classroom teachers.

    I was told to show up at four. An hour before the meeting, I received a phone call. In a private meeting with this parent, the principal suddenly called off the group meeting. Each child is different, she chirped to the lone parent. Therefore a group meeting was not productive, individual meetings would need the needs of the child better.

    Read: it’s a week before standardized testing and the last thing I need is a mutiny. She knew that if she killed the group meeting, few parents would bother and the effort would fizzle.

    I relayed this sad story to a friend who told me, “If I was one of the parents contacted, I would have shown up at four, regardless of the cancellation and demanded that meeting.” It never happened. The furor died down, the year drew to a close and so it ends.


  3. Okay, I can’t stop myself. I’ll take on the next two points:

    2.) “Your daughter should join the after-school homework club.” This is a cop-out. Kids have better things to do after school.


    I looked into this homework club idea too. Anything to bring less work home to the family. Two major impediments: it only met once a week and it wasn’t homework, it was standardized test prep for remedial students. We needed neither remedial nor test prep. Plus the classroom was noisy and overcrowded.

    What we could have used is a study skills program that teaches effective research skills and time management. For some vexing reason, schools do not teach children this. But then again, do we really need coaching to teach our kids the right way to copy definitions out of a dictionary? That assignment alone took my daughter two hours in 5th grade. As for cutting and pasting off the net, it’ll get your kid the A, for sure. Educational value and retention? Zero.

    I have a better way. We are passionate about books and words and writing and grammar and spelling in our family. wjosh, I want you to listen very carefully to what I have to say next. You might just learn something. You, who I am sure, would disparage anyone without formal teaching credentials to homeschool one’s child.

    In our lone homeschool year, my daughter and I walked for hours discussing literature. I threw in lots of hard words and we played with them, discussed them, had fun with them and used them in conversation all week long. All unschooled, no formal vocabulary that year, no worksheets, no copying definitions. For language arts, my daughter read ravenously, we discussed everything. On her own, without being hit over the head, she asked that we blanket the house with dictionaries so she could look up words as she read them. Or she’s sticky note them to look up later. Wonder of wonders! From a kid who detested those copying excercises. She practically aced the verbal section of the SAT as a twelve year old!

    3.) “Your daughter is lazy and stubborn; you are emotional and over-involved.” Absolutely right. And those are our good qualities!

    I dare not say it but if my elementary child spends six and a half hours at school and four hours of work comes home, just who is being lazy here? Why didn’t this all get done at school?

    As for emotional and over-involved, our children are really hurting. If we parents don’t hug them, care deeply about their needs and fight for their rights, just who will? This principal, right? They are children. They are not in a position to advocate for themselves, they and the elderly are the most vulnerable segments of our population and as adults, it is our duty to protect and nurture them. Please let us not kill our children in order to save them.


  4. Dear FedUpMom,

    Your experience is common, as I have discovered, across North America. What I have discovered also is that the issue of homework is too big for teachers and Principals. Despite what school system will tell you the only place to resolve this issue is will your local school board – the people who get elected to serve you.

    The truth, in my opinion, is that teachers and Principals execute policy and have little real long term influence on homework policy. Sure they may be able to give you and your daughter temporary relief but that is usually at the cost of singling your child out.

    Take your case to the school board and don’t take no for an answer.


  5. Don’t feel alone – There are LOTS of fed-up moms (and dads) who struggle with homework – myself included. Some years have been worse than others. I often feel that I am among the few who complain, however, in talking to other parents at my kids’ school, I know there are lots who have talked to the teachers and/or principal. Most of us have been made to feel that it is a problem with our children, or a problem with our lifestyle. Do we have a quite place for them to do their work? Do we give them snacks? I tend to agree with the comment that the school board is the place to go to get policy changed – To date, I haven’t had the guts to do this – after consistently e-mailing my kids’ teachers at the beginning of the year, the homework load has been more bearable this year – I feel like a total cop-out because I work in the schools and see other kids struggling – I see teachers harass students every day because they didn’t get their homework assignments turned in – they are made to stay in at recess – they are forced to stay after school – It really isn’t fair, yet no one, myself included, seems to take the time or have the gumption to do anything about it.


  6. Mary: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Whenever you email the teacher and the result is a “more bearable” homework load, you’ve made a difference for all the students in your child’s class.

    That’s not to say that I don’t wish more parents would take up the issue with their School Boards, or, at the very least, with their children’s teachers. In the almost two years I’ve had this blog, I’ve heard from thousands of parents who are also fed up. Unfortunately, only a few dozen have done anything about the problem.


  7. my son is going into 6th grade. every year since 1st grade we have spent almost every evening doing 5-6 hours of homework. im a working mom who gets home at 6:00, so some nights its 12:00 or later finishing up homework. i have been told my son has learning dissability by the teachers, he is making a’s, b’s , c’s. im sorry, he is just slow, and he is overloaded with homework. ive protested but weve never got any results!! GOOD LUCK


  8. Just like Catina, my 6th grade son takes maybe 6 hours to complete all his homework. I have never had him tested for learning disorder but I know in my heart that it is not normal to take so long with homework. He is an A/B student and he takes advance math and writing classes. I’m almost embarrased to admit to his teachers just how long he really takes to complete homework. He cannot participate in extracurricular activites because it interfers with homework. I’m often upset with him and but I also pity him but I am not sure how to help. My husband thinks he is eventually going to drop out of school in the later yeras because it is absolutley torture for him.Any advice?


  9. Amy — my advice is you need to make some changes. Talk to your son and talk to his teachers. Impose a time limit. 1 hour of homework a night is plenty for a 6th grader. If you need to take him out of the advanced classes and put him back in regular classes to make his life tolerable, go ahead and do it. I took my 5th grade daughter out of accelerated math and put her back in regular math, and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner (I did it about half way through the year.) Your husband is right that your son is at risk of dropping out later. Your son is also at risk for mental health problems. My daughter had anxiety and depression because of too much pressure at school, and your son could go the same way. Don’t let this happen!

    The fact that your son takes so long on his homework is not necessarily a symptom of a learning disorder. Maybe he’s just got too much! I found that the teachers were often totally clueless about how long their assignments would take an actual child to do. They would send stuff home that they thought would take 20 minutes and it would take my daughter at least an hour.

    Don’t be embarrassed to tell the teachers how long this homework is taking your son. The teachers need to know what is going on. I promise you that you are not the only mother in this position. And remember, you are not just your son’s best advocate, you are his only advocate. No-one else knows him as well as you do and no-one else cares about him as much as you do.

    Your son is so young. Let him have his childhood. And please, post again and let us know how you all are doing.

    Good luck — FedUpMom


  10. Even if my website says it all, copying 10 words from the dictionary wouldn’t be that bad. If your kid’s a slow writer then the homework can help her improve. You could also copy the words your self, put it in post its and let your kid copy it from there so its easier, since dictionaries are an eye sore.


  11. Three years ago, as a sixth grader, I know what all this felt like. My shoulders would normally be weighed down with work, “okay” with the innocent, much-too-common excuse from the teachers: “We’re preparing you students for the seventh grade, which will have a lot more work.” They were right about having more work, but they went way wrong trying to punish us beforehand. I remember walking out of the sixth grade having had thirteen “detentions”. That’s right, thirteen! I wasn’t a bad kid; neither were most of the other kids who often got more than me. Far worse for the kid with ADD in our class, but the punishments never changed no matter who the student was. Guess what all those detentions were for? Not completing homework. I did my homework, maybe occasionally I missing an assignment or two… but barely ever. I would get detentions for not have completed silly word searches, with our “spelling vocab list” in it. How were they supposed to teach you anything, I don’t know. But the thing that really did it for me was when I was quickly finishing up my homework assignment before I had to go to piano lessons one night. When I turned it in, hoping I did well enough to at least get a B+, the teacher simply handed it back. “This is unacceptable,” she said. “It said to UNDERLINE the adverbs, NOT circle them. For not following directions,” she handed me a crisp pink detention slip and signs it. She handed me the pen to write my name. And the date. I did. April fifteenth, my birthday. We were planning a mini celebration with my family after school before I had to go to girl scouts that night, but as you can guess, that was no longer an option. Is messing up a little detail on an assignment worth the hour after school, even making you miss your own birthday party? Seventh grade did have more work, true, but the detentions weren’t handed out like candy, unlike the year before. Instead, you just got points taken off, which I actually preferred. I wish teachers would be quiet about how much harder the years after will be and just let you enjoy the year you ARE in.


  12. Sorry dear, but that doesn’t sound like much fun, detentions or no. I don’t know how anyone could enjoy living within that “regime”.

    You seem to have a very positive attitude though…I hope you make it to whatever goal you choose.


  13. As a teacher and parent, both homework and reading are an essential part of an educational experience. MINIMAL homework that is. A quick review of concepts covered in class. This provides students with an “I can do this” feeling of accomplishment. I consider myself to be an excellent teacher, and I would never give more than 20 – 30 minutes homework to my (3rd grade) students. I assign ‘Temporary Reading Logs’ to student who are not reading, and are therefor not meeting our reading requirements. Most often these students’ parents are not doing the parenting, and expect teachers to ‘parent’ their children. Being the paying member of the Teacher – Parent relationship does not alleviate parents of their own responsibilities.


  14. Teacher and Mom of three says:

    This provides students with an “I can do this” feeling of accomplishment.

    Well, that’s your fantasy, but I doubt it’s the reality. Kids are more likely to feel “thank heaven that’s over, now I get to do something I care about.”

    I would never give more than 20 – 30 minutes homework to my (3rd grade) students.

    How do you know how long it takes? Things take longer for kids to do at home when they’re tired at the end of the day. In my experience, teacher’s expectations of how long homework would take were completely different from the reality at home.


  15. Teacher and Mom….why do you feel parents of students who are struggling with reading expect you to “parent” their children? I don’t really understand what this means. I have noticed that “responsibility” is a theme that runs through many teachers responses in regard to homework. If a child is struggling academically, do you feel the reason is a lack of parental responsiblity for the child?


  16. I guarantee your daughter ends up not going to college, and hating you. Haha.. I wish I worked at the school where you “threw a tantrum” like a child. I would have seriously cracked up for weeks about the “crazy parent”. You really need medication. You most definitely have some mental problems. I hope I never meet you child, she is probably going to end up some crazed serial killer, or drugged out stripper. WATCH OUT!


  17. Anonymous, I feel that you are the one behaving like a child here. Different people have different opinions on anything and everything, which is something that you do not seem to accept. People on this blog are protesting against homework not simply because of an “I don’t like it” feeling but because they are concerned that homework is potentially harming schoolchildren socially, emotionally and perhaps even academically.

    Just because a person doesn’t follow the status quo does not mean that they have serious mental problems or that their children will end up serial killers. Understand that.


  18. You should have just gone on with the survey, in my opinion. The principal has no right to say no. It’s not like she’s (???) the president.

    Right now, I’m in high school and let me just say, homework is being violently thrown at me left and right. I’m pretty sure all teachers don’t understand that other teachers are giving us homework too. Especially math. We have maths everyday, and get homework every time, meaning we’re always doing maths 24/7.
    The best I can do right now is just bludgeon my way through the mountains of homework and hope I arrive at college with all limbs intact. (There’s no hope for my head)


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