Readers of this blog are, at this point, pretty familiar with the work of Kerry Dickinson, a mother from Danville, California, who, last year, got her school district to reevaluate its homework policy and institute a new one. You can read Kerry’s earlier guest blog entries here and here and here.
This year, Kerry, concerned about a new school program which would have made students finish uncompleted homework during lunchtime, wrote a letter to her school at the beginning of the year. The upshot: the program was immediately turned into a voluntary, as opposed to mandatory, program.
The program was called Zeros Aren’t Permitted (ZAP), and was explained to the parents: “When a student arrives at school without their homework done they will be ZAPPED or assigned to get the assignment finished during lunchtime by their classroom teachers. Like it or not, in real life we are not able to just chose not to complete assignments or fulfill our responsibilities. Our goal is to not allow students to fall behind by not completing crucial assignments which may lead to failure.”
Here’s Kerry’s response.
Lunchtime Should be Lunchtime
by Kerry Dickinson
After having served on the SRVUSD homework task force last year I am concerned that Charlotte Wood is beginning a program this school year called “ZAP” that will ask children to complete unfinished homework assignments during lunchtime. The “Zeros Aren’t Permitted” or “ZAP” program implies that students will learn responsibility by giving up their lunchtime to complete homework because “like it or not, in real life we are not able to just choose not to complete assignments or fulfill our responsibilities.”
Well, actually, we ARE allowed to choose things in real life, whether it is doing homework, or completing a project for an employer, or simply going grocery shopping. We make these kinds of choices everyday, and when we chose NOT to do these things we suffer the consequences; getting a zero on a homework assignment, getting fired at a job, or simply being hungry because we chose to put off grocery shopping.
In our democratic public school system and in our society we have choices and we have consequences. When decisions are made for us, however, such as in an autocratic society, we lose our autonomy. We also lose our chance to become responsible citizens. When we are given the opportunity to make our own decisions we then begin to think critically, curiously, and creatively and become true learners.
The new SRVUSD homework policy states that:
• “Time spent on homework should be balanced with the importance of personal and family well-being, and the wide array of family obligations experienced in our society today.”
• “Parents/Guardians are responsible for being an advocate for their child, while encouraging the child to advocate for himself/herself.”
• “Parents/Guardians are responsible for providing a healthy balance between homework, extra and co-curricular activities, and family commitments.”
• “Teachers are responsible for encouraging a partnership between family and students that promotes timely communication and supports families in the homework process.”
During the school week, family obligations or parental decisions will sometimes trump completing homework assignments. On occasion, families may decide to leave homework at home during a school holiday or choose to do activities other than homework over the weekend. Teachers may not always meet on a regular basis to coordinate assignments, and students may at times be overloaded with homework. In these cases, when parents advocate for their child not to miss lunch due to incomplete homework assignments, will they be heard?
Filling a middle school student’s lunchtime with academics is unhealthy. As Richard Louv points out in Last Child in the Woods, “Playtime – especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play – is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development…In the United States, as the federal and state governments and local school boards have pushed for higher test scores…nearly 40% of American elementary schools either eliminated or were considering eliminating recess.” And, Elizabeth Goodenough, editor of Where Do The Children Play? Michigan Public Television, 2007, notes that “during school, unstructured, open-ended play is essential to the health of the young…it enhances social skills, teaches conflict resolution, increases fitness, improves learning and reduces stress by connecting youth with natural environments.”
If parents and/or students decide that a homework assignment will not be completed one particular evening, that student will suffer the natural consequences set up by the teacher. For example, that student will most likely get a low grade or a zero on the assignment. That is punishment enough. Taking away lunch is not only unhealthy, but is counterproductive. Instead of making students want to complete homework assignments, infringing on their lunch hour will most likely turn them against homework. Teachers get a lunch break built into their day. Students should certainly get one too, regardless of how they spent their time the night before.
Lastly, I would like to point out that the email dated August 25, 2008 announcing the ZAP program contained many grammatical errors and a spelling error. This makes me question how much time was actually spent devising this program and deciding how to present it to the Charlotte Wood community.