Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Letter to the Editor

Morgaine Pauker, a mother of a soon-to-be ninth grader in Westport, CT, wrote the following letter to the Westport News, after learning, at a meeting about high school, that the children could expect to be “inundated with homework.”

Letter to the Editor–Homework Policy Needed
by Morgaine Pauker

Wednesday night I attended the Staples High School parent meeting to welcome new families. We were introduced to the administration followed by a Powerpoint presentation by the school counselors. The meeting was informative and the staff seemed friendly and eager to make the transition from middle to high school as smooth as possible for our kids.

However, when the subject of homework was mentioned, casually at first statements were made such as “You can expect a lot more homework than middle school” and “up to a few hours per night.” When homework was addressed directly we were told, and I quote “Your children will be inundated with homework.” I was taken aback that we were being told point blank that our children would be overwhelmed, engulfed, submerged with work after they have already spent 6.5 hours in the classroom.

When I asked what the homework policy is at Staples the administration looked at each other questioningly, finally deciding that there was none.

Two high school students were also present to answer questions. Their response to homework included, feeling “overwhelmed at times” and “the work is really difficult even if you take A level courses” (the lowest level offered). Students claim, “If you work really hard you could possibly get an A grade in an “A” level course but if you take advanced placement or honor classes it is nearly impossible.” Both students present were taking some honor courses, what about those not so gifted, how are they fairing?

Our children get up at 6 a.m., go to school for 6.5 hours and are required to put in hours and hours doing more work at home, it’s a 9.5 hour day, at least. Little do the teachers know but many children I’ve spoke with who are doing 4-plus hours each night and on weekends. Most kids have after-school activities until 6 p.m. or later and don’t get started with homework until 7 p.m.

Where is the time for dinner with the family, a shower, or dare say a moment for relaxation? No wonder an increasing number of academically gifted students are downloading papers online, reading CliffNotes instead of novels and cheating on tests. At some point they reach their limit.

We need to decide that there has to be more to life than schoolwork. It is simply not worth throwing away their childhood to do what is often busy work for school. We are seeing evidence of the stress these kids are under in anxiety attacks, nervous tics, nail biting, eating disorders and obesity. At some point we need to recognize that children are just that — children. We need a reasonable homework policy in place that supports raising healthy, happy, well adjusted children.

Morgaine Pauker

10 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Letter to the Editor

  1. This sounds like my daughter’s high school. At freshman orientation, we too were told to expect a lot more homework. Given that my daughter had already been spending upwards of five hours a night in middle school, I wasn’t sure exactly what “a lot more” conveyed. Did the hours in the day suddenly increase without my knowledge? And our school day is already longer than most, seven and a half hours!

    The counselor had the good sense to refrain from the word “inundated,” but the message was the same as yours. Expect your child to be overwhelmed.. He lauded a student who, despite a two hour commute each way and a panoply of after school activities, still managed to fight that fatigue and get all her homework done without fail. She was held up as a paradigm of academic success, a model to aspire to.

    Our school also has no homework policy. I asked our counselor if there are homework limits and she replied no. So the teachers may assign however much they choose? I asked incredulously. She nodded yes.

    My daughter just received a five page English essay assignment, due in two days. When the kids groaned, the teacher quipped, “what are you all complaining about? I had to write a dissertation!” Momentarily forgetting, I suppose, that her students are sixteen year old children and not Ph.D. candidates.


  2. Just wanted to post a link to a blog entry by Nancy Kalish, where she advocates lengthening the school day:

    Nancy Kalish is of course the co-author of The Case Against Homework.

    That being said, I don’t agree with her blog entry at all. For one thing, she sames to take as givens two things — standardized tests and homework — that in my opinion need major rethinking.

    Homeschoolers do academic work for a few hours a day and wind up with better-educated kids.

    On the other hand, the lack of fit between kids’ schedules and their parents’ work schedules is a very real problem. But we need a creative solution that won’t just complete the institutional takeover of childhood.


  3. I’m also completely opposed to the path my co-author has taken and I’m sorry that she took the opportunity given to her by the Times to suggest an idea that is completely at odds with everything The Case Against Homework stands for.


  4. Anonymous and Ms. Fedup are right.

    If you take the longer-view perspective, the assignments and tests are really for two reasons – assessment and practice. Some of the practice is mind-numbing, and there are ways to make it less foolish.

    The best mind-set I found, for myself, was to treat the students as if their time was as valuable as mine. Time in-class needed to be motivating and productive, so they’d work on “homework” during class (mine first, then if they had time, some other class homework) and also would be called on to “put a problem on the board and present your solution to your peers” (which is a nice motivation for being prepared).

    I figure, I can only demand time out-of-class if I have done everything under god’s-good-creation to make the in-class time productive for everyone – not just me.

    If I had an elementary school kid coming home with homework that took three hours each night, I’d be meeting with the teacher to make sure that every last problem for every last student, was examined by the teacher and feedback given every day in a timely manner. (The policy would change after a week, I’d bet, after enough sleepless teachers realized how foolish it is.)


  5. The excessive amount of homework given to children reflects, to me, two things: that free time for children, something precious and valuable because it enables kids to think and act for themselves, is devalued and rendered worthless, because all that “free time” needs to be filled by what adults think is important, and it also reflects our culture of imbalance; that we work more hours with less time off than many cultures, and are no happier, no healthier. Yet again we are trying to make children into adults. My daughter attends a Waldorf school, where family and free time is considered very, very important. The high schoolers at her school definitely have homework, but it is not boring, repetitive “busy work”–it is thoughtful, creative writing, drawing ,and critical thinking assignments that do not dominate their families’ lives. Parents: please use your power as taxpayers: the teachers are, essentially, your employees. Things CAN change, so advocate for your child and preserve the magic of childhood.


  6. Sara, you must write a rebuttal. And while you’re at it, please tout this blog. I am hoping this becomes the hottest blog on the web. Huffington, you’ve got nothing on us.

    Spread the world. It is time for a revolution, a complete overhaul of the way we do school. And I’m not talking about Michelle Rhee’s “reform,” which is just a bunch of gibberish about raising test scores. Masquerading as learning.

    FedUPMom, love your comment about completely institutionalizing childhood. State run parenting. Very scary. Where we parents have less and less control over the lives of our families. We are facilitators, not parents. Our job is to clothe, feed and provide shelter to our children. The school wants to do all the rest, they own the children, not you. And as long as schools see it that way, why shouldn’t they take away all your free time? After all, school is the dominant theme, your job is just to make sure it happens.


  7. Dear Sara,
    When did you make this website. I need to know this information for my work. Not homeowrk but just homeowrk and thats all. I want to ban homeowrk as well.


  8. Sara I also want to ban homework for kids because they need to relax when they go home and not worry about doing their homework. It puts too much stress on them and on us parents. Sure it can help them on their test sometimes and it gives them 30% on their grade, but they get in trouble when they do not do their homework and they fail their class and then they stay back. Kids hate homework and sometimes so do the teachers. Some schools banned homework.


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