From My Mailbox–Where Were You When My Daughter Was in School?


Wow! Where was this movement to stop homework when my daughter was in school? She’s nearly 20 now but homework made our lives hell for 12 years.

From the time she was in first grade, she was barraged with ridiculous amounts of homework every single night and on vacations, too. She had so much homework in elementary school that she could barely carry her book bag. Today, she has back problems that I attribute directly to carrying a book bag that weighed nearly as much as she did.

In order for her to complete her assignments, we were left with no family time at all. I felt she was being assigned too much. But when I voiced my concern, I was made to feel like a lousy (or lazy) parent. The school assured me that they were right and this was the only way our kids could be competitive in the world.

So, I tried it their way. And my daughter and I were at war over homework for years. When she became overwhelmed, she simply stopped trying. The result was a GPA that barely allowed her to graduate high school and precluded her from attending any college other than the local community college.

I am still so angry at the local school district. Their ridiculous policies damaged my daughter and damaged our relationship. They should be ashamed.

16 thoughts on “From My Mailbox–Where Were You When My Daughter Was in School?

  1. She had so much homework in elementary school that she could barely carry her book bag. Today, she has back problems that I attribute directly to carrying a book bag that weighed nearly as much as she did.


    It boggles my mind that schools turn a deaf ear to this very serious health issue. Or maybe, by this point, nothing should surprise me any longer.

    I have long discussions with a friend, a health writer and educator. I am deeply passionate about children’s mental, physical and emotional health and that has inspired my abiding mission in addressing homework overload. Homework overload, as we know, spills into every corner of a child’s life, preventing her from playing, outdoors, reading and family time, all critical to a child’s healthy growth.

    But then there’s “Health.” Starting in middle school, they scrap one entire quarter of PE for “health.’ My daughter sits there and fills out dreary worksheets on the same old same old; drugs, sex and rock and roll. Without the rock and roll. Then they watch endless videos. They pay a teacher to run this program at a time when schools are facing serious budget shortfalls.

    Mind you, as I’ve already said, I’m not against health. But as my friend intoned, BE health, LIVE health, don’t just teach health! I suggest they fling open the doors and let the high schoolers have recess instead. That will do more for the kids than all the worksheets and lectures combined and works every time.

    Is all this “health” just window dressing? Giving the impression that schools actually care about kids because they offer “health?” Surely I can’t be the only one saying, but wait! The Emperor Has No Clothes!”

    So here is my situation. In the two high school years “health” has been mandatory, this is what my daughter’s health picture looked like. Severely sleep deprived because of homework overload. I’d forbid her to stay up but she’d sneak more homework when I finally went to bed, so scared was she to face the day without it. Whenever I’d offer to carry her backpack to the car (heavy backpacks make it hard to take the bus. You want to minimize the time they are carrying this outrageous load), I could barely stand under the weight of it all. And I’m taller and more padded than my child.

    Yes, we did get permission (I needed a doctor’s note!) for my daughter to have a wheeled backpack in 7th grade. But that presented new problems and daughter tearfully begged not to bring it in. You see, the kids thought it was dorky and you couldn’t get through the crowded hallways with it. But the main catch? Wheeled backpacks don’t fit into a locker. We went crazy trying to find one to fit and couldn’t.

    The backpack issue is a serious one. Several of my daughter’s friends already have back problems. A young woman of 25 told me all her friends do.

    I’m not knocking drug and sex education. But teaching it is my job. That’s what I should be doing. I say, do the work in school and send home health, I’ll take care of it!

    Yes, detractors (there are always detractors) will counter, what about all the teens who will get pregnant in the absence of sex ed? What about all the parents who won’t bother? To that I say, any child who brings in a reasoned well crafted letter such as the one I just wrote should be excused. We asked for study hall and were denied. We told them sex and drugs were not our main problem (she was ten), homework overload was. If she could knock some of this out at school, she’d get to bed earlier, thus producing a more healthy child. Request denied.

    I say that if a parent writes a letter stating they’ll teach this stuff at home, that should be good enough. Anyone bothering to compose a thoughtful letter should be trusted.


  2. I certainly wish my daughter’s school (middle school) had the attitude of little to no homework! It is a nightmare for us. She’s a bright 8th grader, but it’s killing her and she’s very sleep-deprived! She is afraid of not getting it done and facing the teacher, which I understand. I wish these teachers could understand how detrimental it is to assign so many math problems a night, including weekends and vacation!! It’s insanity! Her other classes started taking a hit on their grades because she has spent so much time on the math. I have talked to her counselor and her teachers last year and they were stunned at how many hours it takes her to do her hw since she’s smart and in honors classes, but it just does. There’s too much and she’s tired. But if she doesn’t do the work, the grades go down the tubes. I don’t expect all A’s or even all B’s, but I don’t want her to do badly either when I know she’s a good student. If there wasn’t so much hw to do, this would never be an issue!

    This really does kill family time. She’d love to spend more time with her 3rd grade sister and do things she enjoys, and I do let her have some time after school before starting the dreaded hw, but then it’s push push push to keep her focused the rest of the night and into the wee hours. I cannot tell you how much I hate that. I hate having to do that, I feel like I’m complicit in torturing her! That math class gives her 30-40 problems a night of algebra is ridiculous. Wouldn’t 6-12 at most give the teacher an idea if she understands it or not?? Like I said, it’s just too much and I’m at my wits end. At the new semester that they just started a few weeks ago, I had her changed from the algebra honors class to the regular algebra class in the hope that it will help slow things down. The jury is still out on that one though.


  3. Carolyn, my daughter took Algebra I in 7th grade. It was taking her three hours to get the homework done and this was just one subject! We wanted to take her and put her in Math Seven honors but we soon realized the problem. It wasn’t that she couldn’t handle this level, rather, the teacher was overloading with homework problems and wasn’t teaching the material in school. She had to teach it to herself every night.

    To add insult to injury, she was so sleep deprived each day because school started at 7:23 that she was struggling to stay awake in the afternoon. Several mornings I let her sleep in and she’d miss Algebra, her first course. I worried she’d fall behind but she didn’t. Since she had to teach it to herself each afternoon (she’s way beyond me in math), I figured she may as well do it rested.

    How did I solve that problem? I pulled her out and homeschooled for one year. Poof! Just like magic, I solved my most twin vexing problems, homework overload and sleep deprivation. It was the most magical year of our lives.

    My daughter took an on line geometry course where she excelled. There wasn’t class time and homework time. I banished the word homework all year. I called it assignments. She also took a writing course on line. She did her lesson on CD and then began writing. It wasn’t, I spend all day in school and now here comes seven hours of homework. We did thirty novels that year and that doesn’t count all the other reading she does. We have a saying in homeschooling, we can do twice as much in half the time.

    I suggest you look into homeschooling. If you work full time, please get plugged into your local homeschool community and see if you can find people to transport your daughter to activities while you work. See if your area has a homeschool group for parents who work full time. Get on yahoogroups and google them to find a homeschool support group. Think about it. What would you give if your daughter could get all the sleep her body needs? And just think how much fun she’ll be, rested! With oodles of time to read.

    Good luck!


  4. I’m sorry your daughter was also spending so much time on math hw alone also! 😦

    I have thought about homeschooling, but not too much because in all honesty, I don’t “get” that math myself, I sure can’t teach it to her myself. I don’t have the energy required to teach all the other subjects to her either. I am a stay-at-home mom, so I’m here for them, pick them up from school and so on, but I have physical issues with chronic pain that makes things rather unreliable as to being able to keep a teaching schedule with a child at home every day. And besides that, I do think the socialization is good for my particular daughter, she is reserved and shy a lot of the time and I think it’s good for her to have to be outside her shell more and deal with other people. I think it’s good for her to have to “stretch” in that way.
    But yeah, it has absolutely crossed my mind to homeschool as a way of rescuing her from the hw nightmare and sleepless nights. We have a friend who homeschooled her daughter for a few years (not sure how long), but then put her with her friends in high school when she got to that age. My daughter will start h.s. next year. I just wish there was a way for teachers to see what they’re doing to their students!


  5. Carolyn writes:

    I have thought about homeschooling, but not too much because in all honesty, I don’t “get” that math myself, I sure can’t teach it to her myself.


    You don’t have to teach math! That’s the funny part. I was interviewed for USA Today some months ago, I really should post it here. It was about outsourcing homeschooling. Friends who know that my strong suits are in language, English and humanities wondered how on earth I’d teach math. Piece of cake, I told them. You farrm it out.

    Some immediate math curriclum that comes to mind is Singapore Math, The Teaching Company, Math U See just to name a few. We used Johns Hopkins CTY.

    If you homeschool 8th, you will never regret it. If you don’t plan on homeschooling high school (and believe me, the Homework Monster only gets more fierce), this is your last year. Just food for thought…

    Best of luck to you. I come back to my original question. What would you give to make all that sleep deprivation and homework overload just disappear overnight?


  6. Hi Anon, is this really Homework Blues who forgot to post her name? :o)

    I’m just getting back here, sorry.

    Well, she is in 8th now, so only has 4 months left in the year. Wouldn’t that be rather strange pulling her at this point in the year? By the time I could set anything formal up, she might have half that left, yk? I think I should have just found this place before the year ever began!

    I’m going to have to write her math teacher a note for tomorrow because although my daughter is still doing her hw at this moment, I just can’t see letting her stay up probably another hour to complete it. She needs sleep! This will be my first note like this, so wish me luck. I’m afraid the hw will just come home tomorrow again to finish it on top of tomorrow’s. She has definitely been up later than this before doing hw, but she’s got a sinus infection now and really needs rest. She got a later start on her hw tonight due to taking she and her sister to the dr., as they both are sick. Oh joy.

    So I’m off now to tell her to pack it up, no matter how much she has left…


  7. Oh, yikes, I just noticed that the time that is showing is definitely way ahead of our time! Can’t have you thinking she’s up after 5am! Ack! We’re in the Pacific time zone, so it’s after 1:00am here, not 5!


  8. Carolyn, is it definitely not too late to homeschool the remainder of the year. I am not pushing you in that direction (okay, maybe just a little), but if this is something you might want to do, you can do it as soon as today.

    You don’t have to worry about not having anything formal set up. I know it’s hard to pull a child out and start right away but it can be done. I thought like you too. We’ve been institutionalized for too long. We’re conditioned to think learning must be sequential, out of a boring textbook, each day your child goes to school and does god knows what (we parents never really know), and then comes home to worksheets and more god knows what.

    You start by deschooling. You need to do that for a while, you want to bring the love of learning back. I don’t know your child but if this was mine, we’d hit the library. She is a ravenous reader so reading was very much at the cornerstone of what we did.

    You can order a math curriculum right away or find one on line that has rolling enrollment. I’m not suggesting Johns Hopkins CTY now because you have to test into that and that takes a bit of time. My daughter was already in the program so that was an easy choice for us.

    If you can hire a tutor for math, sign on to an on line course or order a curriculum, you’ve got math covered. I don’t know where you live. We live in the DC area and 8th grade history at school was civics. The school never took the 8th graders on a single field trip. I took my child that year to the Supreme Court, Library of Congress, National Archives, the Capitol, the local courts We went down to Richmond for an advocacy day where she learned about lobbying and state government. There is so much you can do that the school is not doing.

    Deschooling means you unwind but you don’t stop learning. Don’t replicate school at home, it will not work. Take her on a field trip a week, or a day! Go to the opera, ballet, museums. We’re lucky in that the Smithsonian is free and I’m a whiz at finding free fine arts entertainment. Go to as many festivals, art shows, lectures as you can muster. We homeschooled on a shoe string budget. We lived at the library and that’s free.

    We tried to do math and language arts every single day. The rest you can unschool. You’ll be amazed at the education your child will receive in the next few months. Go for it. You will never regret it.

    As for socializaton? My child is shy and reserved too. What she craves is long intense conversations, not that short quick loud sound bites between classes. She can’t do the quickie chit chat thing. We found other teens. Many of them. I was astounded. She socialized more than she ever did in school. She was saddled with so much weekend homework, she had no time to see a friend. Now she did!


  9. Good luck on your first note and congratulations on having the courage to write it. Please let us know what kind of response you received. And, if you ever need some help with drafting a note, a letter, an op-ed, etc., and you don’t see what you’re looking for in The Case Against Homework, feel free to ask for my help.


  10. Homework Blues, thank you for all your input, I appreciate it! I have a friend here who did homeschooling until her daughter started high school. She has been very involved in the whole homeschooling community, so I emailed her tonight to ask her about it and if CA (where we are) has specific laws about it as far as what you have to do for it and so on. So I’ll wait to hear back from her, maybe tomorrow, we’ll see.
    Monetarily, all the things you listed to do, are not things we could afford to go off and do. It would be nice for sure, but we couldn’t. Our local library was closed down a year or so ago. 😦 My daughter just doesn’t care for reading except her love of the Narnia books, which she is working her way through currently. My 8 yr old, on the other hand, loves to read. They are very different!
    Anyhow, I will let you know what my friend says about CA law & homeschooling!


  11. Sara,
    Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂 Well, I ended up keeping her home because she hadn’t had much sleep (nothing new) compounded with a sinus infection and I just thought she’d be better off getting a lot of sleep today and then tackling today’s math at home instead (she knows in advance what the assignment is), so that’s what we did. She’ll go back in the morning though. She finished tonight’s work, but I didn’t even mention to her the incomplete work from the night before, I wasn’t about to make her deal with that on top of tonight’s! She was much happier about tonight’s, the problems weren’t so ridiculously time consuming like the previous night’s were. She still took too many hours though, as there were 39 problems! Grrr…

    So, there will still be a note about last night’s hw that is still undone, it will just be a different note. 🙂 I really think it is nuts to have them doing sooo many that were each so lengthy in the process to do. I think for problems like that, they can find out with just a couple of them if they understand it or not. Much more beyond that and it’s just needless torment for the kid.

    I’ll check back when I get a response to the note I send her with tomorrow! 🙂


  12. Carolyn, thanks for responding. On the homeschool front, and again, I’m not pushing you to do it. it’s not a bad idea at all to at least explore it. I’m rushed now, soon I’ll have to wake up dear daughter on six and a half hours sleep. That worry alone keeps me up at night!

    But just to quickly comment on some issues you raised. Every state has homeschool laws but it is legal in all fifty states. I’m lucky. Where I live, all that is required is a notice of intent at the beginning and proof of progress (most homeschoolers here just a test, your CAT, actually is very popular because people find it easy, it’s just a hoop to jump through to satisfy the state) and they leave us alone in the middle! I was able to use the admissions test results of my daughter’s current high school as that end of year proof of progress.

    But back to your concerns, do know I don’t have much money. In hindsight, I could have done without the on line course and gone for something much cheaper. There is a book and the exact title escapes me, but the gist is, Homeschooling on a Shoe String Budget. Why don’t you grab a copy? If this something you are interested in, I would urge you to start right away because at this point, you only have three months and change left. On the other hand, that’s the easy part! You don’t have much time so you don’t have to do too much exploring! Start and begin having fun today!

    I’m sorry your library closed, that’s a shame. I live in a larger metro area so our libraries are still open but the hours have been cut. No matter. Daughter never has time to go anyway. But when she was homeschooled, we lived there!

    I admit that my daughter has some qualities that made her an ideal candidate for homeschooling. But oddly those very same qualities make her not such an ideal school student.

    It is very ironic that a child who loves to read, is intellectual and learns best in depth would have had such a rough time at school. School works against these kids because there’s no time to read, no time to really connect and engage with the material because there is so much of it, and there’s no time to learn in depth. High school students here who excel (that is, they are those “high achievers” the county loves to brag about), learn how to crank it out. Robo-student, Denise Pope calls them.

    Those three qualities have really tripped up my daughter at school. It’s caused her to turn assignments in late, she has trouble finishing timed tests, and her education has felt frustrating and disappointing. She is a perfectionist and when Heather says ten minutes, you have to realize, in 5th grade, when she was asked to select a science article every week and write about it? She would read six articles before she settled on the one she wanted.

    But those qualities were great in homeschooling. I’m not a daily napper but I wake up too early, against my desires. So on days when I really needed a nap, I gave my child a stack of books and just curled up in bed. She didn’t budge, she just kept on reading.

    Last night, an anthropology course book captivated her attention. Yes, once in a while, homework is indeed engrossing. Hardly enough, I dare say. But my daughter couldn’t put the book down and kept going and going. Sh read for nine hours straight! I attended a meeting and when I got home, she was still reading the book.

    By some stroke of luck, she didn’t have any language homework due today but had plenty due tomorrow. She’d done none of it, all she’d done is read this book. I fell asleep on the couch at 11 and at 1 woke to find her at the book again.

    School would say this is horrible. I’m sure Heather and A Teacher would cluck disapprovingly too. But think about it. Here is a kid who read an entire anthropology book in one sitting! Our nation goes crazy trying to get kids to read (of course they are going about it all wrong, with test prep and reading logs, no wonder so many children have come to hate reading) and here’s a child who can read till the cows come home and it’s seen as a deficit.

    For the record, she does do her homework most days and all weekend too. But I’d “kill” to see that look of utter rapture and complete absorption I saw last night.


  13. Hi,
    Sorry I’ve been MIA for a bit. I did talk with my homeschooling friend via email that night, back and forth. She said you (Homework Blues) were right, it was just that easy to call the school and tell them I would be teaching her at home from that point. She invited me to join her and others the next day, but I don’t feel prepared to just jump in like that, yk? It’s a huge thing, something I really have to make sure I’m capable of sustaining, not just a one day lark because I’m upset with sleepless nights. She, too, mentioned the “homeschool on a shoestring’ book. 🙂

    We live in a large city, so there are more libraries, it’s a matter of finding out where the next closest is since our local one shut down. It just makes it more of a hassle is all.

    I haven’t mentioned to my daughter at all what I’ve been thinking because I really want to have straight in my mind what I believe I can do before I tell her my thoughts and get her opinion. At the moment, 1:58am here, her thought would be “sleeeeep”, which is what she needs but is up doing work. They had the Science Fair tonight, so that takes away from homework time. In my opinion, teachers shouldn’t give hw on a night like that when both grades (it’s just a 7th & 8th grade middle school) participate in the Science Fair night. The kids have been working on their projects and will spend time there and it really takes away from normal hw time.

    I’ve been making use of writing the teacher a note about her not having her homework done since the past couple of nights it’s been all she could do to work on her experiment and making the big fold out poster board for it, there was no way to fit in tons of math problems as well. So far there has been no response from the math teacher.

    Tonight was also the parent/student orientation for freshmen at the high school. Bad planning between the schools when the kids need to be at the Science Fair and yet the 8th graders should also have been at the other thing, good grief! So hubby took the girls to the Science fair and I went for a little while to the high school thing. I didn’t feel like I got much from it, but I wasn’t there the whole time either. She turns in her paperwork tomorrow for registration there though. I’m torn, part of me feels like I’m sending her into a pack of wolves, and I don’t mean the teachers, lol. And yet high school is such a big part of life, so much social growth takes place then, and she really needs that, so it gives me huge pause when I think about maybe homeschooling her through h.s. also. I don’t want her to miss out on such an important time of life, yk? I can’t imagine not having all the experiences I did in h.s., so I wouldn’t want to deny her. Yet… things seem different these days too. She already is so uncomfortable being around all the other kids at the middle school with all the cussing. She really hates that. I didn’t exactly like it either in school, but you can learn to ignore it to a degree.

    Another factor, and yes, this is a NOVEL, lol, sorry!!! But hubby was talking to a teacher friend of ours about our daughter and how it takes forever to do hw and so on, and she said that it sounded a lot like their daughter was, and it turned out that she was ADD, which explained why she took so long with things. Hubby wants me to have our daughter tested because if she is also, then accomodations have to be made by the school so that she doesn’t have as much hw and so on. That might help our problem quite a bit, and she could still have the high school experience I suspect would be good for her socially.

    So I’ve had a TON to think about, between thinking about homeschooling just the rest of this year, or through h.s. or just having her tested and go from there and see. My head is spinning!!!!!


  14. Carolyn, I’m not pushing you to homeschool. But do know this. You only have three months and change if you are planning to send your daughter back to high school next year. I’m giving you this advice from experience. I’m a thinker, a cogitator myself. I sometimes over-analyze and it gets me into trouble. Don’t make that mistake now.

    My advice? If you want to do it, don’t think too long and hard now. The reason I say this is because the time you have left will dribble away and you’ll lose it. With such a short period, if you spend too much time planning and organizing, it’ll be mid April. Then you’ll spend a lot of time next year regretting that you didn’t do it or do it sooner. I say this from experience.

    A woman befriended me off a local school yahoogroup I subscribe to. She wanted to do what we did, a one year sabbatical for 8th grade. I worked with her on it for about a year. In the end, she got cold feet. You guessed it. She kicks herself every day now that she didn’t take the plunge.

    Please know this. Again, I say this from experience because I joined many on line groups that year. I continue to stay in touch with the homeschool world because my daughter and I want to write a book about that year. Just about everyone I talk to, and I have interviewed tons of people for my upcoming book (whenever that’ll be!), never regrets having taken this step, only regretting not doing it sooner.

    Food for thought. One more thing, a seminal point. I don’t know about your school and district. But…where I live, and I’m sure it’s the same in your case, 8th grade is a BIG standardized testing year. Big. If this was my daughter, in your shoes, in 8th grade (we homeschooled the entire year), she’d be spending a good three months now prepping for the state tests. In order words, reviewing material she already knows. In other words, HUGE waste of time. You couldn’t possibly waste her time worse. Think about the amount of time school wastes. And then sends all the work home. To your dining room table.

    You are already homeschooling because your daughter is spending hours and hours on homework. It’s not the same in homeschooling. You don’t start at 4pm when your child is exhausted and has had six hours sleep. You would never do that. In homeschooling, your child rises when she’s rested, she eats when she’s hungry and she learns at her most optimal time of the day.

    I considered homeschooling for 7th and got cold feet. I kick myself each day I didn’t get one more year. Each child is different. My daughter is a ravenous reader and eternally curious so I had that going for us. I consulted a seasoned homeschool parent, told her how much my daughter reads. I was still very green, all I knew is that my child reads incessantly, we love museums and I’d get an on line math course. The person told me, just that, right there, those three things already put you well ahead of what she’d be getting out of school.

    I thought that comment was too good to be true. So I consulted an expert at the Gifted Development Center. This woman had also homeschooled her two boys for some time. Mind you, she is not an Unschooler, she was more structured. But when I mentioned, I have a rough sketch, very rough but it’s something to jump start with; reading, field trips, nature centers, literary discussions around the dinner table, lectures in the city, and an on line math course. I repeated what that mother had said to me, with all that I’d come out way ahead of what my daughter would be getting out of school. She completely concurred!

    Each child is different. My daughter happens to be academically advanced. My consultant told me she could do nothing all year except watch bugs in the grass and still likely be ahead of her age peers. What I was worried about was socialization (yes, she had no time to socialize, she was always doing homework!) and her social emotional development, which paradoxically, was being stifled at school! My prime reasons to pull her out were homework overload and sleep deprivation. But it flowed from there. Social development, nurturing a love of learning, never having to hear a word about state testing, bonding with her parents, making new friends and exploring our world. That’s what we wanted to get out of the sabbatical year. Remember, Carolyn, just because your daughter is different than mine doesn’t mean you can’t homeschool. Lots of people homeschool their children for a host of reasons. Standardized testing has done more for homeschooling than anything! These are parents who don’t want to send their children to school to learn how to take a test. An education would be nice.

    So you can start today. Hop in your car or on a subway and get going! The museums, libraries, nature centers, free outdoor classical concerts, and a host of activities you can now sign your daughter up for (ice skating, drama, robotics, dance, piano, sports, you name it) are calling.

    Homeschooling is like taking your child under your arm, closing your eyes, jumping off a cliff and discovering you have wings! The initial plunge is terrifying. But when you realize you can fly and soar and call your own shots, you’ll be imbued with a sense of power and control over your own life that you have not felt in a very long time. Very heady feeling! Go for it.

    With three months left, if you can find on line curriculum for math, you can do the rest. Believe me…

    Good luck!


  15. Carolyn, my daughter takes this long on homework also because of ADD. Don’t assume the school will help you out, the way they should. We got nothing.


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