Groceries for Homework

I wasn’t happy to read this article, Food for Homework, describing a new program in Modesto, California, where children in need can get 15-pounds of groceries twice a month if they enroll in after school tutoring programs and do their homework.

Read more about the program here and then let them know what you think of it.

25 thoughts on “Groceries for Homework

  1. A response to this seems meaningless compared to the tragedy of the situation.

    “Food For Thought” they call it. Oh my heavens.


  2. I had to come out of my brief “retirement” to respond to this. I agree with PsychMom. It is that outrageous.

    From the article: “Studies show that chronically malnourished students don’t do well in school.” So we only feed them if they do their homework?

    Are we so desperate to have kids do homework that we will resort to any tactic, no matter how ill advised or unethical? And never mind that a cardinal rule of parenting and teaching ought to be,never reward with food. I don’t fall into that reward/punishment trap at all, for that matter. In fact, even years ago, a preschool teacher who heavily espoused the behaviorist model was already saying to me, we don’t reward with food, we don’t reward with food.


  3. To add, after school tutoring sessions are nothing more than state standardized test prep, not help with homework. At one point in elementary, I requested that. I figured, it would go faster with someone else “cracking the whip,” and take me completely out of the power struggle. I reasoned that my daughter would sit there, get it done, and I’d come pick her up. Visions of homework free evenings danced in my head.

    The issues were not cognitive. she could do it. It was too much, too tedious, she would come home and stall, it would eat up our entire afternoon and evening. School told me daughter could not participate in this after school session because she was not failing.


  4. Add to all that, the pressure some youngsters may feel to do this program, so that their family gets food!! And when they leave the school…what happens then? And what kind of Food Bank operates like this…I thought needy families get food, no strings attached.

    I checked …it’s a K to 6 school. So we’re talking kids younger than 12.

    I, too, have left homework to “Homework Club” which runs from 4:30 to about 5….I get to the school by about 5 to 10 past 5 everyday and she’s still usually in the classroom doing something. They get from 3:30 to 4:30 to play outdoors if the weather is good, after they have a snack. We don’t have test prepping….it’s a private school that doesn’t test elementary kids, which is a good thing. But my 8 year old still doesn’t do what’s assigned each day…she keeps saying she doesn’t get it..she doesn’t know what to do. She fell asleep in the car on the way home twice this week…and we only live a 10 minute drive from the school. She’s cooked, toasted, done. I haven’t heard from the teachers, and I don’t mention homework at home much, so I’m assuming things are OK.


  5. PsychMom, in third grade, for a while, I just stepped back. I picked up daughter, we went roller blading, skating, played, park, ran, romped, bonded.

    I got a call that week from a director. Are you aware your daughter has not done much homework this week, she asked. Yes, I replied. Silence… She was waiting for an explanation!


  6. Yeah, that’s where we are ..third grade. I feel guilty often that she spends so much time at school and that her day is always longer than mine. But that’s always been our reality. I’ll be damned if I’m going to make her do more work at home.

    She tells me she’s supposed to do XYand Z. I ask “Where is it”. At school, I forgot the response. I say, well, then I guess you’ll just have to look at it tomorrow with the teacher. If ever she brings stuff home and wants my help, we sit down and do it in 5 minutes with me giving her the answers. Sometimes this makes her mad (which makes me mad because I’m trying to avoid conflict over homework where ever I can) and then I don’t know what to do anymore.

    She had a task the other day where she couldn’t possibly be expected to know the answers, and I didn’t give the answers for that. Is an 8 year old supposed to know that Adam Sandler is an actor? Most of his stuff is wholly and completely inappropriate for young kids!


  7. Oh no, it’s not child labor..these children will feel better about themselves through their hard work when they see the fruits of their labor. It’s all about helping the children have better self esteem.

    But you just know…someone, somewhere is saying:

    “They have to do their homework anyway…why not get something for it”

    So now, on top of doing homework, whose sole purpose is to raise test scores, (which the research says it doesn’t do), the children have to support the health and welfare of their family by doing this worthless work.

    Yes, we value children in North America.


  8. Uh, there goes my hiatus. But I have to respond!

    PsychMom, yes, raises self esteem alright.

    It’s so manipulative. You are hungry, you want food, work for it, kid!

    It’s not about self esteem, of course. Good sarcasm there, PsychMom, drives the point home. It’s about coercion and forcing compliance. Get those loser parents to shape up by dangling food (FOOD!) in front of their noses. Who wouldn’t bite when you are holding a malnourished toddler in your arms?

    Everyone, please comment on the article. The participating agency has clearly not thought this through and is buying that whole, “we value education”: bromide.


  9. Studies may show that malnourished students don’t do well, but as Sara and others have pointed out, studies also show that homework doesn’t help them do better!

    I don’t see a place where we can comment on the article itself.


  10. Sorry, HWB, to bait you, but I can’t let this one go either.

    On the foodbank’s website is a contact page….I’m writing to the contact person and ccing Michelle Bell, who is mentioned as district coordinator, of what I’m not sure…but this lowly Mom from Canada wants to say something.

    The trouble is, I don’t want the food to stop flowing….I just want the forced labour to stop. Why can’t they give families a bag of food for adults showing up to pick their children up at school everyday and playing with them in their “forced” recreation hour. Why can’t mothers qualify for the extra food if they engage in an hour’s worth of reading every day? Why can’t Mom’s and Dad’s get the food for doing odd jobs around the school?

    Take the burden off the child….it’s not their fault they’re poor or malnourished. For heaven sake, they are children.



  11. Ah, I can’t keep my word to stay away. PsychMom, you go, write!

    “The trouble is, I don’t want the food to stop flowing….I just want the forced labour to stop.”

    Bingo. Here’s what I want for these malnourished children, all the while realizing THAT’s even patronizing. Why don’t we ask *them?*

    Instead of useless homework, designed not to inspire or to light a fire but to raise test scores, our society could do this:

    1. Feed them unconditionally. That people go hungry in this land of plenty (yes, even in this recession) is a travesty.

    2. Find responsible adults who can take these children to the park, a museum, a library, a free afternoon ballet, while their parents work. Or don’t work. Show them the beauty of life, not the drudgery. Unless of course we are only priming them for low service jobs where compliance is key, as Jonathan Kozol writes.

    The case has been made to keep these kids busy all afternoon so they don’t watch tv or play video games for hours. So take them somewhere! Because now, not only have we coerced them into doing nothing work, we are paying them with food! Imagine if the kid doesn’t do it. Not only will his teacher berate him, but so will his mother. Now a young child has to feel guilty that he let his family go hungry. That oughta set him up for a good self image.

    When Alfie Kohn talks about how manipulative and controlling dangling carrots and sticks are (Punished by Rewards), he sure wasn’t kidding, was he?


  12. In this case it’s so blatant, you can’t miss it. It’s so heartless…can not one teacher at that school not see it?

    What do you say to the kids who won’t do it?


  13. PsychMom, furthermore, I agree with you. We don’t have to give away something for nothing. For unemployed down and out parents, there is nothing wrong with instilling the value of work. After all, we all need an income to survive. I like PyschMom’s idea of giving parents an opportunity to do some odd jobs around the school, ways to help out, ways to contribute.

    Let’s face it. We adults work for food in the sense that we work and earn a living and that puts bread on the table. An honest day’s work is something to be admired. But not in a manipulative, do your useless busy work or you don’t get fed.

    PsychMom makes an excellent point here: “Why can’t they give families a bag of food for adults showing up to pick their children up at school everyday and playing with them in their “forced” recreation hour. Why can’t mothers qualify for the extra food if they engage in an hour’s worth of reading every day? Why can’t Mom’s and Dad’s get the food for doing odd jobs around the school?”

    I like this idea so much better. It’s more respectful. It asks something of parents without controlling how they parent. Some teachers may argue, but that’s what homework is, asking something of parents. No, it’s not the same thing! I hope the powers that be can understand the difference in asking people to give something back to their communities, giving adults some self worth (how would you like to help around the school?) instead of coercing children to work for their supper.

    And when all is said and done, it won’t work anyway! We know rewards don’t produce long term desired effects. As Alfie Kohn says, all they buy you is temporary compliance. And in the end, you will turn children off to the very thing you are hoping to instill.


  14. Thanks to PsychMom for providing the link. Here is more information on the program:

    Food 4 Thought

    Food 4 Thought supplies supplemental groceries to needy children participating in existing tutorial programs at local schools and community centers. In exchange for eight hours per week spent in a tutoring program, each child earns a 15-18 pound bag of supplemental groceries, which they can take home and share with their family.

    Becoming a Food 4 Thought Participant

    Kids must participate in tutorial program to receive a bag of groceries
    4 hours of academic and 4 hours recreational
    There are currently 2,700 children at 38 sites participating in this program.

    I just sent a letter to Sherry Stevens. I urge you to do the same.


  15. Here is my email to the food bank:

    Dear Ms. Stevens:

    I was absolutely shocked to learn of your “do your homework and you get supper” program. Please take a moment to read the comments at I admire what you do, I have donated and volunteered at food banks over the years. When my daughter was in preschool, I organized a social action project with the children whereby they donated and delivered food to banks.

    I am HomeworkBlues on this site. Please do read our comments. We are parents who came together, frustrated and depressed over the increasing volume of homework our children are assigned. So much homework that it is robbing them of play and reading and sleeping. That is how the site was developed, born out of Sara Bennett’s book, “The Case Against Homework.”

    We are NOT against learning. My child, for example, loves to learn, is a ravenous reader and highly inquisitive, creative and imaginative. That’s just to give you some history of this blog and its faithful readers and commenters.

    I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have not thought this through and that at first glance, it seems like a great way to motivate children to learn and that it promotes education. It does not. Please read this blog entry to see why we so vehemently disagree:

    Groceries for Homework:

    Thank you for taking the time to read the post and our comments. We don’t want you to stop feeding the hungry. But please reconsider how you go about it.




  16. I will also write a letter but it’s hard to know what to say. How can I communicate with someone who thinks it’s a good idea to only give groceries to kids who do their homework? Our worldviews must be a million miles apart.

    I am so tired of the carrots and sticks. They seem to be everywhere. It’s part of a completely patronizing attitude which is constantly applied to people who are perceived as less important — children, women (mothers!), the poor.

    I notice the agency also provides food for seniors, with no strings attached. What? You don’t demand that the seniors brush their teeth, quit smoking, and attain an appropriate weight before you let them have their groceries?


  17. Okay, here’s the letter I sent:

    Ms. Stevens — I am writing to you about the “Food 4 Thought” program.

    I think I can best explain my point of view by telling you about my mother’s experience.

    My mother worked in the public schools for 25 years, both as a teacher and as a trainer of teachers’ aides. After she retired, a friend invited her to help out at an afterschool tutoring program for low-income kids, very much like the one you describe. The kids had worksheets that the school had assigned as homework. Some kids were so far below the required level that there was no way to get them through the worksheets at all. Others had the skills to do the worksheets, but were so bored that they had to be pushed and prodded to get through them. None of the kids was interested or engaged in what they were doing. At best, they exhibited passive compliance. The kids were exhausted after a day of school and just wanted to go home. My mother told me later she felt that the tutorial sessions were a form of child abuse. She never went back.

    I think your agency’s work of providing groceries to families who need them is wonderful, but I hope you will reconsider the “tutorial” requirement. Thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail.




  18. Here’s my letter…..

    Good Morning:

    I’m writing to comment on your Food For Thought Program that I recently learned of. While I’m certain hearts were in the right place, to make children’s food and families’ wellbeing contingent on children doing extra school work is simply wrong headed. I believe the school in question goes from Grade K to 6, so the oldest a child could be is 12. Do you seriously think it is a good idea to place the burden of providing groceries to a needy family on the backs of an already stressed, underprivileged child, for whom school work is probably already an issue? Certainly the families should have the food…I would never disagree with that….and if you truly want to contribute to learning and child welfare, research shows that families that eat dinner together have children that are higher achieving. So why not sponsor “Families Eat Together Nights”at the school. Teach families new recipes prepare and eat them at the school! Get parents involved and make them the recipients of the extra food for THEIR participation. It puts the responsibility of raising the family back where it belongs…with the parents and the community…NOT THE CHILDREN!!!!!! Children should not derive their sense of self worth from providing food for their family. It is their job to be children, loved and cared for simply because they ARE, not because they DO.


  19. Here’s the letter I wrote:

    Dear Ms. Stevens,

    I read about your program which provides groceries to the families of children who successfully complete homework.

    Although I’m sure your intentions in providing groceries for homework are pure, I feel compelled to let you know that I was quite disturbed by the whole idea.

    As the founder of Stop Homework and the co-author of The Case Against Homework (Crown 2006), I discovered, through my research, that there’s no correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school. While I am opposed, in general, to the idea of rewards for good behavior (I think intrinsic motivation is a much better idea), I am opposed, in particular, to making young children do work in order to receive food they so desperately need.

    I really hope you’ll reconsider your program and give food to those families in need, regardless of whether their children do homework.

    Again, I am not challenging your motivations and I think it’s wonderful that you work in a program that provides food to those in need.

    All best,

    Sara Bennett
    founder, Stop Homework


  20. I googled Food for Thought and Second Harvest together and this idea may be very wide spread…even into Canada, though I didn’t look closely enough to be sure.

    Good letters from everyone…maybe someone will stop and think for a second.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: