Day 4 with FedUp Mom

(I’ve given FedUpMom, who has written several guest entries in the past, free rein to speak her mind for the past three days here on stophomework. Today is her fourth post. If you’d like that opportunity, too, please email me.)

Guest Post #4
by FedUp Mom

How the Homework Got Done

“The schoolmaster who imagines he is loved and trusted by his boys is in fact mimicked and laughed at behind his back.”

— George Orwell, “Such, Such Were the Joys”

“Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” is a TV show wherein Gordon Ramsay, a famous chef, travels around to failing restaurants and attempts to whip them into shape. A recurring theme is the absolute cluelessness of the failing chef. “But the customers love this!” he’ll say, as he’s ladling up some revolting slop. “I’ve never had any complaints!” Gordon Ramsay points out, correctly, that most people don’t bother to complain; they vote with their feet, and simply never return.

I wish the bad chef could hear what his customers really say about his food. Similarly, I wish every teacher could hear what her students, and the students’ parents, say behind her back. I wish they could see how the homework actually gets done.

For instance, my older daughter recently came home with an assignment from the school librarian. It consisted of 20 random factual questions (e.g., “what year was the first World Series game?”), of which my daughter was supposed to answer 15. She was only allowed to get help for 10 of the questions, and each person who helped was only allowed to help with 1 question. She was supposed to find the answers in almanacs or dictionaries, not the internet. If she answered all 20 questions correctly, she could win some contest (dd: “I don’t care about the contest!”) My daughter was very tense and worried about how she could manage all this.

Naturally, I told her that what the librarian doesn’t know won’t hurt her. We then spent a few minutes answering the questions by looking them up on the internet. I personally haven’t opened an almanac in many years, and it isn’t because I don’t look things up.

When my daughter turns in her answers, the librarian will think her assignment worked. That is, unless she reads the stophomework blog.

Now, I could have gone in and complained, and I still might. But like the dissatisfied diners, sometimes I’m just looking for a quick exit.

32 thoughts on “Day 4 with FedUp Mom

  1. Right..and that’s how I do homework that comes home from my third grader that begins with: “Have a family member……”

    Anything that my child says she doesn’t know how to do, becomes fair game for me to do ….my way.

    “But you’re not teaching her anything about the work that way”….Not my job to teach school work.

    “But you’re setting a bad example.”
    How? She asked for my help…I’m giving her assistance.

    “She’s just going to learn to be lazy and get you to bail her out every time things get hard.”
    Not true. She spilled half a box of rice krispies one day and she had to clean every bit of it up herself. She wanted to draw a picture of something the other day and couldn’t get it just right and wanted me to do it for her. No way.

    “The teacher did not expect the parent to do the work”
    Well, then the teacher should not have sent it to my home.

    “How will your daughter ever learn responsibility?”
    She’s learn it from the many things in her life besides school. She’ll also grow and develop each year and be expectant of more responsibility as she does.


  2. FedUpMom said:
    When my daugh­ter turns in her answers, the librar­ian will think her assign­ment worked.

    That’s the big problem…enough tasks come back completed and the teacher thinks the task worked…I think the point was to use different sorts of reference books…clearly a 1985 type of task. It’s almost a desperate kind of manoeuver….The librarian sees that young people are not using these wonderful books that she treasures so she forces them to use them.


  3. Classic conundrum. Not at all unlike the infamous and long-drawn-out “Olympics” assignment my daughter had to do. In that case it did seem as if she was supposed to look stuff up on the Internet — in a totally random kind of way — which, as I’ve probably mentioned before, is not my idea of real research. (Neither is exhuming dusty old almanacs.)

    So much of “education” seems to consist of randomized, decontextualized bits of “information.” How pathetic!!


  4. Here’s another question only a librarian could love: “What book won the Caldecott medal in 1980?” Who the *bleep* cares?

    PsychMom, you’re absolutely right that the librarian will think her assignment worked, and I really shouldn’t encourage her.

    On the other hand, the school is going through a lot of changes, with a new Head of School coming in. If I’m lucky this assignment could be gone by the time younger dd is that age, if we keep her at the school.

    And the truth is I’ve got battle fatigue. I’m tired of these ridiculous conferences. And I know that it will be very difficult for me to communicate effectively with a person who could dream up this assignment.


  5. Ha…I was right…the early 80’s is the reference point for this my guess is she’s in her mid 30’s..Any idea how old she is FedUpMom?

    Good lord, who cares who wins book prizes? Unless it’s Sara Bennett..

    But I know what you mean about being too tired to fight these things…

    The other night I was at a family function related to the school and got into a discussion with another Mom about the homework load for this year. They were a family who listened to the teacher and turned their home into homework zone each evening and weekends. The contrast between their experience and mine this year is startling and was based solely on the parental choice in participating. They did, I didn’t. They experienced loads of homework…I, hardly any. Does the teacher know? I doubt it. I offered alot of encouragement to the Mom to protect boundaries and to take a stand around what she and her husband feel is appropriate. She wished we had talked earlier in the year.


  6. I should clarify…my comment about Sara implies that were she the recipient of a book prize, we would care about that!


  7. A bit tangential but check out this blog. It reminds of naysayers accusing us here that we don’t value Hard Work. Working hard, work ethic, sweating. And how it’s all nuanced because how do you make that argument at school that you are an intellectual, that you care, that you don’t want to waste time? When teachers often peg you as anti-education when you protest homework? And yet here we are, reading and dissecting George Orwell’s Such Such. So much for slackers and anti-learners.

    “Much of the mainstream chatter about gifted kids — apart from the utterly contradictory advice — seems to focus on whether kids are working too hard (“pushy parents,” “unrealistic expectations”) or not hard enough (“underachievers,” “everything comes easy,” “don’t earn their successes”).

    We’re exiting that conversation now.

    How hard are my kids working? How hard am I working? Who cares?

    Are we living and working with joy and passion? Do we love what we’re doing enough to carry on through the inevitable doldrums and frustrations?

    Goodbye to Hard Work


  8. PsychMom, I’m no spring chicken myself. How old is the librarian? Old enough to know better. I’m guessing that she asked for the Caldecott Medal winner from 1980 on the grounds that it’s far enough in the past that no-one is likely to remember it offhand.

    As far as I can tell, that’s how the questions are designed. It’s all little bits of trivia that no normal person could be expected to know, so that they *must* be looked up. Unfortunately, that just about guarantees that the questions are of no intrinsic interest.


  9. HomeworkBlues, what an interesting blog post. And stay tuned — “Such, Such” will return! I have only scratched the surface of the essay.


  10. Yes, I love that blog post too…I keep waiting for human beings to evolve, for it to stop being a world very unchanged from 1910’s world of work and more like the promises made in the 1960’s about an easier life.


  11. The problem here is less with the librarian than outdated standards and standardized testing. Standards in my state still require that kids know where to go to look up information, whether it be an encyclopedia, almanac, phone book, newspaper, atlas, etc. They are even expected to know the color of the government pages in the phone book. Kids won’t remember those things if they don’t actually use the books to look up some info. Maybe it shouldn’t be homework, but until standards are updated, teachers have to teach it.

    But really? I’ve read here for a long time. Fed Up Mom, it’s quite clear that you think ALL teachers are bad teachers. As both a mom and a teacher, I know better. My son attends school somewhere that I don’t teach. It’s rare that his friends or their parents say anything negative about his teachers. Because honestly? Most of us love kids and do our best, regardless of the fact that we are imperfectly human.


  12. I don’t think all teachers are bad teachers, but I’m more likely to post about bad teachers.

    Interestingly, my favorite teachers, the ones I would unhesitatingly call “great”, have all taught in the preK — kindergarten range. These are the teachers who really seem to put the kids first. As soon as you get into first grade, it seems like the culture of school takes over, and even teachers who might have been great get caught up in all kinds of counter-productive nonsense, beginning with homework.


  13. Believe me, EVERYONE used the Internet for this home work….please, this is like asking the child to use a rotary phone….what’s next? Turn in the questions on wax tablets?

    I dare say teachers have horror stories about parents.
    There’s plenty of blame to go around….both groups being made up of people.


  14. You bet teachers have horror stories about parents — they’ve got horror stories about me!

    If there was a real partnership between teachers and parents, we could cut down on everybody’s horror stories.


  15. More random comments —

    My kids attend a private school, so there’s no reason why state standards should be a problem.

    As for the question about the Caldecott medal, my daughter has a friend who attends the public school. One evening, the power in her house went out and she came over to our place to do her homework, which consisted of looking up names of Caldecott winners and filling out a worksheet. Did this have any educational value? Not that I could see. (BTW, the girl was in 6th grade at the time.)

    Do the Caldecott-medal people promote this stuff? Really, where is it coming from?


  16. In the time it takes to look up a Caledcott winner, the child could be reading a Caldecott book.

    I’m a bibliophile. I don’t like this computer saturated generation. I’m a progressive thinker but still love books enough to think kids should read them. Or be read to. To lose themselves in a book all afternoon long. Early and often. THAT is what my daughter wanted to do when she came home, read, Caldecott books among them. Spending hours looking them up is a classic case of “we can’t see the forest for the trees.”

    Teacher, you may say most of your profession loves kids. I came into this believing that too. Years later, I simply have to disagree. Yes, there are good teachers. We here are concerned that there are also so many bad ones.


  17. From a previous comment:

    My son attends school some­where that I don’t teach. It’s rare that his friends or their par­ents say any­thing neg­a­tive about his teach­ers. Because hon­estly? Most of us love kids and do our best, regard­less of the fact that we are imper­fectly human.

    I don’t even know what it means anymore when teachers claim that they “love kids”. If you walked into a school with no preconceptions, no agenda, is that really how you would describe what you saw going on? Not me.


  18. For me the discussion has gone beyond the teachers to a certain extent. There are more average ones than anything else, and they all work in a system that I think we’ve all agreed doesn’t work. We’re not educating our kids. I feel like I’m sending my kid to the lesser of two evils while I work….catchy…Lesser of Two Evils Elementary School.

    I love books but my child seems to have gone cold on them. When we go to the local mega-bookstore she’s more captivated by the webkins than the books. It saddens me and I pray it’s a stage.


  19. I would have less of a problem with this assignment if it was done in school as part of a comprehensive “information literacy and research skills” effort (though 20 questions sounds like it could be overkill).

    I am actually very concerned about some students’ (and adults’) ability to distinguish fact from fiction, and parents who have come up against the homework “folk wisdom” know what I am talking about. Combine this with library closings and the loss of credentialed librarians in our schools and it’s not a stretch to envision trouble ahead.

    Computerized resources simply have not evolved enough to warrant trashing libraries and dismissing books — especially when it comes to seeking primary and even secondary sources — and I’m not sure if they ever will.

    This topic was addressed recently in the Los Angeles Times:

    But I guess there just aren’t the resources and the time to devote to information literacy and research skills in schools when so much time and effort is diverted into test prep. Again, parents are left to cover this at home. Sigh.


  20. Tangent again but I have to bring this up. Watch Michelle Obama and her anti-kid obesity campaign. I read the articles very very carefully. Not one word on homework overload and sleep deprivation. Not one word about insanely early middle and high school start times in this country. Yet homework overload and sleep deprivation is why my daughter is so nature deprived, despite my best albeit desperate attempts at balance. The powers that be still think it’s a family issue, that we just don’t bother feeding our kids well and making sure they play.

    Teacher, the one who says we don’t like you, it’s not just about you. It’s about really understanding what goes on when the final bell sounds and our children go home. It’s talking to us, listening to us and at least pretending you care about our children’s health. If you turn a blind eye, we don’t want to hear anymore about how much you love our kids. Don’t tell us, show us.


  21. Yeah, I’m sure that in the Obama household, the message about education is pretty traditional..homework is the path to excellence and hard work is good for kids. I wonder who helps with homework?


  22. Re, “bad teachers.” I think we need to keep our eye on the prize (so to speak) — it’s the SYSTEM. And at the heart of that system is judging student learning as “performance,” in other words, as scores on tests.

    As long as schools, administrators, teachers, and students themselves are judged on standardized tests, classrooms will be slaves to the wrong kind of education. And as long as curricula are defined as a set of data points and skills, instead of as opportunities for higher-order thinking, teachers will see their job as a forced march to get through the curricular swamp.

    It’s interesting. My daughters attended a tiny private school in their first years (older daughter from PreK through 2nd, younger just PreK). In that school there was a single class per grade, usually no more than 10 kids in a class. There was never any doubt in our minds that the teachers were deeply attentive to our kids, and often customized the pace of learning for each one. In short, it was a wonderful start for my girls. Older daughter was completely in love with her second grade teacher, who had a fabulous Lego table and let the kids spend chunks of time just playing with it. The school would also do year-long thematic studies; in second grade it was The Sea, for example. To this day my daughter is a walking expert about the Titanic. Amazing.

    Then came public school, and things began to change — dramatically so this year (fifth grade). I think the teachers mean well, and genuinely believe they love and are helping the kids. But a factory model predominates, and mediocrity in teaching. In a way, it doesn’t matter if the teachers are “true believers” or not in what they do. They, and the whole school, are blinded to what’s wrong, because they are held hostage by the system.

    And what’s really ironic is that the public school is barely larger — there are two classes per grade (usually) instead of one, but they still average about 10 kids per class!


  23. Well said, Fred and I’m shocked by your final statement…10 kids in the class in a public school and they still can’t get off the system track!!!??? That’s just sad.

    I agree with everything you said..until society “gets it” about education..our kids are doomed to be the same.
    Cookie cutters..stepford children.

    Funny…people recognize the phenomenon in that silly 1970’s movie but they don’t see their kids.


  24. PsychMom, the public schools in our district actually get more money per student than I spend to send my kids to a fancy-pants private school. Lack of resources is not the problem — it’s a lack of will.

    PeggyInMA says:

    I would have less of a prob­lem with this assign­ment if it was done in school as part of a com­pre­hen­sive “infor­ma­tion lit­er­acy and research skills” effort (though 20 ques­tions sounds like it could be overkill).

    Whether the assignment is done at school or at home, the thing that bothers me is how tedious and uninteresting it is. Really, if you want to teach kids about research, why not have them research a topic they care about?

    Also, the point that you need to consider the source is less valid considering the rock-bottom factoids the kids were asked to get. There’s no controversy over what the capital of Oklahoma is, for instance, and you’re not likely to see different points of view expressed.


  25. Circling back to previous mentions of the Obamas — my opinion is that both of the Obamas are classic good-student types. Smart, hard-working, play by the rules. They’re not the type to question the system that has vaulted them to the top. You can see that in everything Obama has done with education.

    It’s the usual situation — Obama proposes to “fix” a public school system, which to the best of my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong!), he never spent a day in. His own kids have been sent, first, to a famous progressive school in Chicago, and now to Sidwell Friends.

    I’ve been noticing recently that whenever you hear a discussion about the public schools, it’s always the low-performing schools you hear about. Nobody talks about the problems in high-performing districts like the one we live in.

    We’re fast becoming a two-class (rich or poor) system. At the level of the Obamas, it’s likely they don’t even know anyone who still sends their kids to public schools. The problems of the public schools are assumed to be the problems of the poor. That explains a lot of the top-down, patronizing, one-sided approaches.


  26. It occurs to me that one of the ways you can recognize a bad assignment is by the amount of heavy lifting that comes with it. A long paragraph explaining the rules is a bad sign. A contest (“to motivate the kids!”) is a bad sign.

    All of this is a symptom of weak content. If there is a real subject to really be learned, you’d see a short, sweet assignment and a lot of actual content.


  27. I totally agree with the teacher who says that their standards still require students to be able to use almanacs, etc….so do ours. So, therefore I must teach it. Do I agree with standardized testing? Not really. Do I still do my best to teach children, regardless of the many strictures placed on my by the curriculum etc.? Yes, I do. Anyone who wants to criticize teachers (and yes there are bad ones, just like in every profession) should try doing our job for a week. I love my profession, but it is not an easy one, and I really get tired of hearing the criticism when I put my whole heart and soul into my teaching and into helping children.


  28. ****
    I totally agree with the teacher who says that their stan­dards still require stu­dents to be able to use almanacs, etc.…so do ours. So, there­fore I must teach it.

    It’s not so much that the teacher taught the kids how to use an almanac, she’s telling the parents to teach the kids how to use an almanac. Remember, this is homework. Does she imagine that every family has almanacs lying around the house? Or is she requiring parents to make several trips to the library so their kids can use the almanacs there?

    If the teacher had simply taught the kids how to use an almanac during school time, that would be a different issue. I might think it was unnecessary, but I wouldn’t be directly involved.


  29. Anonymous- Just curious. What is your take on homework in elementary school. Also, do you feel parents have any right to criticize homework assignments when the work erodes the quality of their family life? We aren’t really criticizing teachers, we are frustrated (as I’m sure you are as well) by a system which leaves parents without a voice.


  30. I give a minimum of homework, because as a general rule, the students who don’t really need the extra practice are the only ones who actually do it, because they have involved parents, or are extremely self-motivated. The students who desperately need the extra practice rarely ever do it, and do not have parents that will make sure that it is done. Any homework I do assign is based on material that I have already taught. As for the whole almanac, atlas, etc. standard, I collaborate with the media specialist. I teach a lesson in the classroom, then we go to the media center to complete an activity she has set up for us. It works well, and the students really enjoy it. This sparks the interest of the students and they then begin to peruse the reference books on their own in their spare time. I would never send the work home and expect the parents to teach it to their children…..half of my students would get zero help at all. I can certainly understand the frustration with that homework assignment.

    I also do not want my students to have to spend a great deal of time on their homework, because I know that can it can intrude on family time. I ask that they read for 30 min. every night(reading material of their choice) and complete math homework that should take a maximum of 15 minutes, usually much less.


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