Homework: A Harsh Ruler

6 Sep

This is what dominates our house on a nightly basis.  And by dominate, I mean in the most oppressive sense possible.  In the same way Pharaoh dominated the Israelites by forcing them to make bricks without straw, so it is that we seem to be forced to toil under the oppression of a load of homework.  I don’t think teachers and administrators fully understand the weight and stress of homework on a family that makes an attempt at doing the right thing and being involved in the sense that schools like.

Any sort of church or other activities during the week are absolutely out of the question.  My oldest in middle school does not get home until almost 5 in the evening.  Any sort of written assignment will take him hours to complete simply because he labors long and hard at those types of assignments.   Of course he also chooses to dawdle and procrastinate as much as possible, making homework time even longer and making it more painful.  If the school is Pharaoh, we his parents are the overseers charged with wielding the whip to keep him producing.   There is much raging and gnashing of teeth, especially since we are all tired, hungry and irritable at the end of the day.  But experience tells us that letting them eat before homework will delay the completion even longer into the night.

There are several factors which make homework more painful than it needs to be.  Some of these are because of the student (my kids) and some of these are because of the school and others are a combination of the two.  As parents, we try to take care of those things that we can in our own kids by not letting them procrastinate and making sure they do the assignments right.  But sometimes that is not an easy task.

Sometimes we don’t even know there is an assignment due. I know it is hard to imagine, but sometimes when we ask our kids if they have homework or if it finished, they lie.  That’s right.  They tell us they have no homework or they tell us it is finished.   However, the past several years, some teachers have active and updated Moodle sites (called ELearn in our county)  where they list the assignments and may even have copies of some of the material they pass out in class as well as other resources to help parents keep up.  It makes being an involved parent MUCH easier.  I know this is one more thing a teacher has to do, but nowadays, most grades and subjects are following each other, they might be giving the same assignments.  In fact we did use that knowledge once when my youngest didn’t write down his assignment.  While his 4th grade teacher did not have an active site, there was one across town who did, and we happened to know she did from prior experience with our oldest child.  So it was simple for us.  But if a teacher does not have an active site, they really should consider linking to one that is active.

Sometimes they forget their book or other needed material.  Kids can be forgetful, careless and disorganized.  Again, having an active web page that is updates can help.  And nowadays most textbooks have an online version available.  This has also made things easier for us.

Sometimes they did not learn the concept at school and have to be taught at home.  This can be a pet peeve of mine, although I understand there are a lot of reasons why a student does not get it at school, including distractions or their own inattentiveness.  Nevertheless, homework is supposed to be something the student should be able to do independently as a way to get more practice toward mastery.  However, many times the student has not even reached the acquisition stage of a skill or concept.  At this point, we as parent have to step in and take over their education because the school, for whatever reason, has failed to teach them.  I know this sounds like a harsh indictment, it is a simple fact that if my child has work to do and they have no clue how to do it, they have failed to learn it at school.  No matter the reason, the child still has to be taught and this makes the process of homework completion more drawn out.  And more oppressive.

Sometimes there is too much homework.  My middle schooler has 4 core subjects plus two electives, one of which is band.  If you want to be good at band you have to practice and they recommend 30 minutes per day.  So if each core subject follows the same guideline, we can have a total of over 2 hours of homework.  Fortunately it has not been that bad, but the estimated time is not the actual time.  30 minutes easily becomes 2 hours if any one of the above factors is true.  Teachers need to assign based on estimates and then dial it back by at least a third.  I would say cut it in half because a large portion of the students will take twice as long as you think they should.

Sometimes we, as parents, have no clue what they are supposed to be doing or we have to teach/reteach ourselves before teaching our kids.  For me this is less true of science but I can see many parents struggling with any or all of the subjects they have not used in years and years.  Just watch a few game show fails and you see how little many adults retained from their own schooling.

People just like these, everywhere, are making babies who grow up to be school children who will need help on their homework.  And seriously, even those of us with college degrees will struggle with 4th grade math the way it is being taught in schools decades after we were taught the same sort of math.  They are teaching it totally different from anything that I ever studied in an effort to increase math scores.  So if we have to teach ourselves before we teach out children, this will further slow and burden the homework process, as well as add to the considerable fatigue and stress of it.

Don’t forget all of those nifty projects that may not be mentioned until the night before they are due.  I have issues with projects that demand considerable time and resources from the parents.  I think about the single mother working 2 jobs to support her family and then she has to go by the store to pick up extra supplies for some sort of project assigned by the school.  Wealthy kids with wealthy parents have the nicer looking projects because their parents can spend the money and time to make it look really polished.  But even outside of this, the projects usually demand time above and beyond regular homework assignments and can take an entire weekend to complete.  So now in addition to the stresses of the week, it bleeds over into weekends and over breaks.  Our school board does mandate that no homework be assigned over breaks, which gives some relief.

The entire concept of homework needs to be reevaluated as to how it is assigned in both quality and quantity.  There are books and  a site devoted to lessening the homework crunch, largely caused by pressures caused by AYP and NCLB.  There is also research suggesting that homework is of little benefit anyway.

2 Responses to “Homework: A Harsh Ruler”

  1. Angel Read September 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    I agree with you here. I was one of those kids who spent miserable hours each day wrestling with homework that I didn’t really understand, and I would hate to put kids through that! In my current teacher training, they recommend at least giving homework in smaller doses… For instance, a kid can just as easily show that they understand a math concept by doing 6 problems instead of 50, and it is way less stressful for them!


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