art by Julia Green
Hands up if you love homework? Anyone? ANYONE?
Weird. I don’t see any hands.
School is back in, and with it, the onslaught of the weekly homework folders sent home brimming with updates from the teacher, worksheets, reading logs, and Scholastic books form (the only welcome piece of information in there). And with the onslaught of the folder, the desperate tears of almost every child (at some point during the week, anyway). Maybe you’re lucky, and you got a kid like me. I loved homework. I couldn’t get enough math, reading, mimeographed worksheets. But I was an anomaly, and let’s face it, you probably aren’t sitting around begging to have a kid that grows up to have a wall full of books to accompany her OCD and Bipolar Disorder.
I might have loved homework as a kid, but as a parent, I loathe it — as do most kids.
I’ll tell you why I loathe it — and it’s not just because I’m already in second grade all day with my child. I loathe it because the school day is long enough without adding more work on top of their already very taxed brains. I loathe it because it's the manifestation of the push for kids to know more and more, earlier and earlier. I (selfishly) loathe it because I’m busy enough without having to supervise worksheets to their completion. I have laundry to do and dinner to cook and a job as well, by the way, as do most of us. I loathe it because who wants to force their child to do subtraction by threatening to take away dessert or TV while they cry “I just want to go play!” I loathe it because I am not in the practice of torturing my child and that is exactly what homework does. But I loathe it most of all because it only further reinforces our cultural obsession with success and the expectation that suffering will get you there.
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The research is sort of all over on homework. Many studies say it increases a child’s stress levels. Most studies show it improves test scores. Some studies show that it's good for older kids (like high school age) but not so much for grade school. New studies confim that it's not great for elementary aged kids. Either way, a majority of schools give it. A handful of teachers refuse to (and a few of them are still employed).
We just started at a new school. At the beginning of the year, I was thrilled to learn that both my first and second-grade kids had teachers that would not be assigning homework. They expected that the child would either read or be read to for 20 or so minutes a night. Perfect. I rejoiced. We already read at home every day! My joy was short-lived, though. In the fourth week of school, the district announced that they had reviewed the policy and adjusted the homework expectations to include a math worksheet nightly in addition to the reading assignments. It’s still not much compared to other schools I’ve seen, but having thought we escaped it entirely, I was not happy to learn that our district, which seemed so progressive, had begun to follow suit with much of the country.
Good question. I don’t know the answer yet, but I suspect it has something to do with the aforementioned test scores. Because here's the truth, the truth is, the heat is on. The pressure to increase those scores and increase those scores is widespread — pandemic, you might say. Even our liberal little school in the isolated mountains outside Sants Cruz, with its teachers that are still allowed to hug, and it’s policy that still allows parents to roam the campus and its free snacks of pretzels and apples that sit on the counter of the office, is not immune to this pressure.
And here is what I have to say about that: screw test scores.
I do not care how high my children score on a standardized test. The problem is that our culture does. I’m not saying that learning and academics aren’t important — of course, it’s important to learn. Of course, they need to know how to read and write and do at least some math (not Calculus though; that is just awful).
What I am saying is you get to be a child once.
Capitalism will sink its greedy claws into them eventually; it’s probably unavoidable. But can’t we try to let them be small? Can’t we throw the concern about how well they do on an exam out the window and instead measure their success by how they feel? Can’t we teach them early to value themselves and their joy over a work ethic that borders of servitude?
I don’t know, but I think we should try.