Wednesday, 13 February 2008

I Hate Homework

Yesterday I went to the School Council meeting for our school (more commonly known as PAC) and the topic of homework has been gnawing at me ever since.

I must confess: I don't believe in homework.

Perhaps when my kids are a little older I'll feel differently - but for now I think it's more important that they run and play and draw and relax and snuggle and roll around after they get home from school.

Jill had a teacher that assigned HOARDS of homework. I didn't see any educational value in it. It was full of crossword puzzles, math games, fill in the blank stuff....just things that had been photocopied. I didn't make her do it. I was surprised at the stressed out parents who would corner me and ask how we were handling all the homework. I'd simply respond that we don't do it and they'd look at me with wide-eyed wonder. Apparently in the homes of her classmates there was fighting and crying and threatening of life and limb over homework. No one was allowed to go to sleepovers on weekends because there was too much homework. They were reconsidering registering in soccer because there was so much time required for homework. Give me a break!!

I figured life's too short. My kids does just fine in school and we don't really need 'time-fillers' to keep us busy in the evenings and on weekends. We have enough other stuff to do. And I'm certainly not willing to sacrifice my relationship with my child to get into a big fight over wehther or not they should do a crossword puzzle that was sent home.

The big concern most parents expressed was that they'd get a bad mark on the report card if they didn't do it. Sure enough we did get that bad mark. Jill got all 1's and 2's (1 is the highest mark and the lowest is 5) and she got a 3 in 'completing assignments'. Guess what....who cares?! If she gets 'performing above expectations' on all the academic sections....why does she need to do crossword puzzles and the rest after school? Just doesn't make any sense to me! Then again, I always seem to be getting in trouble for questioning systems and authority....that's just how our life goes.

Well, at our School Council meeting the other day one of the parents brings up a problem of her kid not understanding what he needs to do for homework that is brought home. The teacher representative jumps into the conversation and gives all the parents ideas on things kids can do for their required homework time each day. "Required home work time?" I say. "Why yes, of course required homework time." I scoffed and said that I ask my kids when they come home if they have homework (well, in my regular life I do....right now we're homeschooling Jill so that's a whole different story). If there's no homework assignments then it's on to the long list of other things that need to be accomplished and addressed that evening. The teacher was aghast with me and said that all children should do some homework each and every night. I told her I think she's off her rocker. I guess I'm just another one of those crazy parents that get talked about in the staff room.

Here's my reasoning:

1. How many people would continue working at a job where the boss said that every night you must spend 20 minutes if you've been here for one year, 30 minutes if you've been here for 2 years, and 45 minutes if you've been here for four or more years doing a little work at home from the day. I don't think it would happen! Now, if you have a major career going on and you work more than 8 hours a day and you're happy with your life - well great. I just don't think children need to live life like that.

2. These days we hear so much about kids being too fat, spending too much time at computers, in front of the TV, sitting on a bus instead of walking home, etc. We have a limited amount of time after school. My kids generally get home at 4 pm and go to bed at 8 pm. In that time there's dinner, church activities, scripture reading, journals, swim club, soccer, family activities, oh, and a little down time. Where exactly do we fit in more school work? Especially 'busy work' that has little educational value? They are at school from 9 am until 3:30 pm. Surely there's enough time in there to get the educational priorities in....if not, what the heck are they doing all day?!

3. Which brings me to the next thing...98% of the homework I've seen brought home is 'busy work'. There's nothing educationally stimulating or challenging. It's just something to do. Most of the time it has been something the teacher has photocopied. I figure if the teacher is just photocopying something out of a book it's optional in our life. If we were seeing assignments that provided some real educational value I might reconsider. So far it hasn't happened. I've never been told my child is having trouble with any of the things that have been brought home...just that this is a good way to fill the required homework time. Sorry. I don't buy in to that thinking.

The interesting thing is that my kids do do things that are educationally stimulating. They find things they're interested in and try as I might (okay, I don't try that hard) I cannot tear them away from it. The other day Jill was making a clay diorama of Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump for one of her homeschooling projects for Social Studies. Peirce caught on and decided he wanted to do something. He created a sunset that was quite like what you might see in one of Barbara Reid's books. I mentioned that to him and he was quite excited to see a couple books we have that show plasticine illustrations. He even asked if the next time we go to the library if we could get some more Barbara Reid stories. He also took his sunset to kindergarten the next day to show his class. I love that! That is learning! In a perfect world the teacher would grab that moment and read some Barbara Reid books. I think they call that passion learning. I don't even expect that (I'd be pleasantly surprised if it DID happen). In most classrooms it never would though....because the teacher already has a list of things she's photocopied for that day for the kids to work on. "Never mind what you're excited about learning! We have some worksheets to get through!"

...and we wonder why kids tire of school. They don't tire of learning...they just need an opportunity to do it. I believe learning is much more indelible when you can let go of the plans and follow the child. It's hard for adults though to trust kids and let go of the system. There's lots of ideas being put forward that move in that direction though:

Regio Approach
Differentiation's another one

I'm sure there are more...those are 3 approaches that come to mind right off the bat.

I've always felt a moderate approach is best in most situations. I don't think I'd ever totally jump into the unschooling arena - but their argument certainly has some merit and should give one reason to pause and consider the overly structured lives many children are leading. Some children don't even know how to just play anymore...they just go from one structured activity to antoher where they're told what to do. Gone are the days of street hockey, neighborhood soccer games, and the good ol' kick the can! I think we need a return to that way of life.

Luckily I ran into a book last year by Alfie Kohn that supports my theory. The book is called The Homework Myth. I think I might buy it as a present for the Principal and a few teacher's. :0) Not sure they'll read it though....they might be too busy marking homework., time to go run in the field and build a snowman or make snow angels...or whatever strikes our fancy!


The Family Called Hyde said...

In response to your posts about Martha Stewart and Amanda Quick:
First, Martha Stewart: I think there is no doubt Martha has made a comeback. Her TV programs are going strong. She has two of which I am aware. She also has contracts with department stores pushing her own brand of merchandise . Although it amazes me that people don’t seem to remember her record, I two have been known to catch her shows. I don’t remember buying any of her merchandise though. I saw the movie that was supposed to be the history of her life and it certainly made her look like a loose cannon that could explode at any moment, especially if things didn’t go her way.
I don’t know much about the Amanda Quick book so I can’t comment on that, but I have just read the most intriguing and interesting book. It is “Silent in an Evil Time, The Brave War of Edith Cavell” by Jack Batten. I must admit I knew very little about this woman who was an international heroine. She was a British citizen who helped save the lives of at least a thousand soldiers during World War I. As Matron of a hospital in Brussels when the war broke out in 1914, she soon found herself involved in a secret organization to assist soldiers trapped behind German lines. Her hospital became part of an elaborate Allied escape route, putting her in terrible personal danger. She gave the escaping soldiers shelter, disguises, and a safe route across the border into neutral Holland, even escorting some of them herself. Her imprisonment and eventual execution by firing squad became one of the turning points in the Great War, even the history of the 20th century.
I had heard of her before but had not learned the real story. I thought she was a famous nurse from Alberta. There is a mountain in Jasper named for her (I bought a painting of Mt. Edith Cavell when we lived in Jasper) and the Edith Cavell Nursing home in Lethbridge. Little did I know the scope of her influence. Just goes to show that you can never stop learning. The book was fascinating, a very quick read, and I would highly recommend it. I will certainly recommend it to my book group.
Oh, and about the homework thing. I tend to agree with you. Maybe you got your renegade traits from your mother.

Kim Hawryluk said...

I really liked this post and told Andrew he should read it and he really liked it too. All we have to say is, "Amen." Though we're just expecting #1, we've talked about this topic a lot and though we hadn't developed any solid opinions due to the lack of personal experience, you were right on with the way we think and feel too!