The Middletons discuss ways they can relieve their
daughter from the burden of mounting, meaningless homework assignmentsthat stifle the desire to learn.
by Sam and Pam Middleton
Pam, the PTA meeting is next week, and I have an ax to grind. Our little lamb is getting slaughtered with homework every night—folder after folder of uninspired assignments. I watch our daughter trudge through it, and can see the intellectual light in her eyes dimming. Honestly, I see no point in the exercises she’s given, other than to reinforce a “don’t ask questions” herd mentality. I’ll give you an example: memorizing vocabulary lists. Has memorization ever been an effective form of learning? One would think with the technical, educational and societal advances we have made in the last 50 years we wouldn’t be using the same approach to increasing our vocabulary that our grandparents used.
These days, creativity is the great differentiator. It’s the creative individual who leads the world’s organizations, not the nose-to-the-grindstone employee. Everyone knows this, and yet our children are being drained of every last creative drop by the operational education pump that seems to require two hours of homework, every night, regardless of its value.
I know some people claim homework builds work ethic. I, for one, would much rather have the educational system focus on teaching concepts and let us as parents work with our children to instill the work ethic they need to succeed. Homework, in my opinion, does not produce work ethic. To the contrary, it instills a least-cost effort model of production, because students are forced to deal with volume, rather than quality.
Back to the PTA. I say we try to generate some grassroots interest among our fellow parents to campaign for a district-wide ban on homework, requiring only that students read 30 minutes every night. Other schools have implemented this policy, and it seems like an easy way to reduce the burden on our teachers so that, instead of spending their time grading reams of mindless exercises, they could think of ways to nurture the creative muscle so essential in today’s workplace. BTW, the last week of November I’ll be in New York at a strategic planning session. We’ll be exploring an industry-standard approach to creative problem solving. Case closed.
Sam, if you want to bolster teachers’ teaching abilities, banning homework is not the way to go. Sure, teachers would be able to allocate the time they spend grading homework to the task of developing better lesson plans. But the lesson plans would fall on deaf ears if students have not primed their minds for the information so they could actually engage in the classroom educational experience. This is the purpose of homework.
Yes, creativity is vital to succeeding in the workplace. But so are self-discipline, responsibility, organization, and time management—components of a strong work ethic that are honed as a function of doing homework.
Many schools have adopted the 10-minute-per-grade-level homework rule (10 minutes for first graders, 20 minutes for second graders, etc.). I think this approach makes sense. By gradually increasing the amount of homework, kids have time to develop their work skills over the years. I don’t know if this is the case in our school district, and I’m not sure how the rule is enforced, but we can probably find that out.
I share your concern about the quality of homework being assigned. In the time it takes our daughter to fill out a required reading log, she could have read another book. But I don’t think technological advances are the answer. Before the Xerox machine, when it wasn’t so easy to produce 30 copies of a homework worksheet, our grandparents learned by reading and by doing. Not only did they calculate the cost of seed to yield crops in a 1-acre lot, they also bought the seed, planted it, and helped harvest the crop. Low-tech teaching must have worked for them, as these folks grew up to invent the Xerox machine (the irony is delicious, isn’t it?).
So the homework problem lies with the fact that the assignments are not carefully chosen for their ability to enhance learning, but more often amount to busy work that turns kids off to learning. I’m not sure how to stimulate change here. I’ve heard suggestions, like giving parents the cell phone numbers of all their kids’ teachers, so we could call with concerns or questions. I bet a lot more thought would go into assigning homework that’s creative and relevant if teachers had to take wake-up call requests from parents because their kids have fallen asleep at their textbooks. Maybe that’s something to address with the PTA.