Monday, September 12, 2011


{I know that it isn't Monday anymore - I started writing this yesterday but finished today.}

I just looked at all Jonathan's graded papers from last week. There are 35 pages. 13 of them are homework pages, and that was from a 4 day week.

As today is Monday, there is another 2 pages of math in his homework folder (due tomorrow), and a packet of spelling (to be written, and written, and written, ad infinitum) throughout the week. Each day there will be more pages sent home. And we're supposed to be filling out a reading log, too, tracking how many minutes of reading we manage to smush into the day.

When did we lose touch with reality in our pursuit for academic excellence? Jonathan goes to school from about 8:15 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. By the time we get home and into quiet time, it is 3:30pm. He has an hour of quiet time (for lego building, and listening to audio books, and drawing pictures), and believe me, he needs that hour. Until he gets that break, he will cry over anything and everything, no matter what it is. He's just tired when he gets home. It is hard work learning and being good!

Then we have evening chores to get ready for dinner, and dinnertime together as a family, and then some time to play outside. And then guess what? It is time to get pajamas on and brush teeth and have a story and do bible study with Daddy. And then it is bedtime.

Homework doesn't fit. I am not at all convinced that it should be made to fit. But I also want Jonathan to respect his teacher and do what is asked of him, and so I'm not sure what to do.

I don't want to be that awful mom who makes trouble for the teacher. I was the teacher, and I met my fair share of awful moms. But...he's six. And I've read too much child development theory (and educational theory, for that matter!) to think that this much paper and pencil work is good for him. Even "science" is paper and pencil work. "Draw lines between the roots on both trees" -

I have a friend who used to be an early elementary teacher. She used to send homework home with her students, too. Now she's a mom ("on the other end of things!") and she's choosing to homeschool her son. Another friend used to teach kindergarten, and is now considering homeschooling her kids as well. Apparently there is a disconnect between the teachers in the classroom and the mommies in the home.

Based on the graded in-class work that came home today, it is clear that Jonathan is getting quite a lot of handwriting/sentence structure/word usage/spelling practice during his school day. I also know that his class spends time working on math facts orally during the day. I have grave doubts that doing more of the same every evening will actually aid his learning. Wouldn't it be better to focus on reading together (we're in the middle of a chapter book that he's really enjoying, but don't always have time to get to) and playing outside, and being part of the family for those 4.5 hours that he's home in the afternoon/evening?

I'm certainly not the only one who is concerned about this. There is a worldwide movement, seemingly about five years old, which is against homework as part of standard education. Stop Homework was originally a website, but is now a busy Facebook group filled with parents who (like me) are questioning the value of the piles of papers. The creator of the site, Sara Bennett, is also the co-author of The Case Against Homework. Other authors have written in a similar vein: The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, and The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning. (The titles alone give you an idea of the passion and frustration driving this movement!)

Interestingly, there are some schools (both public and private) that are listening to the concerns and have acted to reduce homework. Some have policies in place specifying time limits to homework, some make it non-mandatory and ungraded, and a few have gone so far as to eliminate homework entirely. And they are finding good results!

While I know that I'm only 2.5 weeks into this new lifestyle called "school" (and thus don't want to jump overboard or burn bridges quite yet!) I'm also doing some hard thinking. When we choose to put Jonathan in school, are we choosing to accept "school" as a package deal (including homework) regardless of the impact that it has on him and/or on our family? Or do we retain the right as parents to choose school without choosing homework?


Sara in Seattle said...

Great post. I too have grave concerns about this. I care a lot about education, but I just can't believe this is the right way. And we worry about kids being obese and inactive, and yet we give them virtually no time to actually be outside or doing anything physical. Perhaps this is also the reason there are so many behavior issues at school now and behavior "disorders"--I can't help but think some of it is attributable to kids just not being able to release some of their pent-up energy constructively.

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Sara - exactly! Little boys are supposed to run around and yell and climb things, and instead we put them in classrooms and tell them to sit still, and then send them home and tell them to do it some more! I really want my son to have time to run and jump and play.

sarah marie said...

wow... that is a crazy amount of homework (much of which sounds like busywork... I know I can't judge without seeing it, but drawing lines between roots? Really?) for a six year old.

Is he enjoying school, though?

Amber said...

Great post, Emily. I have friends who are 2nd & 3rd grade teachers for 20+ years and they have remarked about how much more homework they are expected to assign nowadays. They don't even want to do it or even see much benefit, but it is part of the expectation from the school. I can see how much it interferes with family life as well as kids being able to participate in things like faith formation at church or special events during the week.

And I think the question you ask at the end is very interesting and provocative. It doesn't seem like you have the right to make that decision, does it - even though it impacts family life so much.

How does Jonathan deal with the homework?

Ma Torg said...

Wow. How annoying! I find Mary and Lucy's homework very reasonable. Lucy only gets math homework (in 2nd grade) and Mary gets only 1 page a day (for 1st grade) plus reading logs, of course. So I have time to do some extra homeschooling on top of their homework without overtiring them. Plus their school ends at 2:20 instead of 3. Have you considered another school option perhaps, because that really and truly seems like a LOT! I never even did 14 pages a day while homeschooling a first grader. Anyhow, I think you should talk to the teacher and figure out a compromise somehow.

Amber said...

I was thinking about this more last night and it occurred to me that there are two different paradigms here - one where parents put their child (and by extension, their family) under the authority of the school so that the child can be educated in the way the school see fits, and the other where parents contract with the school to provide certain services, while maintaining control or at least input into what the child learns and how. The second would allow for signing out of homework or whatever else became problematic (fundraising & volunteer requirements, objectionable books or other material used in the classroom, etc) while the first, of course, would not. It seems that the first is the model most common though. I can see the second being quite a bit harder to manage, but it seems like the option that is most respectful to the parents and children involved in the education process.

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Amber, I think you're exactly right. The first is definitely the status quo, but I'd really like the second to be a viable option for us. Especially since we're paying for this school! ;)