The Homework Blues
Marblehead Patch columnist Brenda Kelley Kim talks about play dough, practice tests and paperwork.
“It is only the ignorant who despise education.” - Publilius Syrus
This is true. Growing up, my parents were as serious as a heart attack about school. My father served on the school committee long before he ever had children. My mother put herself through private Catholic high school on her babysitting money because the public schools were, in her mind, “not going to get me where I wanted to be.” She wanted more than sewing class and glee club. Her school allowed her to take biology and physics instead and when she graduated, she joined the Navy as part of a flight support crew. While neither of my parents went to college, they were both more educated than anyone I’ve ever known.
When my oldest went to Kindergarten, I was committed to being the “Education Mom”. I bought flashcards and worksheets for him to do over the summer leading up to school. If we were out and he wanted to buy a book, the answer was always yes. Looking back, I think I might have been over doing it. This was pointed out to me when I went to my first Parent Night and read the cute note that all the kids leave for their mom or dad on their tiny little desks. For what it’s worth, it’s overkill to take a red crayon and correct the spelling.
As he went on in school, and I had more kids, I relaxed. Schoolwork was (and still is) always the first priority, but I didn’t go all Tiger Mother about it. With my first, I would never have considered giving him an answer to a math problem. Mostly because once he got past third grade, I usually didn’t know the answers, but still, homework was his job, not mine.
Now, with my third? Yes, OK, maybe I “helped” her with the spelling word sentences a few times. It’s not easy for an eight year old to use the word “underdog” in a sentence. Not for nothing, I wasn’t about to let her go to school having written, “Oscar likes to lick his underdog parts.” I could just imagine how the next parent-teacher conference would go after that.
For the most part, the homework my children have done over the years has been appropriate. There never seemed to be too much, and it was usually relevant. But there have been a few exceptions. For example, the bane of every parent’s existence, the dreaded “Group Project”. It’s a given that at least one kid in the group will contribute nothing and the others will have to pick up the slack. Or a last minute run to Staples will be necessary for poster board, note cards and at least one impossible to find item like green play dough. Every store will be out of green, and then you have to Google “Play dough recipes” at ten o’clock because your kid forgot to tell you his part of the eco-system project was pond scum.
Book reports are not always what they seem either. I want my kids to read and I want them to write coherently about what they read. What I don’t want to do is figure out how to help a kid dress up as Florence Nightingale. As it turns out, I don’t have a floor length white apron and a lantern just sitting in the back of my closet. I’d like to know who does. A bed sheet and a flashlight was the next best thing and honestly it added nothing to the educational experience. OK, well she did learn (the hard way) to hold the bed sheet out of the way going down the school steps.
When I was growing up homework was pretty straightforward. A page of math problems was just that, math problems. They were not shaped liked puzzle pieces, which then had to be colored, cut out and pasted together in the shape of a globe to celebrate Earth Day. Seriously? Ten minutes to do the math, a half an hour of cutting, piecing and gluing it onto the page. When we wonder why some other countries have better test scores and higher achieving students, the answer is simple. They don’t color in math class.
Homework is here to stay, despite a lot of evidence that it doesn’t really improve the education our kids are getting. I just wish it could be more thought provoking than the latest photocopies of MCAS “practice” tests and more relevant than an arts and crafts project. But what do I know, I got all the way through college without ever having to make a model of the Great Wall of China out of sugar cubes. It’s a wonder I can think at all.