As a writer who works from home, I look forward to back to school every year for pretty obvious reasons. It’s very hard to accomplish anything when you’re being petitioned for juice, entertainment and a trip to the pool every ten minutes. I’ve never celebrated my daughter’s return to public education with a martini lunch, but I won’t say the thought has never crossed my mind either.
But back to school brings homework…lots of bloody homework. Every single day and, now that my daughter is entering the second grade, projects over the weekend as well. On a good day, one when she can have a snack beforehand and the work load is light, it takes as little as half an hour of math and some light reading. On a bad day, though, homework stretches off into an hour, maybe more.
When you spend two hours after school in tears trying to complete homework something is wrong. I hate that I literally can't spend time with my daughter after school without it being a conversation about math.
-Amanda from Parma, OH
The one that finally sent me over the edge on the subject happened last week. The kids in her class had to do a project on insects that included a model, research and a short presentation. My daughter picked the honeybee, and we grabbed some modeling clay and pipe cleaners at the craft store while she was at school. The plan was to do the whole thing as early in the week as possible, just to have it done.
That’s when we discovered a note in her binder telling us she had her first science test the next day, with the suggestion being she should read 21 pages of a science study guide to prepare. This on top of the insect project, and regular reading homework, and it’s how I ended up going out to buy study pizza for a freakin’ seven-year-old while my wife worked her through the guide well into the poor kid’s normal bedtime.
She got an A. The honeybee came out pretty well considering it was made by a second grader and two adults with little skill in the visual arts, but the whole affair seems maddeningly stressful for both kids and parents.
I teach third grade. I give homework once a week. Period. It didn't take me long at all to realize that many won't do it satisfactorily and that some parents do it for them to get it out of the way. It benefits my class more to do it once per week and then check it together.
-April from Whiteville, TN
What disturbs me even more about the subject is that I’m in a comparably great situation, and it’s still as stressful and disruptive. We live a ten-minute walk from school, my daughter has no learning disabilities that I’m aware of, and my wife and I are both home and available more than most parents. If we’re grinding through this mess with fits, tears and arguments, how bad is it for families with additional burdens?
The effects of this stress can be very bad. Like, the phrase “clusters of suicides” bad. One school district in New Jersey was seeing students getting hospitalized with stress and overwork. I realize that the Great Recession made all of us very nervous about ensuring the future of our kids, but I’m not sure a childhood is supposed to be 18 years of prepping for trying to get into an Ivy League school.
I realize this is kind of a privileged problem. For my daughter, raised by parents who had free time and the means for museums and trips to the bookstore, much of what gets sent home in her folder feels maddeningly dull and repetitive. For those in more poverty-heavy areas, the homework often IS the at-home enrichment. As a teacher friend of a friend anonymously told me, “The families in the lower economic brackets don't have the luxury of ‘family time,’ and they've not had homework for decades because their environments were never conducive of it being a priority.”
That said, there’s not a lot of evidence homework as a concept is doing anything to enrich kids’ learning ability. “The first thing to know is that homework for elementary school kids does not improve academic skills,” said Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in a Miami Herald story on the subject. “If you look at kids who get homework and kids who don’t get homework and how they do in reading, writing and math, there’s really no difference.”
All homework does is cause stress and doesn't help her learn anything extra. And it has totally destroyed her enjoyment of reading, which disappoints me beyond belief.
-Sarah from Alexandria, VA
The thing I worry the most about, honestly, is how much it seems to have eroded her love of reading for pleasure. She can read fine. She’s in the top of her class on that, but I can’t remember the last time I found her with her nose in a book unprompted, because every single day means she has to get her prescribed reading time in.
I’m sure that some of it is that she’s discovered Nickelodeon shows like Henry Danger and The Thundermans that have the sort of obnoxious teen boys that make me cringe as the era of her dating approaches, but it’s not all. Reading Harry Potter is still a family affair, as is A Series of Unfortunate Events sometimes, but she views trips to her school library as an obligation to check off a list.
That hurts my heart as someone who found a lot of comfort reading Jane Yolen and Lloyd Alexander every chance I got. It hurts my heart as well to tell her she has too much homework to have her best friend come over for a playdate, or to cancel our evening at Girl Scouts because getting homework, dinner and out the door by 6 p.m. just isn’t doable. Honestly, it’s all the kid can do on a weekday night now just to lie in bed and watch Netflix on her Kindle.
That’s what I hate the most about her homework. This is a kid that asked me to buy her a weather monitoring kit to track the temperature over time, who used to sometimes produce more written short fiction than me on some days, and whose favorite part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science was reading about the lives of the Egyptian mummies. Now she gives a little sigh whenever she picks up a book.
Jef’s book of short stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is available now.