All This #!(*&^$ Homework!

4 years ago

I'm averaging one and a half to two hours a night on homework.

And I'm not even the one who's in school.


Perhaps I'd feel a bit better about this investment of time if I were in law school, pursuing an MFA in creative writing or even finally daring to get that Ph.D. I've pined over for so long. But, no, I am spending up to 10 hours a week doing homework with my kids.

Don't get it twisted.

It's not like I don't want to be involved in my little ladies' academics. I care. I am concerned. I am vested. My husband and I are the engine that powers them through, so they are motivated, supported, inspired and, yes, held accountable for their performance in school.

Silly me, I once thought that meant asking them if they have homework on any given day and verifying that they had done it in time. I might even regularly glance over it to make sure they put forth a good effort, with neat handwriting and no egregious errors. I'd even have to venture out on occasion to purchase supplies for special projects and extra credit activities.

Well, apparently, that is no longer enough. The bar on parental involvement in homework has been raised to levels I never imagined.

Not only do I adhere to the measures I described above. I now must do the following:

1) Time my children's reading time to make sure they've met their minimum for each day;

2) Sign or initial about four different logs each day;

3) Review the latest battery of materials sent home from the PTA, which always has at least three forms I have the option of filling out to participate in something, RSVP for some event or financially contribute to the fundraiser of the week;

4) Guide my younger child through no less than eight weekly homework assignments, including hands-on activities that the typical six-year-old just cannot reasonably be expected to do solo;

5) Quiz my children on weekly math, spelling and social studies quizzes;

6) Answer the call to volunteer and/or make appearances at my kids' schools;

7) Re-purchase supplies that I already bought that have somehow disappeared into the "community classroom supplies" inventory;

8) Read the teacher's blog several times a week;

9) Log onto special online-only exercises that are not homework, but rather "homework supplements."

These are not self-directed pressures. The district, the schools and their teachers are all co-signing to the concept that homework is some sort of shared, familial endeavor. The instructions for homework often reference helping our child do it, or checking it with our child, or working with our child, or reviewing it with our child, or collaborating on certain projects.

My, how times have changed.

When I was in elementary school, I did have homework. How in the world did I complete it? Well, I remembered what was due for each subject, and I summarily sat my ass down in my room and did it.


I didn't ask my parents to check it to make sure my answers were correct. They didn't have to sign logs or time my reading. In fact, they were only engaged if I sought out help from them, as in if I didn't understand a math problem, for example. This is not because my parents didn't care; it was because I WAS THE STUDENT, I WOULD BE GETTING THE GRADE, and I WAS ASSUMED TO HAVE BEEN AT A DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE WHEN THE EXPECTATIONS OF ME MUST HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED AGE APPROPRIATE.

My parents were not callous or cold-hearted when it came to my homework. The way they treated it was the norm.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average 9th-12th graders spend six hours, more or less (with Asians going above and beyond at around 10 hours, on average), on homework each week. Interestingly, black parents make sure their children's homework is done at a rate greater than all other races, at 83 percent compared to lower levels for all other groups.

Homework is becoming the bane of other households' existences, too. It is turning into a generalized cultural norm, especially for folks who live in and count on highly coveted public school districts to help churn out top-notch material and make each and every one of our darlings veritable scholars. At the same time, a debate is ensuring about the merits of homework. A great volume of scholarship exists on the issue, some of which is referenced in the article "The Case For and Against Homework."

On the con side, it is mentioned that "homework contributes to a corporate-style, competitive U.S. culture that overvalues work to the detriment of personal and familial well-being." Additionally, other research claims that there is little to support homework as a valuable tool for reinforcement or instruction. A couple of other researchers cited in the article say that 5-10 minutes per subject may be an appropriate level of homework per night for a fourth-grader. However, my fourth-grader has no less than a one-hour commitment per night, and that often stretches up to two hours of homework time.

Don't get me wrong. I am not lobbying for an end to homework. I think it serves a purpose. However, it feels increasingly like the lines have become blurred in exacting what homework should promote and instill, in addition to the societal expectations levied on families and parents in being active participants in the homework.

What does this do to home life, especially in households where both parents are working away from home in high-pressure, demanding jobs? I tell you what. It's hell. They are rushing home, scrambling to put together some semblance of a meal and trying to hold it together enough to remember to ask their children and their spouse about their day (and be cognizant enough to appear to be listening and tuned in). They are squeezing in homework after late dinners, into the nightly routine, just before baths and showers. They are running on a clock they have no control over, like hamsters on battery-operated wheels.

How does this shared, collective homework experience bode for developing independent young adults who can manage their own time, commitments and responsibilities? What does this do to creative, artistic thought - the type of learning and propensities that cannot be quantitatively assessed and do not appear on standardized tests?  

I shudder to think of what the future holds, of when my little ladies enter middle and high school. I have heard of anecdotes of children in upper grades spending 3-4 hours a night on homework. That's fuckin' ridiculous.

What say you?

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