Family Practice: The trouble with homeworkWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
My apologies to anyone I may have only half sympathized with as you bemoaned the struggle and frustration of helping your children with their homework. It took me over three years and a second child in school to walk a mile in your shoes, but oh how my feet are starting to ache now. I’m not sure if I didn’t completely believe you or if I just thought that my kids would somehow be the exception, but, either way, I was wrong. To sum up the nightly homework ritual as precisely and concisely as possible, it sucks.
Borrowing from a recent true-life example, an average evening in our home is beginning to look a little something like this:
While my third-grader, Jack, works on his upcoming book report, I work on math homework with my kindergartner, Elaine. She is supposed to sort coins. She instead fashions them into the shape of a giraffe. I then tell her to draw each of the coins and walk away with the assumption that her love of art will spill over into enthusiasm for reproducing pocket change on paper. Five minutes later she instead brings me a flower she took the time to color, cut out and tape together. I check her homework paper to find nary a coin drawn.
Lucy, the only one not in school and therefore without homework, is sitting quietly studying a book while simultaneously offering me a lesson in irony.
Elaine finally starts drawing the coins and I move onto helping Jack with his book report. He has to find a word from his book that he didn’t previously know. He begins to read through his book, “Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees,” informing me along the way that he already knows all of the words in the book. “How about yankee? Do you know what a yankee is?,” I prod. He answers me half in disappointed disbelief and half condescendingly, “It’s a baseball team.” Still, I convince him to reconsider “yankee.”
I then turn around to see that Elaine has actually done a decent job drawing the coins. When she finally finishes them, we move onto step two: counting how many of each coin. This is when I notice that many of the coins are now missing. Time to make contact with 2-year-old Lucy, who is likely no longer quietly reading a book.
I find her in her room. With a handful of dimes. Which are covered in saliva. “Did you put the dimes in your mouth?” “Yes.” Time out. P.S. — We are still missing a penny.
I return downstairs to find that Elaine has again abandoned her homework post and is now thumbing through old photo albums. I can hardly stand the anticipation of finding out how long it will take to get her back to the homework table and doing homework. In the meantime, she does impressively point out one of her brother’s current friends as a 4-year-old in a group preschool photo. However, she then fails to correctly identify even one of the kids she graduated from preschool with five months ago.
And the beat goes on …
This is our life now. Not just our Tuesdays or our Wednesdays, but our everyday, weekends not excluded. Homework is supposed to take up no more than 30 minutes of our evening, but so far it is a one to two-hour affair, complete with yelling, tears and the occasional flop on the floor (thankfully only by the kids at this point).
I don’t like it.
Although there is research substantiating the positive effect homework has on academic performance at the high school level and, to a lesser extent, at the junior high level, the same correlation has not been found at the elementary school level. In short, the thing that is increasingly disrupting our home life hasn’t even been proven helpful. To which I say, “Stop the insanity!”
I certainly don’t blame teachers. Aside from the occasional childless, well-intended newbie or hell-bent, rogue veteran, I’m not sure what sort of masochistic educator would create more papers to grade without obvious merit in plain sight, especially when many of them have to go home and help their own children plow through a stack of homework each night. As for whom to write my letter of discontent to instead, I need to do more research in order to nail down the exact location of my newest arch-enemy. I plan to get on it right after I finish supervising the completion of some letter “H” homework, some Everyday Math, a moon journal and next month’s book report.
Columnist Shannon Szyperski and her husband Michael are raising three children in Sylvania. Email her at email@example.com.