I seem to be in an “education-y” mode lately regarding blogging, but that’s because there’s some interesting stuff out there on the subject. At today’s American Thinker, Charles Sykes, who has written about education for about 20 years, challenges the conventional wisdom that our children are suffering from too much homework:
A generation of hyper-parents has larded their children’s days with band practice, piano lessons, soccer practice, volleyball, martial arts, dance recitals, and swim classes. For their part, teens find time to spend something like 6 hours a day using various forms of media; Xbox 360 sales do not seem to be suffering because kids are too busy to play video games and the malls have not been emptied of teens.
And yet the cry goes up that it is Mrs. Grundy’s history homework assignments that are destroying the innocence of childhood and wrecking the American family.
I both agree and disagree with Sykes’ thesis. It is absolutely true that American children are completely overbooked and this certainly makes it difficult, sometimes, to find time for homework. However, I think many of us parents believe that the after-school activities truly are important — they’re not just to keep up with the Jones. For example, I’m a huge fan of after-school sports programs, which I see as the necessary antidote to the sedentary life young people inevitably live in sprawling communities, many of which don’t even have sidewalks, where walking around and running are not an option. Also, given that the schools have abandoned the competitive sports model, a model that teaches kids to be good winners, good losers and good team players, soccer and other after school sports are the only forum in which they can learn those valuable life skills.
I also have a strong sense of not letting talent go to waste. My kids are both musically inclined and, while their school does have a music program, it doesn’t go anywhere near cultivating their undoubted talents in that area. Both have had the opportunity outside of school, though, to develop their musicality, and I just couldn’t, in good conscience, deny them that opportunity.
I think Sykes comes a little closer to nailing the homework problem when he writes this:
Of course, as any parent who has spent hours working on pointless dioramas and time-wasting cardboard volcanoes can testify, some of the complaints are not without some merit.
For me, that pretty much nails the issue. I don’t have a problem with my kids reinforcing and honing newly acquired skills, but I have a tremendous problem with the time wasting. Teachers waste time in class with a lot of stuff that has no place in an academic curriculum, whether it’s building a model mission out of a milk cartoon, all the while teaching a politically correct parody of California history; or dragging the kids to endless “green” assemblies, rather than keeping them in the classrooms to learn the basics. The homework sometimes reflects this same skewed set of values. It’s possible that, if the teachers were freed from all these political/union constraints, and were allowed simply to teach (a) they might have to rely less on homework to get done what couldn’t be done in class or (b) parents might see more value in the homework as an adjunct to an already solid academic education.
I do have one good word to put in about homework, which often isn’t mentioned even in the pro-homework debate: Oversight. It’s through my kids’ homework that I’m able to see how they work and where they have problems. I’m able to step in and help, if necessary, or to bully them (gently) into tackling a problem on their own. In other words, I find homework a very useful window into the classroom, into my child’s academic skill set, and into my child’s approach to work.