Monday, July 9, 2012

Four articles worth reading

I received a specific request today to promote this link on my blog and website with the comment that the author feels it coincides with the basic tone of my writing. The link refers to college students or adults, not children, but the message, as the writer says, is quite in synch with what I say and its relevance to children. The message here is that one can use their free time, the summer, to learn things of personal interest, not necessarily taught in school (or if taught in school, on a voluntary basis that is driven by interest).

Today, there are also several articles in the Washington Post that also go to the point of the meaning of education. Valerie Strauss comments on a view in Texas that opposescritical thinking as upending authority and challenging religious views. ArnoldDodge discusses the downside of common core standards in that they sap the excitement that teachers can generate when they truly engage with their students. And Valerie Strauss goes on to discuss how we fail to recognize the need for skilled tradespeople.

These four different articles all have bearing on the central concepts of the homework trap. Homework is like eating vegetables: Some kids like them, some don’t. Some parents like them, some don’t. Some teachers like them, some don’t. We introduce vegetables. We may encourage them. We make a big mistake if we force them down a kid’s throat. Up and down the line, voluntary, caring and committed interactions between teachers and children, parents and children, parents and teachers, creates the environment in which learning can occur. In some cases, pressure is helpful. In most cases, coercion is dangerous.

The message of the blogster’s suggested summer activity list is to do things of interest that capture your passions. The problem with the Texas anti-critical thinking movement is that it values compliance and respect for authority (which has its place) over initiative, independence, and even the value of trying out both good and bad ideas. There is nothing wrong with a generally standard curriculum. There are some things that kids need to know and educators can define them and teach them to teachers in their schools of education, but to create a top-down mandate that gets too deeply into particulars, lest we miss some particular details that kids need to learn, can sap energy and initiative on the parts of teachers, and, as the writer says, turn “core” concepts into “boring” concepts.

And as Valerie Strauss says about the shortage of skilled tradespeople, we need to teach the trades at the high school and post high school levels, but the foundations are often built when we are young. I was good in math and loved to do math problems, so homework in ways was play for me. My next door neighbor spent hours tinkering with his bike. True, we both had to learn how to read, write, and do basic math, but the interest and skill that precedes a successful hands-on career starts with play, and we can’t keep stifling children’s play by making the sit fixed at a table until they eat their vegetables or until the homework is done.

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience in dealing with many different psychological issues. He is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and currently works in his own private practice.

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