Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Responsibility and Authority

Here is an interesting article, Homework: Whose Responsibility is It? I’d like to suggest another concept, Homework: Whose Authority is It?

The writer makes good points about the child taking responsibility for his own work even at the risk of not passing. But I think that point depends on different issues, the particular child, the child’s age, and other aspects of the situation. We parents raise our children from birth until adulthood. Children change dramatically over those years and it is not always an easy task to adjust and make changes in how much responsibility we take for our children’s well-being. An infant depends on us for survival. A high school student needs to make choices for himself. The child goes through different stages and how much we should protect and how much we should let the child figure it out for himself keeps changing. It is not always easy to know. Yet, the author here that children need to learn responsibility and parents sometimes need to let them fend for themselves.

But there is another issue which is not just the child’s responsibility to the teacher, but the teacher’s authority over the home. Home and school are different environments and with homework we make the tacit assumption that the teacher has near carte blanche to decide what will happen in your home at night. Where did the teacher get that authority and what are the parents’ options if the decisions that teachers make do not work in the home.

As a parent of three, grown children, I went into parenting with the assumption that I would support the school. Teachers had the authority, with my unspoken permission, to give assignments to my children. Nothing ever happened with my oldest two children that would have put me in a position of challenging their decisions. There were some moments of homework stress, but that was not enough for me to pull the authority card.

Then with my youngest child, things were different. The problems were severe and there were real reasons why we needed to modify and reduce the assignments. With that, I got confronted with the fact that I lacked the authority to make the final decisions in my home without the threat of serious consequences to my child.

We need to understand that homework traverses the boundaries between home and school, and that it is irrational to assume that teachers have the right to overstep those boundaries without the parents’ agreement. Most parents will give support if there are no problems.

I think we can oversimplify the situation by assuming that the child must simply take responsibility for his work. Yes, I think that by the time the child hits upper grades, particularly if that child has some choices between regular classes and advanced classes, the young person approaching adulthood has to deal directly with the teachers he has. But in the end, children, at least at the elementary school and middle school levels, depend on their parents to have the final say. I think many parents end up covering for their children, not because it is their desire to not hold their children responsible, but because they have been rendered helpless and feel there is little else they can do.

Although I will not discuss motivation in this particular post, I noted that the author operates under the assumption that homework noncompliance is a motivational issue. Here is a link to an article I wrote on The Myth of Motivation.


See sample email to send to your child's teacher.

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