Friday, November 23, 2012

Homework Story in Canada

I came across this extremely important article, Hamilton Parent Declares House a Homework-Free Zone. It highlights several points that have been central to the positions I've been advocating in my model, The Homework Trap.

I've been saying for a long time that parents must be recognized as the rightful heads of their own homes. In this case, the parent has looked at his situation and made a thoughtful decision about what he thinks is best for his kids. He did not do this willy-nilly and he did not do it ever intending to buck the school. He sent his children to school fully expecting that they would do what they were told. His decision followed his frustrations and experiences and a recognition that he needed to take steps in the best interests of his kids.   Interestingly, this natural right of being a parent is supported by the school. There is a person, Pat Daly, referred to as the Catholic board chair (the school appears to be a Catholic school) supports the school's homework policy but recognizes that that opinion does not override parental authority, stating, "My own view as a parent is that I’m not sure that’s in the best interest of the child, but every parent has to make that decision in the best interests of their own children." The school authority also focuses on what works, not just on what is assigned, stating, "he’s not familiar with Young’s situation, but if the no-homework arrangement is working, 'that’s great.'" One of the points I make in my book and have spoken to widely is that, if parents make their best decisions and make them clearly and definitively, teachers will be inclined to work with them. I frequently hear concerns that if a parent limits homework to a fixed period of time (my general recommendation) the child's grades will suffer. But in this case, the parent made his decision, the school accepted it, and his children's grades did not decline. It is also instructive that the school has its own policy that limits homework to the standard ten minutes per night per grade. Yet the parent here came to his decision to declare his home a homework-free zone after his child had five different assignments for the weekend, including one that the family make a pizza. The child is in 5th grade and it is unlikely that this assignment will really take only 50 minutes (and it is also unclear if the standard is meant to cover all seven days of the week). Mr. Daly comments that the number of complaints he receives about homework are few, and that makes sense, but there may be a reason for this that is important to note. First, it is likely that few of the complaints actually reach his level but are being made directly to teachers and by parents who don't feel strong enough to override teacher decisions. The complaints are there. They just don't move up the administrative line. But it is also possible that the complaints are few because not all kids work at the same pace. I've mentioned often that I raised three children but only one was homework-trapped. I would not have become a homework critic nor written my book if I only had two. It's not that I was wild about homework, but my general inclination, like most parents, to support the school overrode any mixed feelings I had about the practice. It was only with my third child that I realized how destructive homework could be, and this has to do with pace. My son had poor handwriting and was simply unable to complete assignments in that required ten minutes per night per grade. Until the school adds provisions to insure that the time is measured by the clock, not by the teacher's best estimate of how long it should take, it will be a guideline, not a standard, and continue to harm a significant number of kids


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

 I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.

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