Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another Good Homework Advice Article and Where it is Flawed

I came across an article on Fighting the Homework Battles with Kids,, that gives some common, standard, and good advice. The article quotes two sources, a book by Neil McNerney, “Homework, a Parental Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out,” and a book by Fran Walfish, “The Self-Aware Parent.” The article speaks to the value of having a positive dialogue with your child, recognizing that things change with advancing age, making sure that homework is about the child, not about you, insuring that the child has access to a comfortable space in which to do the work and has the necessary supplies readily at hand. Who could disagree with those recommendations?

As those who follow my writings know, I am a psychologist, familiar with principles of behavior, and I am the father of three grown children, two of whom managed the homework system well. I can tell you, with confidence, that regardless of how much I adhered to these principles, they would not have worked with my youngest child. There is no way in which good, common advice will work for the child who is homework-trapped. In my estimation, somewhere between ten and twenty-five percent of all children fit in that category. Here’s the problem.

First, parents differ in who they are. As it is, I’ve been successful through the course of my life (a master’s in mathematics, a doctorate in psychology, and four books to my name), yet, I am fairly disorganized and free-spirited by nature. So is my wife, and our children have benefitted (and perhaps in some ways suffered) from being raised by parents like us. The fact that two of our children had no major difficulties with school (and its homework policies) simply highlights the fact that parents are different, and being who we are, is not a roadblock to successfully growing up. The notion that parents can solve homework problems by simply following the lifestyle advice that others give is not true. There are all sorts of ways of living and those ways of living apply to how we parent as well. Solutions to homework noncompliance must take into account who those parents are.

Second, the fundamental reason why my homework-trapped child, and why the homework-trapped children I see through the course of my practice, had difficulties is educational, not behavioral. The behavioral difficulties evolve as an adaptation to the learning (or sometimes under-the-radar learning) problems that may not qualify as a full-blown learning disability, but nevertheless, impact homework completion.

Third, teachers are not trained in the theory, practice, and research of homework. It is absolutely shocking that we give people, who are well trained to teach but not well trained to give homework, so much power and authority over what goes on in the home.

Fourth, the solutions to in-home problems never come from outsiders placing parents in positions with high degrees of responsibility but low levels of authority. This is what happens to the parents of homework trapped children and it is certainly what happened to my wife and me. We were recognized as extremely competent parents with our older two children because they did well in school, but would then get challenged constantly for the difficulties we had with our homework trapped child. The different had nothing do to do with our parenting, but everything to do with his learning. And his learning problems were not great. They appeared in his reading and writing speed, and he had some difficulties paying attention. He learned well in class. Homework took forever if he even knew what he was supposed to do.

This created a serious case of the “tail wagging the dog,” since the homework (a practice that is not taught in schools of education) was allowed to interfere with the education of an otherwise friendly, bright, and reasonably well motivated child.

Good parents are always open to new ideas so tips like the ones found in today’s featured article are worth giving consideration. But you won’t find solutions unless you accurately consider what the problem truly is, and in most cases, kids who can do their homework will do their homework, even if they have a few bad days.

To rectify this problem, it is critical to reconsider the underlying notion of homework, and the shocking reality that we vest so much authority into people who, despite their skills as teachers, are dangerously overvaluing a practice that has limited value and for which their training is slight.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


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