The Characters: Petunia, 11, 6th grade; Dash, 6, 1st grade; Mama
Dash: "Mama, am I supposed to have Math homework?"
Dash: "I think I'm supposed to have Math homework. The teacher is sending home math packets in my Friday Folder."
Mama: "That's right, the teacher is sending home Everyday Math homework sheets in your Friday Folder, but they're optional, and we're not doing them."
Dash: "Why? Some kids are doing them and even handing them in, and sometimes the teacher mentions it."
What Mama wants to say: "@#$%^(U $(%&&#! !!!"
What Mama Does say: "Do you want to do math homework?"
Dash: "Not really."
Mama: "Okay, then, I'll check in with your teacher about that, but I also want to tell you that we're doing math when we play Monopoly City -- that's counting money -- or Yahtzee -- also counting. When you grab the measuring tape at Ikea and measure things, you're doing math. When we're working on your numismatism (side note: he loves that word)..."
Dash: "All that's math. I get it. So what's the deal with the homework? Some kids need to do fun math instead of homework math I guess."
Mama: "Petunia, I'm going to back to school night! Sitter Man is here. See you in a few hours!"
Petunia: "Alright, Mom, I just started my math homework."
Three, almost four hours later:
Mama: "Thanks sitter man, I'm home!"
Petunia emerges from her room, bleary-eyed: "Mama, I'm still doing my math homework."
What Mama wants to say: "@#$%^(U $(%&&#! !!!"
What Mama does say: "I think I'd better take a look... (looks)... Umm, Petunia? On each of these days, you're supposed to pick one of three assignments to do. And since this syllabus covers the whole week, it appears that you've done every assignment on every day until ... wow, half of Thursday."
What Petunia does say: "@#$%^(U $(%&&#! !!!"
Followed by: "Why don't they have a class on 'how to read a syllabus?"
Followed by: "Whooo-hooo! I won't have any math homework all week now!"
Followed by: "And now I need to go to bed."
I am a bit disturbed that my son, Dash, at age only-6, and in only-1st grade, is feeling some kind of homework pressure. Perhaps I could choose to look at it as him just "noticing" that kids are turning in work; but, from his facial expression, I could see that it was causing him a bit of anxiety. He thought he was not doing something that he was supposed to be doing. Even though the homework is optional, he's noticing that kids are doing it -- and that's bothering me. Are parents billing it as "fun" to their kids? Or, more likely, knowing my school, are they selling it as academically important? The kids, according to my son, have a sense of accomplishment as they wave their little papers around saying "I did my homework!" -- so, in turn, my son is not getting that sense of "hey, I did something to please the teacher" and, thus, has all of the awkwardness that comes with that when one is only-6. Since I was a vocal opponent of this math curriculum when it was adopted in 2009, I feel pretty awkward about it, too. I feel like trying to engage the teacher in a discussion about it risks being interpreted as my ongoing defiance about the program instead of my concerns about the tenor of the classroom when it comes to optional work. In the end, I'm not really sure how I'll resolve that, but I do know this: I will not buy into academic competition when my son is 6. He will learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, and, as mentioned above, there are some ways we supplement that work (Monopoly, etc.) that he doesn't even realize. But there are parents sending their kids for math tutoring in 1st grade. I put my foot down. And, also, @#$%^(U $(%&&#! !!!
When it comes to Petunia, my commentary is more general. Wow, does she ever have too much homework. She's hitting her stride when it comes to math now, and she's figured out how to read the syllabus, but there is so. much. to. organize. Binders and books and papers and files and sports equipment and gym clothes and one very cumbersome trumpet. The Guv is bothered that she's not biking to school, and I'm trying to invent a UHaul bike trailer, 'cause that's how much crap she takes back and forth. I finally bought a second math book (used, $16, whoo-hoo!) to leave at home, but that doesn't take care of the rest of the stuff. When I was in 6th grade, I had little if any homework, a desk in which I kept my papers, and I didn't change classes. Petunia has two lockers (one for books and such, one for gym) and changes for every class. Her backpack is too heavy with no signs of lightening. Perhaps because she's in private school, she has 2x the homework any of her public school friends have -- AND, unlike them, she doesn't get a packet on Friday that she can start doing over the weekend (apparently, that Friday Folder thing continues for public school kids, and the work in it isn't "optional" later on). So she lugs stuff after sports practice (her self-proclaimed "release") every day at 5:15, all the way to my car, 'cause it's too heavy. They have four no-homework days per year. She is living in a halfway place, perfectly balanced between being happier than I've ever seen her at her all-girl school and more stressed than I've ever seen her or than any sixth-grader should be. I wonder: is it worth it? She'd say yes. The reasons we put her in this school, most especially the all-girl thing, are still the most important ... but I have to wonder: is this much homework at age 11 necessary and important -- or possibly detrimental to her overall wellbeing, even if she's not staying up to do four hours of math per night as she already once did?
I have no answers, just a bit of vexation, for I've heard that the bigger kids get, the bigger their problems get, and I'm having an inkling of that from both kids. Somehow, without all of that work they're doing, starting "optionally" in 1st grade, I still ended up with an Ivy League diploma on my wall. I didn't have much academic stress, ever, and I'm not that much smarter than them, if at all.
As their mom, I can say "no" to the optional work, and I can make Petunia turn off her light, go to bed, and encourage her to not see grades as the be-all and end-all (and make sure that we're reflecting that in our reaction to bad ones) ... but no matter how much I do for them, I wonder: how did we get to this point? Is it good for our kids? And how would we ever change it now? Are there schools out there (middle school and high schools, esp.) that have NO homework? Do those kids get into Yale too?
Something seems very wrong, here, with this homework business. I smell a rat, or a ruse, and I suspect the problem is not with our kids at all and maybe not even with their teachers but with Other Parents making their kids do more, better, faster, higher-level, etc. That scares me more than the federal deficit or war or poverty or hunger because here is something we can control, and we've made it it's own out-of-control thing. How do we get back to an age of reason? Is it too late?