I read an interesting blog by a parent on her resistance to homework. In “Starlighting Mama,” writer Heather Shumaker explains why her household bans homework. In a nutshell, her kids have better things to do. Things that are more fun and probably more educational.
So, every year, Shumaker sends a letter to the school that is generally accepted by her son’s teacher.
Here is part of her letter:
My son gets home around 4 p.m. He gets into pajamas around 8 p.m. In those short four hours, he:
Has an after-school snack, talks and unwinds from his day, plays/ pursues his own interests, goes outside and climbs in tree forts, giggles with his brother, does family chores, practices piano, has a family supper, reads his own book and listens to a bedtime story
These are all more important uses of his time, or any young child’s time. My view is homework interrupts home learning. Homework tends to give school /learning a bad name and when given too young, kids learn to resent it instead of value it. Kids don’t need to “practice” the routine of homework. That can come much later, in middle school.
The only type of “homework” I value at this age is reading at home. In our family we already do this every day. When homework does become important, I view it as the child’s responsibility. We will take an interest in what our kids learn in school, but not tell them to do it. No parent signatures signing off on assignments, etc. I also don’t believe in the practice of adding 10 minutes a day per grade, or any arbitrary amount of time. Learning doesn’t work by filling a quota of minutes. I realize this is not the prevailing view in education right now, and perhaps flies in the face of the school’s policies or your own ideas. Can we talk? I’d like to find something that’s comfortable for everyone and make sure your goals are supported as well as ours.”
First, we can all agree that Shumaker’s children are going to do fine in school and life. I doubt many educators would worry about children who have access to the natural world every day and who live amidst books and music. An assistant principal in Gwinnett once described these students to me as “teacher proof.” He said they flourish under most any circumstances because their daily lives provide rich learning experiences.
But I do have concerns about parents opting out of all homework.
Some kids do not go home to log jumping and piano playing or parents attuned to their emotional, intellectual and physical development. They don’t go home to shelves full of beloved classics and the best of new children’s literature. Without assigned school reading, those kids may not read at home, in part because there are no books around their houses. Their parents aren’t terrible people; they are just overwhelmed with the challenges of keeping their kids fed and housed.
These students could end up sitting next to the Shumaker boys who get a pass every day on the homework. How does that affect the class culture? Do kids see different expectations for one another? Do we cast school as a cafeteria where you get to pick and choose your activities? (For the record, I am not a fan of homework for young kids and have no problem with a class-wide or school-wide limit on how much is assigned.)
In a related vein, I was reading a New York Times profile of the Thiel fellows, the wunderkinds who receive grants from billionaire Peter A. Thiel to drop out of college and pursue their dreams. One of them was Laura Deming. I was struck by her father’s comments about education and about what he and his wife were willing to do for their daughter’s sake.
According to the story:
Ms. Deming is clearly brilliant. When she was 12, her family moved to San Francisco from New Zealand so she could work with Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist who studies aging. When Ms. Deming was 14, the family moved again, this time to the Boston area, so she could study at M.I.T.
“Families of Olympic-caliber athletes make these kinds of sacrifices all the time,” says Tabitha Deming, Laura’s mother. ”When we lived nearby in Boston, we were lucky to see her once a month. She never came home for weekends.”
John Deming, Laura’s father, graduated from Brandeis University at the age of 35 but says he disdains formal education at every level. His daughter was home-schooled.
“I can’t think of a worse environment than school if you want your kids to learn how to make decisions, manage risk and take responsibility for their choices,” Mr. Deming, an investor, wrote in an e-mail. “Rather than sending them to school, turn your kids loose on the world. Introduce them to the rigors of reality, the most important of which is earning your own way.” He added, “I detest American so-called ‘education.’ ”
Again, I have no concerns about the education of a young genius whose parents have the wherewithal to shift continents to optimize her learning opportunities.
But it is one thing to “turn your child loose on the world” in the rarefied regions where the Demings clearly live and another to loose a child in a world where mom works two jobs, where intellectual curiosity is not nurtured and where reality can be both bleak and dangerous.
Interesting stuff. What do you think?
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog