um, how does "never" work for you
I'd like to welcome you to a discussion that takes place between Tessa and me on a bi-weekly basis: my crazy notions about education. I would like to pitch a few ideas to the world at large and see where they land, if you don't mind.
1. Assigning homework to kindergartners is bullshit. If you want to see how to turn your child's insane wide-eyed imagination into total drudgery and automaton-like conformity, just take a look at this graph:
I'm sorry, kindergarten is for EATING CRAYONS. It is for finger painting, then putting your finger in your butt. It is for spilling shit all over creation, laughing so hard you wet your pants, and thinking boys are doo-doo heads. As stated in this excellent article in today's NYT, "a flotilla of research shows homework confers no benefit -- enhancing neither retention nor study habits -- until middle school." Did you hear that? MIDDLE SCHOOL.
2. Assigning homework AT ALL is bullshit. Yes, this is where I sound like crazy "I wanna raise the drinking age" guy, but I'm serious. When I was in high school, our day started at 7:30am, and if we did anything artistic or sports-related, we got home at 8pm. Then we had an AIRCRAFT CARRIER load of homework for each class, doled out by teachers who didn't think any other teacher gave out homework. There were actually not enough hours in the day to be attending school, and even if there were, that's all you did with your fucking life: you attended school.
I loathed it. I didn't have one millisecond to pursue any interest in the world I once had. All those weird skills I tell you about, like ham radio, calligraphy, odd languages, composing, carpentry? All begun in junior high, when I still had time to breathe. In the real world, you might have a suck-ass job, but if you're smart, you leave the job at 5 and come home to do whatever you want. You're at school from early in the morning to late afternoon... why the fuck do you have to bring it home with you?
Don't give me that line - used above - about improving "retention and study habits". All that means is that you're temporarily retaining knowledge to be vomited out at test time, then promptly forgotten. As for study habits, why can't you learn that at school itself? Take a class in "using your time wisely" or some shit, so when you come home, you can get on your bike or just lie back and daydream. That's where most money-making ideas come from anyway.
3. School should start no earlier than 9:30am. Show me a high-schooler, and I'll show you a fucking somnambulist. Teens have drastic chemical changes in their nervous system that force them to stay up later, while also making them need nine hours or more sleep. Personally, I slept-walked from 1981 to 1985, and only partially woke up for UNC. Story after story shows how later starts would benefit attendance, test scores, academic achievement and sports. Yet there's always some asinine Puritan moral high ground that accompanies early risers - traditions no doubt handed down from our farming ancestors, you know, like whipping kids with a leather pitchfork strap - that'll keep our school fettered to the godawful early morning.
I don't know, I hated school, almost every minute of it. I hated the inefficiency of those vast hours spent doing busywork, the arbitrariness of testing, and the gargantuan slabs of homework for homework's sake. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved to have engaged in endless projects that taxed my imagination and my deductive skills, something that forced me to break something down and rebuild it. Hell, I could have even dealt with boring-ass trigonometry and backwater poli-sci if I weren't so damn tired and didn't have to take it home.
maybe I just wish it was all like this
Posted by Ian Williams at May 3, 2009 11:53 PM
I have been thinking about all this a little more. . . and I have to say that my big beef is SPORTS. Disclaimer: I LOVED school. Loved homework, did my projects the same day they were assigned, could not get enough of the homework. My parents did not know what to think of me. Graduated valedictorian and was sad to leave my high school because I loved the classes. On the other hand, hated sports. Hated gym. Hated the President Physical Fitness Tests each year. Always the Last One Picked.
Anyway, my daughter is an interesting mix. She loves school and loves sports. She loves sports so much that she is playing two sports this season - lacrosse and soccer. I put my foot down and tried to limit it all to one sport, but I was vetoed in our family of 3 voting process.
Sports is out of control. The parents are pushy, the coaches schedule 2 practices a week each (some practices at 4pm), and I literally sit with my iPod on during the games so that I don't have to hear the coaches and parents. One girl got hit in the head during a soccer game on a really hot day recently, and her parents not only DID NOT ask that the girl be excused from the game, but yelled at her from the sidelines to "play through" her injury. WTF??? I was so mad that I asked the mother, "Do you really think that Emma should be playing??" She and her husband gave me the stink eye and ignored me. If it were Helen who got hit in the head, I would have been on that field so fast. . .
I have seen screaming matches between refs and coaches, and the only ones who show good sportsmanship are the girls -- and I don't know how they manage to with all the screaming and shouting going on. We live in a fairly affluent area, and I am afraid that the competitiveness that goes with it is ruining sports for everyone.
Unfortunately or fortunately, Helen is really good and I think I have a lot of years of attending games with my iPod. I tell her every game that the most important thing is to have fun. I am rambling. . . what is my point? Oh yeah. I am not a fan of a lot of homework, but I am really NOT a fan of organized sports among kids nowadays. I know all the statistics showing that team sports is good for girls' confidence, keeping them out of trouble, etc., but there should be a balance somewhere. And to all those parents who are living and competing vicariously through these poor little girls: SHUT THE F UP.
My son is in 7th grade. He did so well in 6th grade (straight As) that he was allowed to participate in the Duke (ugh!) Talent Identification Program. He took the SAT in January, with several other 7th graders. He did really well, including a 680 in Critical Reading. This will give him the opportunity over the next several years to participate in some weekend programs, and he goes to Cameron Indoor (ugh!) for a Grand Recognition Ceremony in a couple weeks.
He has some issues, though. He's Asperger's (an autism spectrum disorder) and has real difficulty in social situations and tightly structured environments. Unfortunately, this is exacerbated by the whole middle school environment/social and physical changes thing. Most of his teachers had no clue how to deal with him. In particular, his math teacher refused to work with him, and he simply locked down. He wouldn't do any of his homework, which resulted in many, many, wars at home. He wouldn't participate in class; instead, he'd read a chapter ahead, which meant he was constantly bored in class. He actually flunked math the second nine weeks, didn't do particularly well in the others, and got several in-school suspensions.
Eventually, we removed him from the regular classroom. He's no longer with his peers, nor is he being taught by his teachers. He's in the "special" class, and doing much better. His grades have come back around, he's not as stressed out, and... he finishes his homework in school, so he doesn't have any at home!
We have decided, and the school system has (pretty much) agreed to have him skip 8th and go on to a technology-based high school next year. He wasn't gaining anything socially with his peers, and maybe he'll be challenged academically and not so bored that he gets himself into trouble.
Government schools generally suck, especially if you're an exceptional (either especially high or especially low) student.
[soapbox] This probably won't be very popular here, but I'm in favor of full school choice, with 100% tax credits for education, whether you're paying for your own kid to go to school, homeschooling, or giving money for someone else's kid. This would apply to corporations that want to sponsor scholarships for kids, too. You'd be able to choose a school that allowed prayer, or not; one that requires homework, or not; one that starts at 9:30, or not, etc. I know everyone assumes that all the poor kids would fall through the cracks, but I believe the tax savings (no "No Child Left Behind" crap, no DOE on the federal or state level, no school board, no more layers for bureaucrats) and resulting efficiencies from competition would result in better, cheaper education for everyone.[/soapbox]
Okay, I can't help it. I'm going to play devil's advocate here. Not because I disagree with you Ian, because I don't really, for the most part.. but just because it's kind of fun.. But, I do disagree with TJ quite a bit.
I went to public school and I turned out pretty okay I think. Having choices for your kid is good if your kid doesn't thrive in the public school environment and I don't fault parents for sometimes wanting something different. But, as Big Scott says better than I can, there just aren't going to be a lot of choices for folks in the great majority of rural America so the whole school choice argument to me is just a more PC way to ask for a tax credit for your "country club" private school. I know there are some unique and interesting private schools around and I know that not all are simply locations for white flight however I say "country club" school because of my experience as a kid in a small southern town. In the south at least the great majority of private schools were created in response to segregation in the 60s and remain heavily segregated. I heard someone recently mention she was taking her kids out of public schools because they were "too diverse". These private schools aren't necessarily better education. Many have few certified teachers or follow any well studied curriculum. Throw things at me if you like but I think that going to a school with people who look and think like you do can create adults who know nothing else, who see different colors and backgrounds as "other" and want to remain in their gated community and their isolated existences. I'd trade more homework and EOG testing if it meant my kid was better prepared for the real world of all sizes, shapes, colors and ability levels.
Wouldn't we all be better off if we were able to find the best practices in schools (be they Montessori or whatever) and incorporate them into the schools we provide to everyone? We have an interest in the education of all the children in this country not just our own after all.
As far as homework - I would side with Emma's Big Sis. There is some role for it. Every kid is different and it shouldn't take over your whole evening. If it does, you need to have a conference with the kid's teacher and principal and look at how to do better time management or homework should be pared down.
I also have to add that I guess I'm just too used to the mainstream ideas of education to risk sending my kid to one of these more alternative schools that don't teach reading until 2nd grade or don't give grades in high school. Not sure it's based in reality but I'm afraid that it might encourage too much ambivalence and lack of discipline. I guess I kind of thrive on structure and feel like it's necessary for me to function in life and in the world. Having rules, homework, grades, etc. provided that for me and I see some value in it still.
In theory I agree that homework in Kindergarten is unnecessary, and last year I would have been jumping up and down in agreement. But this year I am an aide in a K room (in LAUSD) and I can tell you that there are several kids in my class who have really benefitted from homework. In fact, I have sent home extra homework with some of them, because they really needed the practice. And the practice has really worked for them. So I do see a reason for it. Of course, not all the kids need the homework, and it is a bit of a waste of time for those kids to do it. But here's the thing: the homework is very simple-- it takes between 5-15 minutes. My son is also in Kindergarten this year (different room) and he finishes his homework in less than 5 minutes every day. It's no big deal. Maybe next year, or as the years progress, it gets more difficult and out of control but from what I've seen so far, it's completely do-able.
Also, LAUSD starts at 8:03am, which works really well for our family since I have a couple of early risers who rarely sleep past 6:30. I would hate waiting around till 9 for school to start. Though I have also read that highschoolers do better with a later start time and would not be opposed to it.
By the way, that graph you posted is not at all accurate for the kindergarten class I am in.
I never minded school (or p.e.) so maybe that's why it's so easy for me to accept what our local elementary school has to offer. My son has truly loved kindergarten, and learned an amazing amount of stuff. I've always been pretty confident that he would adapt and do well in whatever school environment he ended up in, and one year in, that's been true. We'll just have to wait and see what the next years bring.
Overall, I am just of the opinion that parents stress out way too much about school. I know this is a very unpopular opinion. (Eduction! Its THE MOST IMPORTANT thing! One bad teacher and your child is ruined!) Unless you have a child who needs extra special attention--be that on the low or high end--whatever school you go to will work, as long as you have faith in your child and you are involved. Volunteer at the school, attend the fund-raisers, talk with the teachers, bring them extra paper towels and kleenex or whatever else they need. YOu will see pretty quickly if there is a problem. Lots of time the problem is not necessarily the school or the system, but the fit. Maybe your child needs something different. That doesn't mean every child needs something different.
In any event, I'm sure Lucy will do fine. Maybe you'll have end up with a kid who LOVES school.
To me, structured HW for kindergarten kids (or indeed anyone under grade 4) per se is counterproductive. That being said, basic practice on reading, spelling words, basic math skills, is crucial at that age. It's hard to overestimate the vaule of those things--especially reading--for younger kids. Call that "homework" if you like, but it's awfully hard to discount it in the long run. Some music education at that age is irreplacable too...sing and clap and bang on stuff.
I think the difficulty of this conversation is the tension between "what's right for my kid" and "what's right for kids at large". Parents who are active in their child's education are going to have relatively successful children regardless of the curricula and pedagogy at their school. Those parents also have a hard time fathoming that other parents often aren't as concerned/interested/involved as they are, and thus don't realise that plenty of other kids are getting zilch (or worse) at home. For those kids, school needs to be something more than playtime after a certain age. That underscores a fundamental dilemma of public education--what's best for the most number of students is by definition not going to serve everyone equally well at large.
Regarding HW in HS, you're damn straight they need it. Allow me:
I teach at a large public HS in an urban district, where I have a phenomenal diversity in my classes. I teach juniors, and I have the very brightest students in the school, and I also teach the weakest students who aren't full-time special education. All of them have HW every night, except on breaks, where I don't assign anything. The HW is vastly different, and it's never "busy work". (the definition of which, by the way, is "homework I don't want to do"). For my advanced students, they have to read or write something every night--primary sources, document analysis, history commentaries, something--and their assessments are all essays and critical thinking writing. They have an original research paper to write every quarter and are required to do archival primary research for each one.
For my basic/standard/(insert euphemism here) students, they also have work every night--it's generally some less demanding reading and study questions to keep them on track and narrow down what's important for their focus; I'm trying to get them to ask good questions.
Is this about "developing reliable work habits"? I guess, but it's also moreso about them actually learning history, and the vast differences in their motivation, intellects, and literacy demand different assessments. Also, I only see each class every other day, so they have at minimum 48 hours to get help from me and do the HW.
Is this ideal? Probably not for every kid, but it is a way for me to reinforce/prepare students so that our time together can be most beneficial. If I had an appropriate amount of contact and instructional time with each class and school could drop all of its non-academic duties, then HW would be much farther between and more sparse for the standard class.
Regarding starting times for HS, that "research" is generally bullshit, though well-intentioned. Our classes start at 8 and end at 3. Pushing them back is only going to have students going to bed an hour or two later; they're not going to get any more sleep net. HS students will get enough sleep if they want to, regardless of when school starts and ends. Not playing on facebook and texting until 3am is generally an impediment to sleep, and teenagers know it. If school starts 90 minutes later, then the rest of their lives will push back 90 minutes later, including their bedtimes. HS students will get more sleep when they (and their parents) stop spreading them so thinly with countless activities and we do stuff like pare down and streamline the grad requirements, get rid of weighted GPA credits (who the hell do kids think they're fooling over in Jackson hall anyway? 5.6 GPA? right.), and make assessments authentic, complex, and legitimate across the board.
Of course standardised testing is bullshit...OF COURSE it is. Racism's bad too and so is Greg Paulus' ability not to absorb scrotal antioxidants from DFG. None of those things are going to change...the best thing to do for your kid is be actively involved in his or her education, and that will outweigh any of the bureaucratic inanities at your local school.
I gotta get going and busy stultifying the next generation...