Homework Folly

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By Kim T. Dudek, THE PRESS, Sept. 1, 1999

"Attention teachers: I want my children back It's 9 p.m. on a Monday night. Only tonight is a school night. School is back in session.

We spent most of our evening together doing homework. Son Number One started at 4 p.m. with his after school babysitter. I arrived home at my typical 5:45, gave my two-year old her snack to hold her over until dinner, changed my clothes, and put my briefcase with work-yet-to-be done by the computer, taking a moment to exhale before returning to my parent mode.

At 7 p.m. we were still at the homework. There were the many interruptions along the way...no, he can't come out to play, he's still doing homework...no, you can't go to his house, it's already late, we need to eat dinner, you have reading time and you have showers to take. Carly, please do not walk touch your brother's homework...please don't pull the cat's tail...no you can't stand on that chair...hey, how about a Barney tape? Then there was baritone practice, and putting the clean laundry away. (Sorry, but my sons will learn how to put their laundry away.)

In the meantime, a weak attempt at spaghetti cooked on the stove, simmering and waiting patiently for someone to take a bite, or better yet, a plate full. Someone did, at a reasonable hour. As the rest of us attended to "our" scholastic responsibilities, Carly sat blissfully in her high chair, twisting the long "noo-noos" around her fork, oblivious to the world around her. She was happy. She had a warm plate of food at a decent hour. Still too young to worry about that sauce in her hair. Life is good.

Life, she has taught her mother, is very good when it is very simple and uncomplicated. She seemed so unaware of what seemed to me like chaotic activity around her, but just so very pleased that her family was all in one room communicating with each other. And she had her spaghetti. Life is good.

I found myself looking at the clock, all night. We had school tomorrow. There was work to be done. Although I had work to finish up for this week's paper, we had enormous amounts of work to finish for tomorrow for school. God, I thought. We were new here in January. It's now a new school year. If their work isn't all done perfectly, those teachers will think I am a lousy parent. Get those insurance forms returned, get all that student information returned, and don't forget the checks for the student fees. You don't want them to consider you "delinquent!"

It seemed like there was so much to squeeze in before anyone could go to bed at a reasonable hour. And it seemed like I really hadn't spent any real quality time with my children, but had spent the night giving the "marching orders" and getting done what needed to be done.

I looked at blissful Carly, and hoped she would be two forever.

And then resentment set in.

Before I was a journalism major in college, I was an education major. Despite the career change, I have always had a great interest in teaching, what works, what doesn't. what gets kids interested and excited, and why some kids just don't click with the whole thing. I spent as much time at my kids' school as I could...PTO president for five years; creating and coordinating fundraisers that didn't force children to become miniature sales people; trying to find ways of rewarding kids for just trying really hard and being genuinely good people.

When Zak was in first grade, he had pneumonia, and after his second day of absence, his teacher showed up unannounced at my front door with a week's worth of homework, due when he returned to school. Regardless of his health, getting the work done on time was the priority. One of her peers called her the "task-master." She had no children of her own, and was single.

His best teacher was Ms. Marburger. Her credo was "If I can't get it done in class today, we'll do it tomorrow. These children need to spend time with their families in the evenings, not doing school work." She had no children of her own, and was single.

Then there was the "craft-master." She was Martha Stewart on LSD in a classroom. We were given weekly craft projects, which counted for extra credit depending on the other students' votes. No one ever said which subjects these crafty little projects would be applied to. But, it did always seem that the kids who won had the craftiest of mothers. Hhhmmm. Go figure. I would spend two hours a night, as the world's most uncrafty person, trying to help my son, and some bright-eyed, well-rested kid would show up the next day with a project that looked like he copied it off some Lifetime Channel how-to show.

I realized that I have a plea to educators, many of whom I talk to on a regular basis. The work you do makes a lasting impression on these children. That's obvious. But the work we do as parents has more of an impression.

Yes, addressing our responsibilities and our homework is important, but what about the time to talk while they help cook dinner, or go for a bike ride, while the weather is still nice?

What about watching the news and talking about current events as a family thing, and not an assignment? How about a game of Monopoly? Sorry kids, it's a school night. You might learn something from it, but...there's just not the time.

The newsletters tell me my children need a good night's sleep, that they need structured homework time after school and I can "partner" with the school. They also say sitting around the table together is important (it actually took a scientific study to show that). After we do all our homework, and have our dinner together, when do we get time to really understand and enjoy each other? Don't ask me to give more time after school to my children when as educators you have them for most of the day and still dominate our evening time together.

These kids go to bed early!

When does the play time come in? When does the family time come in?

Maybe children can actually be given time and license to really enjoy learning, in any venue, without looking at the process as "just more work to be done."

Maybe, as parents, we can actually be part of the learning process, and given a few hours to spend with our children, to talk, to create, to discuss, and to learn from each other, without being overburdened by tomorrow's obligations of the fourth grade.

Maybe my sixth grader will learn more about botany by having time to spend with me in the evening, weeding, composting and helping decide what to plant this fall and what perennials would grow best in the spring.

But we don't have time for that.

There's a lot a parent can learn about her own kid taking a bike ride with him, when there's time. There's a lot to be learned together by digging in the dirt, and knowing it's a bad time to water because of the slugs, when it fits into the schedule. There's a lot to be learned from your child while you listen to his newest CD, which is really bad, but he tells you why he likes it.

Please, teachers, don't take that time from us.

There's a lot to be learned outside of the classroom. If you give us time."

1999 by THE PRESS

158 Lear Road, P.O. Box 300 Avon Lake, Ohio 44012 USA


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