Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shouting, crying, rolling on the floor - full out tantrum.

And, that was just me. You should've seen Z, my eight-year-old, while we tried to get his homework done. It would be a bit more compelling if I really believed in the work he was doing. But, honestly, I feel like we are all wasting time could be spent outside - catching bugs and riding bikes (all of us).

I commented last week on Sarah, the owner of that blog, asked if I might guest post - and I'm working on it, I promise.

Here is my problem: My philosophical problems with homework, both in general and in its usual implementation are all over the place.

I want to write:

  • how education is screwing our children out of opportunities to be creative and innovative, I've already touched on that here.
  • how ridiculous and wrong it is for our schools to simultaneously bemoan the obesity epidemic in the USA while having our kids sit behind desks plugging away at worksheets for six hours every day then sending them home with more work to do in lieu of playing outside.
  • how traditional school assignments that spell out every last detail of the assignment (except for actually doing it for the kid) paralyze student's ability to create, modify, and respond to assignments that require critical thinking, judgment, and innovation.
  • how appalled I am at how little outdoor exploration is included in education. Understanding the resources we rely upon and the world around us should be integral to our education. Short "nature walks" where we point at stuff is not a replacement for getting dirty, discovering wild nettles, poison ivy, ants, and other creepy crawlies. To further explore this, read Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" - he is far more eloquent than I am.
  • how, under the guise of safety, we are restricting any independent exploration of children. To grow healthy and responsible, kids need to learn to be responsible for themselves (in appropriate doses and with instruction - of course). I regularly see college students that literally panic in situtations that require a little trouble-shooting (vans break down on college trip, airline delays, illness during test period, regular bumps and bruises, scary flying insects outside, etc.). Sometimes, I think that the most valuable thing my students learn on field trips is how to deal with everyday life-time nuisances without calling Daddy on their cell phones.
  • why it is that teachers feel compelled to send some work home, whether or not it will provide a valuable learning opportunity.
  • how my philosophy of giving assignments in the classroom has changed since I have seriously considered exactly what it will take to satisfy my demand and what they are expected to get out of the exercise. That is, be willing to either actually do (I have done this), or imagine doing the assignment yourself. That may change the amount or type of assignments that you require.
  • how my philosophy of work has changed toward empowering students to make choices. Where possible, the students (all together) select assignment due dates, pick between possible assignments, or select readings (from a list of appropriate ones). It makes a task less onerous if students have been empowered to make choices.
  • when we will include allowing children to learn independence in the list of educational goals, even if that requires sometimes letting kids make mistakes. When I was a kid (yes, I walked uphill, both ways) I took a chemistry class where we played with fire, threw sodium into water (it was FUN), made chlorine gas. In biology, we used scalpels to dissect animals, and grew E. coli. We went fishing for the fishing club. And, all of these experiences were in sixth grade! I was allowed empowered to be an indpendent person from an early age, with the caveat that being responsible went with the independence. So many of my college students simply don't know how to accept responsibility for their own actions, which also means that they can't fully appreciate their accomplishments either (how sad).

In answer to your burning question: I decided that I've already passed second grade - I don't need to worry about second grade homework. Does Yale University reject incoming students because they didn't write about Egypt in second grade?

I told Z, "Do it or don't do it. If you don't, you will fail the assignment and that would be your problem. Also, if you don't finish it you won't get to read tonight in bed (reading is his absolute favorite thing in life). But, it is up to you."

Then, I told him to ask for assistance if he needs it, but I'm going outside with B (younger brother).

He thought about it for awhile, then he did his homework.

And, my head didn't explode. What a mess that would have been!

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