Thursday, February 04, 2016

Homework: To Do or Not to Do (my own ambivalence)

We can see patches of mud in our front yard now, and the weather has turned to grey, chilly rain.  Yesterday I found Maeve on the front walk in her rain boots, an umbrella covering all but her legs, jumping up and down and singing “happy birthday” to the neighborhood at the top of her lungs.  Clearly she is undeterred by the damp grey.  Maybe she’ll live in Seattle one day, and sing her heart out.

I have had a come-to-Jesus moment about homework recently.  Without ever saying it out loud, I determined early in the school year that my kids weren’t doing homework.  If they weren’t getting home until 4PM, I told myself, there was no way I was making them sit down for another half an hour to work through some handouts.  So, I routinely rifled through their folders, recycled pages, left the columns for parents’ initials blank, and for an entire semester they didn’t do any outside work.

Then I realized that Silas is going to be in 5th grade next year, and he could get a teacher who expects him to do some homework, even homework every day, even 50 minutes of homework every day (following the “recommended maximum of 10 minutes per grade).  Crap!

So I’ve been thinking.  On Tuesday I even went to a parenting workshop called “Making Homework a Habit,” which ended up focusing on giving kids responsibility, independence, the freedom to make decision and fail, among other things.  The facilitator tackled some helpful logistics like when on earth to have kids do homework when there are after school activities and where in the house to do it.  At the beginning of class she asked us to brainstorm a list of problems we run into with homework, and I offered “parental ambivalence.” The gasp wasn’t quite audible, but no one nodded or smiled. 

What surprised me most as I sat in workshop was myself.  I bucked against every demand and expectation homework provides, and the fact that school already has my kids for so many hours of the day and would dare require another minute of their time.  I felt angry that kids should spend time working outside of school at all. 

It’s hard to weed through our own reactions. I’ve been trying to tease out which tangles are my own stuff and which are actually firmly tied knots I want us to hold fast to.

As a kid, I attended a fiercely competitive school packed with high performers in a system that measured value in grades and acceptance to the most prestigious institutions.  

Somehow, in my 14 year old mind, I decided my priorities weren't those.  What I most wanted was life outside of school full of pranking and fun, so I learned what to blow off and what to finish, how to do the minimum without looking like a slacker.

Because this wasn't (at all) the culture of my school, the down side was that I ended up feeling unseen inside those walls, which I had to sort out over the next several years. 

I (obviously) want my kids to be seen and known as best they can be, but I've been throwing their work away to ensure they have a fun-margin, too.  The other side of the coin -- the not projected part of anti-homework -- is that I desperately want my kids to be bored, to play, to spend time imagining with friends, to be unstructured part of the day, and to have to get creative.

Nonetheless, rebelling for them isn't exactly my job.  Surprisingly, it may not even jive with who they are and what ignites them.  They are going to have to figure out what kind of learners they are, themselves, and how to they'll make space. 

So my new question is how do I strike balance?

I’m having to shift my paradigm (and attitude).  Maybe it’s a matter of redefining weekdays (work days) and weekends (free days), which suddenly makes the weekends look much sweeter and more important to leave wide opened.  

I most of all don't want to set out a bunch of papery resolutions that blow away within a month.  I want to make my resolve thoughtful and solid.  So we are going to start, but start small: homework two or three afternoons for 20 minutes or so, with conversations over the weekend about where the best slots of time are for those.  And since we are now on a responsibility kick, I’ve also resolved to have Silas start doing the laundry Saturday mornings between games of Zelda (brilliant!) 

We will see how all of this goes.