28. Homework

Homework is many issues. Years ago, treating it as one issue, I opposed it. I didn’t give homework, and I responded to parents who wanted it by suggesting things they could do at home. I thought of many reasons parents might have wanted their children to have homework – none of them good reasons. When children asked for homework, I gave them what they wanted, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was skeptical about their eagerness, and wondered what their real motivation was.
Back then, I viewed homework as a substitute for family and neighborhood life. I had young children, and had to spend some of the best hours of the day away from them. When they finally got home, they had to do homework, and eventually, yielding to community pressure, I had to correct or prepare homework for my class. Homework seemed like a wall keeping me away from my children. Occasionally, I would get involved, only to hear, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” Sometimes I would become confused by the homework, or irritated by it. Why should children do phonics worksheets full of sex-role stereotypes? Why should they memorize the state capitals? How many adults know the state capitals, and how many of those find that knowledge useful? Why can’t I spend the evening hanging out peacefully with my children?
Later, I learned that not every family was like ours. For some, homework was the main link between home and school. For some, it was a way to cut down on television time. Some children really wanted homework. And some parents needed to have some way to relate with their children. Homework provided a structure within which they could spend time with their children. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be necessary, but we live in a world in which some adults spend so much of their time away from children that they need help reconnecting.
When you send your children to school, you expose them to democracy. If a large portion of the community wanted children to memorize the phone book, there would probably be all kinds of efforts by teachers and administrators to educate the community about the issue, but unless these efforts were successful, there would probably be all kinds of workshops, materials, and units about the phone book. Some teachers would look for work elsewhere; for some it would be the last straw. But for most, it would just be another part of a job that already had its ups and downs.
Some homes would resound with voices of dutiful children, memorizing phone numbers. Some would have phone book pages taped to the refrigerator. Some parents would buy the MacPhone memorization program and install it on their hard drive. Tutors would be hired. And some parents would ask for more homework. “My neighbor’s kids go to the NYNEX Academy, and they have to memorize ten pages a day…with addresses. Those kids will get into the best colleges.”
Sorry. I got a little carried away. I’m a recovering dogmatist. We sometimes overstate our cases. I hope I’ve learned to listen better to other people’s points, and I hope I’ve helped you think about homework.

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