Summer’s squatting on the porch next to the cold watermelon, and my oldest grandchildren have been counting down the days left in the school year. Five more, four more, three more…
The parents have joined in. They, too, can’t wait for the last school bell to ring.
Though summer camp is expensive, though changes in drop-off and pick-up times can wreak havoc on finely tuned work schedules, the thought of a quiet evening without spelling or math, without dioramas or i-Ready on the laptop is like a refreshing rainstorm after a drought. Hallelujah and amen, it’s nice to have a few hours without those relentless demands.
The relief from homework, from too much homework, has become summer’s true siren call. Parents are as grateful as children — maybe more so — for a reprieve from the after-school blitzkrieg. They are weary of the burden, frustrated by the stresses — and they don’t know what to do.
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If you refuse to put in the expected hour of double-digit arithmetic and word definition sentences with your kindergartener, are you dooming her to failure? Will she forever lag behind?
Bring up homework in a roomful of parents and be prepared to hear the laments, the groans, the embellished curses. And I’m referring not to parents of high school juniors but to those of elementary school children. To parents of 5- and 6-year-olds.
Magazines, parenting blogs and education journals are filled with the anxieties of those making assignments and those tasked with helping their youngster complete them. Homework has become a point of contention for both educators and families. How much homework is too much? What is its role in a student’s life? Should it serve to reinforce or break new ground? Does it cause too much tension in a family or is it a catalyst to bring child and parent together?
And while these questions may seem superfluous as we enter summer, consider this: Many of our students will still have homework during the break: reading assignments, book reports and community service projects.
The Homework Wars are hardly new. I remember them well from my years as a parent, but they’ve intensified. They’ve become the pedagogical equivalent of the Iran nuclear deal. So much at stake, so much distrust, so much debate.
This war isn’t about where to do homework (desk or kitchen table) or when (right after school or late into the night). This is about the overwhelming, oppressive, crushing quantity of what’s assigned. We’ve fallen through the proverbial looking glass. Hysteria over how our kids are losing ground to others now means we must pummel them with work. Any work, as long as there’s lots of it.
There is no doubt that homework is the best way to reinforce lessons taught during the day. It also creates a work habit that will serve a student in good stead. But too much of it, and too much of the wrong kind, is actually detrimental. A much-touted European study published earlier this year found that homework should take just 60 minutes for the most benefit. Longer than 90 minutes and results drop off. The goal of hitting the books after class, one of the researchers said, is “instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-regulated learning.’’
But it’s not just the students doing homework. The worst-kept secret of family life is this: Too many parents are completing projects or solving assigned problems just to get the kids to bed on time. No wonder parents are counting down the days.