Homework, Back packs, and The Weight of a Thought


I was working with my grandson on some pre-algebra problems this morning. Like many kids in 7th grade today  he has a certain impatience built into his  being that sometimes gets in the way of  the standard processes of  math.  I believe that it is an impatience born of a world filled with instant gratification, fast-moving video games, few standardized requirements and no black and white’s. Because I’m old and slow between the two of us we hit a pretty good average pace.

He brought his school back pack with him this morning.  It is a really nice one, not unlike what a back packer might carry to be self-sufficient for a week-long hike. We counted and there were 8 different zippered compartments which I believe places it well up in the number of zippers “status department” although many were lacking the little leather tabs that would have gained it entrance to true “Zipperdom.”

As we were finishing up with the math I picked his backpack up to hand it to him. Or should I say I tried to pick it up. Shocked by its weight I staggered to the bathroom to put it on the  bathroom scale and weighed it. It weighed an unbelievable twenty-four pounds.  Twenty four pounds  is roughly 1/5 of my fairly average sized grandson’s body weight. I asked some questions and found that yes he did take that burden to and from school each day and even more surprising, that vast majority of things in the bag, according to him, were required at home each night for homework.

I don’t remember carrying hardly anything home from school on a regular basis when I was in elementary and  middle school. Of course I was certainly far from a Rhodes Scholar in both elementary and  middle school but still they did allow me to go on to high school so I must have accomplished something.

Now  I have to wonder in reality what is this thing they call “homework.”   Where is the research that supports it. or is the assignment of homework obviously so “good for children,” that no one has checked? Is the argument for homework  like that for  lengthening the school day and year an idea that seems such an easy and obvious solution to educational difficulties when in reality for most students it  isn’t.  Whose idea is it that schooling  has now become an act of daily physical labor instead of thinking. Have backpacks and school books replaced the PE department and outdoor play in the neighborhood?  Who is behind this acceleration of burdensome intrusive nightly homework  particularly at the middle and elementary level?  Is it the parents, schools, teachers, curriculum directors, college professors, politicians or perhaps backpack salesmen – Who indeed  is behind this weighty issue?  I believe that the answer is actually, “nobody” like kudzu vine homework is an invasive species that has implanted itself into our educational system and grown so intertwined with it that no one can find the roots to see where it came from because the bright shiny leaves cover all

Is it possible that some public relations value accrues to the schools from this oh so visible manifestation of schooling.  Do 24 visible pounds of books replace the need to think for some parents and teachers ?    Have we replaced what is at times  almost  invisible knowledge and thinking processes with material things.  Are  books and homework simply  serving as visible vestiges of knowledge that salve our perceptions of education but in fact may destroy our educational and national future by replacing thought.

Why do we have an obsession with homework in America and how much of it is meaningful to the eventual success of our students?  How long is it since you saw a kid riding a bike to a destination, climbing a tree,making a snowman or blessedly arriving home covered with mud and dirt on a school night?  What has replaced these activities of adventure and self-reliance that used to teach us things never taught in school? Is it homework and is homework up to the job?

If you are a parent do you look at your child’s homework to see if it is indeed furthering their education or just taking up their (and many times your)  time.   And if you notice that indeed the homework your child is doing is virtually worthless busy work can you speak out against this currently much adored and  loved multi-headed yet uncoordinated and time-consuming  beast called homework.  And if you can’t speak out is it  because you fear looking anti-education or do you simply accept homework because it isn’t TV and if it’s not TV it must be good for your child.

The common response to these questions  is that early homework  is getting them ready for high school and college. That homework  teaches discipline and responsibility. If you are a parent please  check that and see if it is they or you who are being taught self-discipline and responsibility by homework.  When you see your child always  get it out and finish homework on their own then you will know the discipline/responsibility argument is correct.  You will generally know if that self-discipline/responsibility thing is working only a few weeks after encountering your first real homework, otherwise unless it is well structured valuable, thought inducing; homework will simply become an unneeded and unwanted daily  source of friction between you and your child. Time wasted in destructive argument and recrimination that could better and more productively be spent doing almost anything else.

What is the weight of a thought? To find out  go get on the bathroom scales and think about the real  value of homework.   You will discover that heavy thinking doesn’t take a lot of time, doesn’t  have to be carried in a back pack, doesn’t cause muscle strain or bad posture and weighs absolutely nothing. Books and homework however  improperly or unnecessarily assigned , delivered and  then carried home do have a weight that will burden both you  and your child’s brain and body.

24 pounds is much heavier than even a “gazillion” of  the deepest of thoughts.

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About safrisri

I have been a teacher since 1971 and have taught at all educational levels from pre-school to college. My college degree is general science which I arrived at after 5 years and 5 different majors. A degree as it turns out, almost as valuable and in demand as one in Neo-Bulgarian Mythology. I have been around education for around 40 years and can remember when teaching was a pleasant, happy and creative job and our schools were the same. My writings will reflect on my past mistakes and successes and what my students have taught me about education.
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2 Responses to Homework, Back packs, and The Weight of a Thought

  1. vtajpuria says:

    The amount of homework seems to be on the rise. As an educator, I see students hunched over carrying loads bigger than they are. The suggestions that the article provides to lessen the load can be helpful. Can the load be lessened through parent activism? Should doctors get involved? Why are many teachers assigning so much work? If there is an alternative to this problem, both parents and teachers need to find a solution together. In addition, many schools are considering the use of e-readers, which would solve this problem and several other. This could solve the problem of the weight of books, enhancing the use of technology, lessen the amount of damaged and lost books, and provide more resources to students. E-books is a great alternative to traditional textbooks.s, and provide more resources to students.

  2. vtajpuria says:

    The amount of homework seems to be on the rise. As an educator, I see students hunched over carrying loads bigger than they are. The suggestions that the article provides to lessen the load can be helpful. Can the load be lessened through parent activism? Should doctors get involved? Why are many teachers assigning so much work? If there is an alternative to this problem, both parents and teachers need to find a solution together. In addition, many schools are considering the use of e-readers, which would solve this problem and several other. This could solve the problem of the weight of books, enhancing the use of technology, lessen the amount of damaged and lost books, and provide more resources to students. E-books is a great alternative to traditional textbooks.

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