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.