What a Waste it is to Lose One’s Mind

– Posted in: Homework, Mouths of Babes, Parenting, School, Worst Mom Rants

We’ve been, to put it mildly, disappointed with the kids’ school lately.  Without going into too much detail, it’s gotten away from the basic philosophy that they sold us on when we came into the place last year.  Which, well, kinda stinks.  Because now our kids love it, have friends there, and feel they’d die a million deaths if they left.  Not that we really have all that many options anyway.

The big problem (and here I go, diving into the details I just said I wouldn’t go into) is that they’ve instituted homework.  Now, for those 99 percent of you whose kids go to school in Normal Land, you’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about.  See, we go to a Montessori school.  And one of their big things is that homework is “home” work.  In other words, you go home with your parents and do stuff like help with dinner or fold laundry.  “If we need to cut up this pizza for five people, how should we do it?”  It’s the whole learning through living.  Kind of like sneaking chopped spinach into their brownies.

So anyway, being the huge pain-in-the-ass that I am, I’m a big anti-homework advocate, not just for our kids but for kids (and I mean young kids) in general.  First, there’s no conclusive evidence that homework makes any difference (except, maybe, in making everyone miserable).  And second, there’s just so much you can cram into a kid in one day.  Especially sitting at a desk.  Stand him up, run him around, have him move stuff with his hands.  But more pencil to paper after six hours of pencil to paper?  Mmmm. . . productive.  And fun!

And I know there are people who will say, “School can’t always be fun.”  But guess what.  It sure as hell should be pretty darn close.  Maybe not “fun” but at least interesting.  Kids are born with an inherent curiosity.  You have to work to kill that.  Which is why I’m so bummed out about this year.  It depresses me to watch my kids go through the motions of doing something just for the sake of getting it over with and not because they wanted to know more about it.  It’s been like witnessing their preparation for factory work.  The other night, my son was so burnt that he actually plopped down on the couch like a middle-aged government worker with a beer and asked if he could watch some TV.  This from a kid who usually spends his free time drawing and building stuff with Legos.

Maybe homework is having some magical effect in other homes.  But in ours, it’s slowly killing off our children’s interest in learning.  So that’s nice.  It’s just the one and only thing we actually wanted to accomplish.

So, now what to do?  My husband has said that we need to mentally commit to staying at the school and making the best of it.  Otherwise, we’ll go bonkers.  We are, however, making one change.  This year, for the first time, we’ll be participating at our school with an asterisk.

See, we’re kind of like the girl who’s been screwed over by her boyfriend.  At our old school, we bent over backward to help the place and basically got zero (really less than zero) in return.  Knowing how great this feels, we’re not exactly up for the same experience.  So now that we feel like we’ve been sort of “played” by this homework thing, we’ve decided to sit things out a little.  We won’t be helping at every event, contributing to every fundraiser, and breaking our necks to go to every last minute whatever.  And we’re hoping that this time, if and when we get screwed over, it won’t feel as bad.

Thing is, this is really hard for us.  It goes against our nature.  Because we’re “all-in” kind of people.  We care.  It’s our Achilles heel.  And that’s so annoying. . .

So we’ll see how long our plan lasts.  Hopefully we’ll be able to hold out and not be drawn back in like a domestic violence victim (“Well, they said they were sorry and they’d never do it again.  So, we’ll just give them one more chance. . .”).  We’ll see if we can stop being suckers.  We’ll see if it’s not just our kids who are good at learning from experience.

And, we’ll see if we can’t figure out a way to throw some brownie around all the spinach the kids have been bringing home.

“What a waste it is to lose one’s mind.  Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful.  How true that is.” –Dan Quayle

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22 Comments… add one

MultipleMum October 10, 2010, 2:13 am

What a strange turn of events at a Montessori school! Why the change of heart? Any explanation for the plebs at home?

I'm not sure how I feel about homework. I like hearing my child read to me because I am helping him gain a true love of reading. Who doesn't need that? But we also do a lot of colouring and cutting and writing, which works well for Nugget because he has trouble with fine motor skills but I can only imagine is a complete waste of time for other kids?

Your silent protest is endearing 🙂

deborah October 10, 2010, 7:54 am

i so know where you are coming from. i limited the amount of homework i would allow. i'm the mama–that's how. in the early grades anything over 20 minutes was signed by me. with a note that they could call anytime. my oldest had 3-4 hours per night in third grade. finally put an end to it all when we called a meeting with his teacher and principal. test him like we asked–8 months earlier. if you aren't gonna be your child's advocate, then who will? i have my own protests going on–on perfection and this not using capital letters (i'll admit….this one has me scratching my head).
p.s. i put beets in my spaghetti sauce

PartlySunny October 10, 2010, 11:09 am

@MultipleMum: The school switched gears because their test scores are low and some parents (if you can believe it) were requesting it. I think some people feel like they NEED to have structured learning with their kids. Which I kind of understand. If your usual routine is having the TV on and then doing homework, it's hard to switch your thinking to switching the TV off and having freeform learning. It takes work getting used to it. I've been with kids who, honest to god, do not know how to just play or draw without some direction.

And the thing about what you do with Nugget. . . I think that's perfect. It's the same stuff I do with Elfie. She has problems with fine motor also. And the thing is, I could torture her by making her do writing assignments where she copies letters over and over, or I could get her to do other fine motor projects that help her without making her frustrated. Like coloring, sewing, puzzles, and writing projects that she comes up with.

@deborah: 3 to 4 hours?! Good lord! I've heard tale of such things, but holy. . . yeah, I'd say that deserves protest. Nothing like having a crazy child. I just really think our society needs to step back and take a look at what we're trying to accomplish.

We do carrots in spaghetti. But I like the beet idea.

TerryD October 10, 2010, 11:37 pm

Do NOT get me started on this one. Homework should follow the educator version of the hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. There might be a reason for homework, but it must be weighed carefully against costs. In our case: does the hour of spelling work lead to less reading? Never mind that my kid can spell the words on Monday – we've got sentences to write and a dictionary to use so that by Friday he can spell them again. Too bad this keeps him from books.

Our solution was to have a firm conversation with the teacher. She was quite professional and genuinely interested in our perspective and we have a better arrangement now. In the past, other teachers have been less responsive. Firm is what worked for us, along with some data, as in, “It took seventy minutes to complete activities one and two last night.” She had no concept that her 'fun' activity took anything like the time it was taking us.

Another approach is to be clear about goals. “What is it my child is supposed to practice and learn by doing X?”. When a teacher doesn't know, I'm sure not going to worry about doing it.

As for parents who ask for homework, they need to read Alfie Kohn's book “The End of Homework.” At least then the will have some context against which to reference their idiocy.

PartlySunny October 10, 2010, 11:50 pm

@TerryD: Oh, you and your referencing books and things. Stop your crazy talk.

Truthful Mommy October 11, 2010, 10:06 am

Yes, we have been given the bait and switch by our school as well. Fun right? I especially love that they are sending homework home with a kindergartner with NO INSTRUCTIONS! Love it! Really, I just want to bitch slap the teacher and send it back with a note that says..” I pay the tuition.You do the homework!”

PartlySunny October 11, 2010, 11:06 am

@Truthful Mommy: The argument that kindergartners need to start doing homework as “practice” is absurd. We even went to a preschool for a while where they were sending stuff home. Ridiculous.

KLZ October 11, 2010, 11:23 am

As a personal hater-of-school, starting from the tender age of 5, this really resonates with me. What's the point of making me sit there for 6-8 hours if I still need to take it home? To fill in the blanks? Are you freaking kidding me? I could do that at school, I assure you.

Sorry, this is a really sore subject for me. But I would like some brownies, even if they have spinach in them.

Anonymous October 11, 2010, 4:10 pm

I hear your frustration, I have been there 3 times! Now that I have a child in high school, I can see the huge rewards. She was in advanced placement classes starting in elementary on into middle school and had anywhere from 4-5 hours of homework any given night by the time she hit 6th grade. She also squeezed in about an hour and a half of sports each day. She rarely got to bed before 11pm each night. I struggled with the fact that her childhood was being robbed from her and that if she didn't keep up, she would fall behind. We plugged away each night, teaching her study skills, time management and qualities that a teacher just can't teach several kids on a one on one basis–private or not. Sad to say, but this was good quality time spent with her. My husband by her side with Geometry (he still remembered!) and me with all other subjects. By the time she hit 7th grade she took off soaring on her own. She doesn't even blink when she is presented with the difficult demands of high school homework. She knows what has to be done if she wants to compete for college entrance. Many good 4 year colleges don't even look at GPA's under a 4.0!

So with that said, embrace the homework. You will be the best one to reinforce what your child is learning at school. We are in a much different world than when we were growing up. Education is extremely competitive and complaining about homework will get the kids nowhere.

I'll let you know when my daughter drops out of school because she is so fried and decides to escape by being a habitual crack user!

Fire Life October 11, 2010, 4:19 pm

Great Post- I have to agree with KLZ- I too believe in school is school & home is home- sort of. Being that we homeschool the line is blurred quite a bit. We try to make every life experience a learning one. That said- in the amount of time public school kids spend on just the homework in the afternoons- we complete all our curriculum for the day. And then we are free- to do what we want. Knock it out & walk away. Sort of strange for me as I am usually a very by the book- follow the rules sort of person. However when it comes to my kids- I'm all about doing it my way and not having a teacher or anyone else tell me how we spend our time. I don't want the school telling me when they have to be there and what we do when they are not there. Which I guess is why we homeschool. Not sure where it all came from or why I am this way.

I completely support your idea with the “helping out” at the school in protest. I would do the same thing. 🙂

trydefyinggravity October 11, 2010, 4:19 pm

I was interested by the change of heart as well. Here's my two cents – if you're paying for the school (which I assume you are), then you have the right to ask them what's the deal? You paid for one service (so to speak) and now you're getting another. I know your kids love the place, but if the homework thing persists in getting them (and you) down, then the love will be gone too. We want our kids to love school and love learning. That's why you pay the Montessori school the big bucks.

PartlySunny October 12, 2010, 12:35 am

@KLZ: Exactly. And I don't want my kids hating school. I'll look into shipping you some brownies.:)

@Anonymous: Why do my anonymous people always leave the comments that require some back-and-forth, and by being anonymous make it impossible for me to contact them? Anyway, I hope you check back and get this: Four to five hours?!? In elementary school? And up until 11pm? I'd have a nervous breakdown. My kids would have nervous breakdowns. Actually, no. We'd be homeschooling. Because if I were spending that much time teaching them, we might as well enjoy the part of our lives that was apparently being wasted during the school day. Not to mention getting some sleep. Sorry, I sound really harsh. But that is just brutal. It sounds like China or something.

@Fire Life: And with that, I guess I don't need to say anything to you. Rock on.

@trydefyinggravity: People are going to hate me, but this is a charter school. As in free. Very few out there. So I do feel some amount of guilt from bitching. But I also want what's best for my kids. Unfortunately, that could mean a move to something super-duper expensive (in which case, I'm going to have to start some internet porn site like the one on Desperate Housewives or something — anyone need a job?). Fact is, the kids love it there and say they're willing to suck it up to stay. So really, it's kind of up to them at this point.

Meredith October 12, 2010, 10:07 am

I found your blog via World's Worst Moms. You're funny and smart, and, as a mother with a baby, I should be thinking about school and the future and all that jazz, but why oh why must I walk away from your post not frustrated by homework but rather by the lack of brownies in my house right now.

PartlySunny October 12, 2010, 10:17 am

@Meredith: Okay, now THAT made me laugh. Probably because I was, for some reason, waiting to get chewed out. Anyway, so glad you stopped by. And don't think about school. Thinking about school sucks. I'd say enjoy it while you can, but I hated it when people said that kind of thing to me. . .

CJ October 12, 2010, 8:58 pm

@PARTLY – We must live parallel lives! Homework is a BIG issue in our house as well. We went to our school PTA meeting where the Principal delivered an excellent presentation illustrating the fact that there is no measureable correlation between homework and scholastic achievement for elementary and middle school children. Some of the schools in our county did away with homework and evidently still have stellar national performance ratings. Her point was stop “trippin'” over homework! It is not an indicator of your child's intellect or brillance. Her advice was no more than 20 minutes.

There is this idea that school is education – where the “REAL” teaching happens and home is not. So in order to keep the “real teaching” moving along – we have to duplicate the school environment at home. So the more homework our kids can do – the more extra stuff they can be in – the smarter and more “ahead” they will be in life. I say Hogwash! And evidently a whole lot of educators are saying the same thing.

As parents we need to be educated. Because the facts are that 4.0 college students are not necessarily more successful in life than less than perfect students. And they damn sure aren't any happier or well-adjusted.

There are actually parents who bragg about having overextended, exhausted kids! I would DIE if my 13 year old was addicted to starbucks because she needed to get through her school day.

College students are overdosing on speed, not because they want to get a high (not that they should) but because they need energy to out perform thier classmates and please thier parents. We have girls killing each other over cheerleading competitions and the suicide rate for high school and college age students is sky rocketing, not to mention depression and anxiety in children and young adults. Just call me debbie downer. But I think this whole performance thing is ridiculous. And if we are not careful – the schools in an effort to compete in the status wars will start instituing policies that go against what they really feel is in the best interest of our children.

If the test scores are low – its because there is something amiss in the teaching practices or philosophy. Giving more homework is an easy cop-out. (I bet some of the teachers don't like it either…many of them agree that this whole homework thing is nonsense)It is much more difficult to actually evaluate and challenge the effectiveness of the school itself.

Ok that's enough – you know me Partly Sunny – I could yikkity yak for days.
CJ (love ya!)

CJ October 12, 2010, 9:00 pm

I am sooo embarassed my comment was so long! CJ

PartlySunny October 12, 2010, 11:44 pm

@CJ: WooHoo!!! And this is why I love ya. That definitely wasn't too long.

Ashley October 14, 2010, 12:06 pm

So this is my first visit here, thanks for the comment on my “The Grey Cloud of Mommy Guilt” article over at Mamapedia and then on my blog – nice to meet ya.

And in response to your post, Holy macaroni! Our kids haven't reached school age yet but it's going to happen soon (even if I am trying desperately to stunt their growth with coffee). We've hummed and hawed the whole “school” thing and now I have more to think of. Thanks! (In a good thanks, not a sarcastic thanks…sorry I'm a parenthesis talker)

Anyways, thanks for the comments and again nice to meet you! I'll be back!

PartlySunny October 14, 2010, 2:18 pm

@Ashley: Thanks for stopping by – nice to meet you, too. We try to stunt the kids' growth by pressing down on their heads. It's not working. They do love coffee though, so maybe I should just switch them from decaf.

Imperfectly Me October 14, 2010, 7:51 pm

I'm with you on the homework thing being a pit of despair…
Sad truth for us is that our oldest is a pleaser so she will struggle with whatever homework is given and never complain. Our second child on the other hand is a classic example of homework being counter productive and not at all helpful to her enjoyment and engagement with education.
I'm with you – activities that engage them and teach them simultaneously are much better than struggling with homework that frustrates them and you!
Good luck with the arms-length approach, it's so hard when you care and have to hold back what comes naturally to you.
I put carrots, eggplant and zucchini in my spag bol sauce then puree it…they never know it's there!!!!

parenting ad absurdum October 23, 2010, 4:58 pm

Oh dear! Yes, I agree school should be as fun as it can possibly be – kids are dying to learn, no one should make them think it's not a fun thing to do.

About those brownies in the picture – I want one!! They don't have spinach in them, do they??

PartlySunny October 23, 2010, 5:58 pm

@ad absurdum: I cannot comment on the tastiness or ingredients of the brownies (they're a stock photo). They could be chock full of marijuana or sawdust for all I know. But they do look delicious. . .

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