Monday, January 30, 2012

Bowing and Scraping

Back to the discussion of the parent letter here: Opting Out of Homework.

Now that I've communicated with Alfie Kohn I understand that this letter really was written by a parent, not by him. (Come to think of it, is there a man on the planet who would dream up "I respect you as my child's teacher"?) Of course, it is still a sample letter in the sense that Alfie Kohn put it on his website in the hope of inspiring other parents to write similar letters.

I certainly agree with the intent of this letter — to get a first-grader out of homework. But the tone of the letter gets on my last nerve. I am so done with the way parents are expected to address their childrens' teachers. It's beyond simple politeness; it's really subservience.

"I'm sensitive to your concern that learning be supported at home, and I intend to do this as best I can." Oh, for heaven's sake. Who works for whom here? Shouldn't we hold the teacher accountable for doing educational activities with our child, instead of allowing the teacher to think that's the parents' job?

I think all this bowing and scraping is a mistake. It just confirms the idea, already staunchly held by teachers and administrators, that they are the experts, they are in charge, and we parents are just standing by breathlessly awaiting their orders. This is why we routinely get patronized and bossed around. Let's not encourage it.

I say it's time to take back our home lives. Home is not an annex of the school, and we aren't volunteers. Our children belong to us, not the school. We should speak to teachers as equals, and not approach them hat in hand, begging for scraps.


  1. I'm a man, and I will give you an example that happened just last night. Sorry if this is long.

    Short history: this is a teacher who has had communication problems all year, and I have already complained to the principal about her. Last night was the high school G/T science fair which we didn't know the final schedule on until...last night.

    Students were expected to be there from 5:30 until 8:30 with judging finished at 7:30 and the rest was open house time and awards. My son was given a lot of homework in other classes and wasn't done by the time the event started (and only was able to eat a partial dinner). We made the decision that he should leave at 7:30 so he could get back to homework and still have a decent night's sleep (and the same for my wife and I who get up very early for work). I couldn't find a teacher when I dropped him off, so my son said he would track her down and let her know.

    Shortly after he called me and said that the teacher told him if he left early he would lose points on his science project. I was not a happy camper.

    I went back to school at 7:20 and found the teacher. I turned on the voice recorder on my phone, pointed it towards her and told her to verify what she had told my son, to explain what the academic value was in staying longer (all the kids were just standing around talking at that point) and to tell me how many points would be taken off.

    She looked stunned and was silent for about 15 seconds. Finally, she said that they wanted kids to "experience the whole thing" and wasn't sure about the points because she hadn't talked about it with the other teacher (who I think is the team lead). I pointed out that none of the kids were currently doing anything academic and asked that we go find the other teacher so I could get an answer.

    When we finally found the other teacher I explained the situation and without hesitation the other teacher said it was no problem at all, they were just hoping kids could stay, we needed to do what was right for our family, etc. In other words, the correct response to the original problem. Clearly, we had tried to balance academic and life needs and had met them at least half way.

    When I got home I wrote an email summarizing the situation and sent it to the principal.

    Was I "nice"? Probably not, although I never swore and never raised my voice. I defined and controlled the situation. I am the parent and the taxpayer, and I do not work for the school or the teacher.

  2. I agree with you about the ingratiating tone. It's one I have felt it necessary to use in the past. This year, I took a different approach in my meeting with the principal and vice-principle of my daughters' middle school. I arrived armed with research about the ineffectiveness of homework, and I set myself up as a kind of "expert" who was not willing to play games or engage in "nice" talk. The meeting went really well! Unfortunately, the girls still have too much homework, though less than before the meeting.

  3. (Oops, I meant "vice-principal," of course. That's what happens when I comment, pre-caffeine fix...)

  4. I read over the sample letter from the link you provided and I really don't see your problem with it. It's maybe a little bit long - the point could have been made in just one paragraph - but if I was going to basically say to my child's teacher "screw your homework assignments" I think I'd err on the side of being overly polite.

    I know you don't think so, but what you're asking for is very over-the-top and could potentially cause a lot of headaches and extra work for the teacher involved. Not to mention that teachers face disrespect everywhere we go, which can lead to a somewhat defensive attitude when our assignments and methods are challenged. It wouldn't hurt to make the teacher feel valued before making a (IMO outrageous) demand.

  5. What exactly is my outrageous demand?

    Do you mean that the mother who wrote the letter is outrageous in saying that she won't make her 6-year-old child do homework every night? I don't think that's outrageous at all.

    And how does a child not doing homework cause EXTRA work for the teacher? That really doesn't make sense.

  6. Yes, I do think it's outrageous for a parent to demand that their child be exempted from doing some homework every night. If you want to put a time limit on the homework, ok, that's reasonable. But no homework at all? I think that's an out-of-line demand.

    The reason this will create more work for the teacher is because, eventually, it will get out to other children and parents that some kids aren't doing homework. This will result in a lot of phone calls and emails (read: extra hours at school) explaining to other parents why SOME students don't do homework but the expectation is still that other children will. Then it will become an issue when grades are due. How will the non-homework-doing child's grade be determined? The parent probably won't be happy with a bunch of zeros for those homework assignments, so the teacher will have to spend extra time figuring out how to determine your child's grade with the homework assignments omitted.

    This will significantly add to your child's teacher's workload, at least for a period of time. I think it's appropriate that you show some sensitivity to the position you're putting the teacher in by asking that YOUR child not be assigned homework.

  7. ***
    eventually, it will get out to other children and parents that some kids aren't doing homework.

    What, because it's news that in a first-grade classroom some of the kids don't do their homework?

    How will the non-homework-doing child's grade be determined?

    Who cares? It's FIRST GRADE! Most kids don't even get grades at this stage, they get vague rubrics with categories like "strong" and "developing". (That's another issue!)

    I think it's appropriate that you show some sensitivity to the position you're putting the teacher in by asking that YOUR child not be assigned homework.

    Who are you addressing as "you"? Do you understand that I didn't write the "Opt Out" letter? I don't even like it much.

    The mother wasn't asking the teacher not to assign homework, she was just explaining that she wasn't going to make her kid do it. The teacher can continue on her merry way.

  8. Well, it WOULD be news if a child was being exempted from homework; that's what I meant. Obviously, plenty of kids don't do their homework. It's just that parents don't usually support this decision.

    I never said that the teacher was being asked not to assign homework, I said that it would be difficult to expect that the teacher create a new grading system for every kid whose parents decide that they don't have to do homework.

    You can choose to reject that this will be significantly disruptive to the classroom environment or not, but by refusing to even consider that a bunch of kids "opting out" of homework will be problematic you're doing exactly the thing that you say you wish teachers would stop doing. That is, you're not engaging in a dialogue. You're just spouting your ideas without considering the ramifications of your suggestions. You're not a teacher. You only know YOUR kids and their needs; you have no idea what it's like to have hundreds of kids with hundreds of sets of parents with hundreds of concerns and to juggle these concerns and weigh them against your own experience as a teacher and try to do what's right for everyone. I'm trying to provide a perspective you obviously didn't consider.

    And the reason you didn't like the letter was because you found it to be too polite, not because you disagreed with the sentiment that was being expressed. You've discussed many times that you agree with opting out of homework, so yes, I was addressing YOU.

  9. TeacHer, this is elementary school we're talking about. The teacher has about 25 kids in her class (fewer in my district), not "hundreds".

    Why should it be disruptive to the classroom? There's already plenty of kids who don't do their homework, as you say. What difference does it make if some of these kids have their parents' approval?

    Actually, you'd be surprised at how very common these special deals are. That was an eye-opener for me; I discovered from the previous principal at Fragrant Elementary that plenty of kids had special deals worked out for homework (for instance, they could print definitions off the computer instead of writing them out by hand), at parent request. That's aside from the whole question of IEPs! Your vision of a monolithic classroom with all the kids assigned, and doing, the same homework with universally obedient parents is not the reality I see. Savvy parents know how to work the system, while less-savvy parents fight with their kids to make them do busywork every night.

    TeacHer, you are the embodiment of my original point that all the bowing and scraping in the world will not result in teachers taking parents seriously.

  10. It's not that I'm not taking you seriously, it's that I just think you're wrong. There's a difference. I've listened to your points, considered them, and I'm not persuaded by them. Not taking them seriously would be dismissing them out of hand, as you seem to have done with mine.

    You're very obsessed with obedience and seem almost pathologically opposed to being "told" to do anything. In no way, shape, or form was I suggesting that parents "obey," and there's no way that any reasonable person would extrapolate that from what I've written here. I was pointing out the fact that allowing kids to opt out of homework is unworkable, similar to your point about curricula tailored to each student being unworkable.

    The overall theme of your blog is that you're unable to look at education from any perspective other than that of your own children….you think that other parents who expect their children to do homework are fighting with their kids. Maybe they just see the value in doing homework. Maybe the kids like school and don't mind doing a little homework. Or maybe they hate homework but just don't think it's that damn big of a deal. Or, you posted something a while back about sending in a note when you're child is out of school, and you said something like "it's none of the school's business." Right, because YOU'RE not abusing or neglecting your children. But some kids might have really spotty attendance because their parents are mistreating them. That's why schools require notes for missed days, to catch parents aren't taking care of their kids. It's not to be nosy. It's not to be invasive. But you're unable to see that because you only see things from YOUR perspective.

    It's really refreshing to see a parent take her kids' educations seriously, because I have so many parents who don't care at all about their kids or their schooling, but you're not always right. Sorry.

  11. This is an interesting exchange. On the one hand, I don't see any reason to be needlessly confrontational or provocative when talking to anyone, and the parent who wrote that letter could justify erring on the side of diplomacy as a means of maximizing her chance of getting what she wants. On the other hand, I don't see anything wrong with people expressing themselves bluntly rather than dressing up everything in deferential language -- it shouldn't make any difference in how a school or teacher responds (even if, as a factual matter, it does often make a difference). I also don't see anything wrong with people who are legitimately angry expressing themselves angrily. When "civility" is defined so as to rule out any expression of anger, it really is just censoriousness in disguise.

    Ideally, the interaction between parents and public schools should be a two-way street. If it really was that way, and if parents really did have a meaningful say in school policies, I'd have more sympathy for TeacHer's argument that there can't be a special rule for everyone. As it is, though, many parents justifiably feel disenfranchised, and school policy seems to be just imposed from above regardless of whether parents or the community likes it. In that situation, I don't see how the school can feel entitled to cooperation and understanding from the parents.

    I should add that I think assigning homework to six-year-olds (other than maybe an occasional mostly fun thing) is ridiculous, as is giving them any kind of grade. If, by some genuinely democratic process, the community decides otherwise, I'd deal with it (or maybe I'd pull my kids out, if I could). But I don't see the school system as some self-appointed authority that's entitled to decide what's best for the poor unwashed masses. If it takes on that role, it deserves whatever non-cooperation it gets.

  12. I also think that top-down federal and state educational policies are driving a wedge between parents and teachers that wouldn't naturally be there (or at least wouldn't be there as much). My experience has been that teachers are usually willing to give as much individualized treatment to kids as they can, within workable limits. For example, some parents may like being asked to sign the kids' homework, while others (like me) object to it, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a teacher accommodate different parents' preferences on that. But when the policy comes down from above, the teachers' hands are often tied.

  13. OK, let's try this again. TeacHer, you think it's an "outrageous" request for a parent to opt out of homework for her first-grader, because it will cause "extra work" for the teacher.

    In my district, a typical first-grade teacher will have about 20 kids in her classroom. She assigns homework every weeknight, by district mandate. Some kids never do the homework; some kids always do the homework; most kids are somewhere in the large range in between. Some kids have modified assignments, by parent request or IEP.

    Now one mother sends the teacher an e-mail explaining that she has made a decision that her first-grader will not be doing homework.

    How does this mean more work for the teacher?

    TeacHer said:

    It's really refreshing to see a parent take her kids' educations seriously, because I have so many parents who don't care at all about their kids or their schooling, but you're not always right.

    How do you know what your students' parents care about? How judgemental can you get? Sheesh.

  14. We've had a lot of back and forth today so I think you're muddling some of my comments. I do think it's outrageous that a parent would opt their child out of homework but not BECAUSE it causes more work for the teacher. I think it's outrageous because of the message it sends to the child, but that's a whole other conversation. I made the comment about creating work for the teacher (which it would) because I wanted to point out that erring on the side of being extra-polite in communicating with the teacher about this issue is probably appropriate. The two happened to pop up in the same note to you, but are not causally related.

    I'm drawing the conclusion that my many of my students' parents don't care about their schooling because the past three conversations I've had with parents have included the following:
    1. A parent who didn't realize his child was in 9th grade. He thought the child was in 10th.
    2. A parent who didn't know that her child was in an AP class. It's the second semester.
    3. A parent of a ninth grader asked when report cards were being issued. She hadn't seen one all year. Again, it's the second semester.

    And those are just the most recent three communications. I actually made a phone call to a parent two years ago who didn't even know his child was still in school. He thought that the child had dropped out months ago.

    If these are parents who care about their kids' educations, they have a very funny way of showing it.

  15. Oh, for god's sake, Teacher, the kid's in first grade! We already know homework in that grade (not to mention all of elementary) is useless. Especially for a six year old!

    I know you want to save your job. I don't blame you. But it's not my job to save yours. It's my job to raise my child. It's your job to teach.

    I'm sorry it's become so difficult. You and your colleagues could have spoken up a long time ago. I barely got any homework in first grade. I played and played and read and chased bugs in the grass and stared up at the sky pretending clouds were mashed potatoes and I wrote and dreamed up stories and read and read and read some more and my imagination and creativity just SOARED. Wish I could say the same for the six year olds of today.

    They're kids, teacher. Stop worrying about their grades so much. Who the hell cares about grades in first grade anyway? If I had it to all over again, I would have yanked my daughter out to homeschool in kindergarten. I don't care about grades in first grade. Yea, I know you do, I know your principal does. And what we parents have figured out all too well is that our kids come last.

  16. FedUpMom, one thing I think you fail to address before you answer comments is where that person is from and what type of schooling they have experience with. I am from a small town in Canada and many of the situations you describe would only occur VERY rarely in our school divisions. So I think you should be inquiring about where that person is from before you tell them that they are wrong. Maybe the opinion they are expressing is extremely common in their area. You also need to ask what type of schooling they have experience with. Public schools and private schools are going to have different educational philosophies that will reflect the policies they implement.
    In general I find that you are quick to dismiss other people's ideas but I think you should put their views in context before you criticize so passionately.

  17. One more thing. You mention in your comment that,

    "In my district, a typical first-grade teacher will have about 20 kids in her classroom. She assigns homework every weeknight, by district mandate."

    DISTRICT MANDATE. So my question is why are you continually ranting about teachers when they are bound to adhere to several district policies and procedures (or they may lose their job). Why do you not rant about the superintendent or the state educational minister?
    Have you been involved in actively trying to change education in the public or just hidden on the internet

  18. TeachHer writes:

    "1. A parent who didn't realize his child was in 9th grade. He thought the child was in 10th.
    2. A parent who didn't know that her child was in an AP class. It's the second semester.
    3. A parent of a ninth grader asked when report cards were being issued. She hadn't seen one all year. Again, it's the second semester."

    I feel for you. Yes, unquestionably, those are not involved parents. But...that's not us. I'm not patting ourselves on the back here, but those parents aren't writing in here. Why should our needs and concerns be silenced because you have deadbeat parents?

    There was a common thread on StopHomework that ran something like this: at best, teachers might begrudgingly acknowledge that reading, doing self initiated math projects and games, home chemical experiments, museums, puppet shows, afternoon hikes, the library and outdoor classical concerts were all great ways to spend an afternoon. Yes, maybe even better than homework, a teacher might reluctantly agree.

    But we can't let your family do any of those things, even though they are enriching, creative, fun and best of all child directed, fingers were wagged at us. We can't. We can't let Suzy go to a museum because Johnny won't read.

    You may counter-argue that homework isn't supposed to eat up all of your time, that you have weekends to do those fun educational things. But we don't. We didn't.

    That's how I got involved in StopHomework. Looking back, NO homework is necessary in elementary. But I might have kept quiet (at least longer) if homework didn't eat up most of our precious and limited family time. But it did. And it left my creative bright inquisitive child exhausted, resentful, stressed and worst of all, beginning to loath learning. That last indignity is unconscionable. But first do no harm.

  19. Tom -- That is such BS. FedUpMom speaks up on the internet while 90+% of parents (and teachers, too, for that matter) passively accept whatever the school system dishes out, and you criticize FedUpMom? So unless she tries to achieve change in exactly the way that *you* think she should, her form of speaking up can dismissed? Moreover, what could be a better example of an ad hominem argument? How does your opinion of her "hiding on the internet" have any bearing on the rightness or wrongness of her arguments?

    I agree that the administrators and state and federal authorities have a lot to answer for. But like it or not, teachers are the public face of the institution, and the main people who interact with the parents, so of course they're going to end up taking some flak. They also do still have *some* discretion -- some give more homework than others, for example -- and so they *are* the right people to address about those issues.

    Moreover, in the end, "I was only following orders" is not a very persuasive defense, is it? Why aren't teachers at least partly responsible for what they are doing in their chosen jobs?

  20. TeacHer -- I think both you and FedUpMom are concerned about the messages the parent's actions send to the child. You're afraid she's teaching the child to take an entitled attitude. She's afraid that anything less would be teaching the child to roll over passively in the face of whoever happens to hold a position of authority.

    I don't think you can separate out the message from the question of what the school is doing. Suppose FedUpMom lived in one of the roughly twenty states where corporal punishment in school is legal. Then suppose she told (not asked) the teacher that she was opting her child out of any corporal punishment. Would that be outrageous? Would it teach the child an entitled attitude? That's an extreme example, but if FedUpMom believes that assigning homework to six-year-olds is an unnecessary and needless burden on the child on on the child's family life, and she tries to do something about it, does that teach entitlement or does that teach assertiveness?

    Moreover, even if you think she's erring too much on the side of assertiveness, why go out of your way to criticize that, instead of criticizing the wide majority of parents who err on the side of passively accepting whatever the school dishes out? School staff never worry about the messages that *those* parents are sending, but aren't they really the bigger problem? As a society, do we really suffer from too much questioning of authority, or from too little?

    And again, is it possible to talk about the correctness of challenging authority without talking about the degree to which parents have a say in how that authority is exercised? If school practices are just dictated to the parents as faits accompli, why should the parents feel any obligation to go along with them, or to teach their children to go along with them? The farther educational policy decisions are removed from the people most affected by them, the less anyone can be surprised when those people push back.

  21. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ... (Henry V.)

    HomeworkBlues, I have to disagree with you here. I'm not interested in drawing a line between us "good" parents and those other "bad" parents that TeacHer deals with. I would rather encourage TeacHer to grow a little humility, grow a little compassion, and stop judging parents. These are the families she serves. She needs to find a way to work with them instead of saying they "don't care at all about their kids or their schooling." That's a very superior, judgemental attitude, and you know it carries right over into the classroom.

    TeacHer said:

    I was pointing out the fact that allowing kids to opt out of homework is unworkable, similar to your point about curricula tailored to each student being unworkable.

    TeacHer, the mother isn't asking the teacher to tailor the curriculum to her kid; she's opting out. The teacher doesn't have to do anything extra to accommodate her. This mother's kid will be one of the kids who doesn't turn in homework, with the difference that she has her mother's explicit approval.

    TeacHer said:

    The overall theme of your blog is that you're unable to look at education from any perspective other than that of your own children….

    Well, naturally I write from my own perspective; what other perspective would I write from? I've heard your argument many many times already. "We can't worry about your gifted kid, we're too busy worrying about the special ed kids." "We can't honor your request for no homework in first grade, we're too busy worrying about those other parents who WANT homework in first grade." Etc, etc, etc. It's just an excuse. If the school doesn't do much for the gifted kids, it's probably not doing much for the special ed kids either. The common thread is that they aren't listening to the parents.

    There's no such thing as a school that does a great job for the kids in general while not doing a good job for any kid in particular. Sooner or later you have to come down to each individual kid and figure out what works best for her.

  22. Tom Fidierchuk said:

    So I think you should be inquiring about where that person is from before you tell them that they are wrong. Maybe the opinion they are expressing is extremely common in their area.

    Who cares whether an opinion is common? That doesn't make it right.

    As to the point about the district mandate, it's true that elementary-school teachers are under a district mandate to assign homework every night, but they still have the freedom to deal with undone homework however they want. As I said before, a lot of parents arrange special deals for their kids. It's a necessary release valve for a rigid, inappropriate system.

    In my case, my Younger Daughter has never done the spelling homework as assigned, which would have her write out every spelling word 3 times 4 nights a week. Instead, we have her write the words once each 2 nights a week. Interestingly, even for a kid with known language delays, this is enough for her to do a reasonable job on the Friday spelling test. Think how very unnecessary the assigned homework is for a kid without language delays!

    I haven't had any complaints from YD's teacher about the underdone spelling homework. It's a compromise. Teachers make them all the time.

  23. I have to agree that I have no compassion for a parent who doesn't know what grade his or her child is in. There is no excuse for that. If you think that's judgmental, so be it.

    Chris very concisely summed up my point about allowing a first-grader to opt out of homework: it breeds an entitled attitude. You haven't convinced me that it doesn't. But I did listen. I did consider your points. I just don't agree. You keep saying that teachers and administrators aren't listening, and that other parents are "grown up good girls" who don't speak up. You don't want people to just listen, you want them to agree.

    But maybe you're just not making a persuasive point.

  24. And I "judge" parents - the adults - not the kids. In no way would I EVER let my feelings about their parents enter into my classroom; you can't help who your parents are. In fact, more often than not, I'm in awe of how hard-working and well-adjusted so many of my students are in spite of how awful their parents are. And I root for them all the way to graduation and beyond.

    Once again, the very quality you criticize in others you show in your own comments. If this isn't a case of the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is.

  25. I agree with you FedUp Mom about the feeling that is out there that you have to bow down to a teacher when you are asking for something - almost grovel. It seems if you question anything you are attacking teachers. I agree that we should be polite, but FedUp Mom's comment isn't that we should be rude to teachers. She's saying that we should feel like we should be able to stand up for ourselves politely. These are our children. The school does not own them even though they have custody of them for the day. Teachers do have a tough job but they don't everything and one size does not always fit all.

  26. ***
    I have to agree that I have no compassion for a parent who doesn't know what grade his or her child is in. There is no excuse for that. If you think that's judgmental, so be it.

    Yes, I think it's judgmental.

    In no way would I EVER let my feelings about their parents enter into my classroom; you can't help who your parents are. In fact, more often than not, I'm in awe of how hard-working and well-adjusted so many of my students are in spite of how awful their parents are.

    Your students would be appalled to find that you have decided their parents are "awful" and that the kids do well in spite of them. I'm pretty appalled myself. This is exactly the kind of "carrying over into the classroom" that I had in mind.

    Chris very concisely summed up my point about allowing a first-grader to opt out of homework: it breeds an entitled attitude. You haven't convinced me that it doesn't.

    I haven't even addressed that point. It'll have to be a separate post.

  27. Suburban Chicken FarmerFebruary 2, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Don't you just hate it when five and six year old kids get all uppity and "entitled?"
    It's pretty simple folks- We're talking first grade here, not high school.
    First grade kids spend seven hours, mostly five days a week at school. Of that time, maybe four hours each day are devoted to strictly academics. That's a considerable amount of time, I hope we could agree.
    Then the six year old goes home. There, or anywhere, the child isn't an empty vessel, or in some kind of suspended animation. Contrary, the child is very much alive, and going about the business of growing up. Some parents have more organized activities lined up. Some don't. Either way, the child is doing important work.
    At any age, if the child has to put in a lot of mental effort at school (as one of my kids does) coming home, decompressing, and doing activities which make him feel competent become crucial to his mental health.
    Another of my kids issue with academics is they are easy enough but hold no interest for him. Home, again, is the place where he does what is valuable to him; the only place, really where self-efficacy is allowed to develop naturally, with love.
    In our home, we do the homework although the benefit is miniscule. We have enough time. A lot of families don't.
    TeacHer, Based on my experience, your description of interaction and knowledge of bad parents defies credulity. But maybe you're in a private school where this is norm? I'm curious.

  28. Suburban Chicken FarmerFebruary 2, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Also, this claim that FedUpMom writes as if she speaking for every parent, is not the message I have ever got from reading her.

    Further, putting someone down for them preferring their own opinion is kind of crazy, dontcha think? We must believe our own is superior. Geez, I hope no one would hold onto an opinion they find inferior!

  29. Boy, so much to comment on. I'm rushed so let me get some kudos in and then elaboration next week.

    1. Fedup: Hat tip to you for doing a Bow and Scrape post. We mined this one on Stop Homework with some deep discussions that were quite enlightening. No one ever talks about the subservient role parents are thrust into, but if we don't get to the core, that so much of school is not about education but about compliance, we aren't going to progress on healthy ways of advocating for our children while still keeping the dialogue going (was that a run on sentence or WHAT???). Otherwise it does devolves into rancor.

    2. Mathew: Kudos to you for taking a stand and advocating for your son. I remember something you said on StopHomework. You don't have to be rude but you have every right to assert yourself when your children are at stake. You bet!

    3. Chris: Your comments are salient and excellent. You really summed it up eloquently and sharply. Thanks for putting it in such coherent and logical terms.

  30. One of the problems with opting out of homework is how little authority and latitude teachers have in this day and age. As stated above, it may be a district mandate that all first graders do homework. There may be follow-up on this mandate, stats derived, judgments made about the teachers on the basis of student compliance. Teachers may be under the gun to prove compliance by students to something they know to be useless and even harmful. Opting out might put them in a difficult position professionally.

    It's a case where not only is it not about the students, it's not even about the teachers anymore. Teachers have their own stupid rules to kowtow to, passed down by those who can't teach. They might have to answer to some fresh EDD why their class has such poor homework compliance metrics. The model of thinking of kids as widgets is flowed down, metrics are flowed back up, and the poor line worker's ability to treat kids as individuals is limited and may be counterproductive.

    It's refreshing to read TeacHer's posts here, because she has the liberty her to say the things your teacher will have to try to circumlocute or couch in political buzzwords. No, she doesn't care about your gifted kid's needs. She's got other kids more needy to worry about. She probably went into the profession aspiring to help people (the only other reason is because you're too dumb for another major), and if you're not in the category of people obviously needing help, you're a privileged whiner she can ignore.

    The problem the teacher will not understand is that homework is a detriment to learning for most children. A schoolteacher is not as important to a child's learning as his parents are. Most of what kids do at school is a waste of their time, and take-home busywork threatens to impose this waste upon the productive learning time they have at home. The impoverishment of the teaching profession so that it can no longer understand the child's point of view but instead looks at everything from the educational administrator's point of view, is part of the destruction of public education in this country.

  31. ***
    Most of what kids do at school is a waste of their time, and take-home busywork threatens to impose this waste upon the productive learning time they have at home.

    I totally agree with this.

    Recently, I've started to look forward to vacations because they give us more time to teach our daughter!

  32. Anonymous, excellent comment! You pinpoint what we already discovered, crystallized six years ago on StopHomework.

    Since school isn't about the child anymore, and if you can't homeschool, opt out of homework. Since school no longer cares about your kid, if you don't, who will? Long after your child is a fading photo in some musty old yearbook, you the parent will have to deal with the consequences of not stepping up to the plate when you still could have.

  33. Fascinating discussion - I wonder if you all would be willing to make the same argument for banning high school homework. when you add the amount of time spent in class, then in sports or other after-school activities, perhaps a job, what's the best rationale for assigning HW on top of that? Where I currently teach, teachers moan how kids are too lazy to do HW and this generation has degenerated from the mythical greats who preceded them. I see it as passive resistance similar to the actions of anyone chained to a place of drudgery. On the other hand, I see the value of doing stuff outside of class time, but I have to ask myself - what's the point of it, and are there more ways of doing it than I am currently thinking about? It seems to me that the predominant purpose of HW has become: teaching habits of work, and doing drill work for the SATS. I think teachers and parents have a common enemy - the College Board. Some private schools have dared to tell the College Board to go to hell and have started using the College Work Readiness Assessment (this is not a plug for them, but it's a more interesting test.) It might be worth asking teachers who assign any homework what the point of it is. If it really is about establishing e=obedience, you have a right to opt out of it, I think. If it's about reinforcing or practicing difficult concepts, the teacher may have a point. What if "homework" was using non-class time to work a client on a project in a technology class? Would that make it worthwhile?

  34. Anonymous, that's a great question. I tend to separate homework issues by age, because there is no evidence at all to support homework in elementary school, but a small correlation has been found between homework and learning in high school.

    I think a reasonable quantity of thoughtful homework would be fine for high school. Of course, that's not what most high school kids contend with. In our district, parents brag about how their high school kids subsist on 4 hours of sleep a night so they can get all their homework done. How is this conducive to learning, or having a decent life?

  35. I agree with Anonymous above about the loss of control for teachers. In our district, we have 8 elementary schools. All of those 8 elementary schools are subject to very specific curriculum mandates imposed by the district. So, I really don't blame my children's teachers for so called balanced literacy they are being taught with that appears to me to be so much closer to "whole language." It seems to me from my limited experience of two teachers, and reading some of the other teachers' websites, that the teachers vary in how they handle that. Some appear to be strict to the district line, and some appear that they might sprinkle in some additional things they feel are helpful (like sprinkling in a little more phonics). But overall, it is hard to blame the teachers on some of this nonsense that I see with homework and educational methods.

    FedUpMom - I also look forward to school breaks because I work full-time outside of the home and I have just 2 hours a night to make dinner, cleanup after dinner, bath kids, help with homework, add my own lessons, and put the kids to bed. I have even less than that on nights when my daughter has gymnastics. On weekends, I'm trying to actually clean something in the house - anything - feed a family 6 times, grocery shop, take my daughter to more gymnastics, fit in some kind of fun activity such as museum, play place, etc. - you get the picture.

    Homework and fights over homework make it much harder for me to focus on the areas where I know they need extra help, including areas the teachers themselves have pointing out to me. My second grader helps me a bit because most days she completes her homework by her own initiative at daycare. But my 5 year old son often doesn't want to do his homework and I don't feel its fair for my daycare provider to have to handle the fight with him.

    Fights over homework also make it impossible for me to do any extra instruction with my son. It's been getting better, but even when he doesn't fight me, he's interest in doing homework is very limited and getting through homework is sometimes all I can get him to do. Forget the extra letter writing practice the teacher asked me to do with him and forget our phonics lessons.

    But maybe there's more to assigning homework than meets the eye. Maybe it is assigned to keep parents in control and not off doing their own lesson plans. Maybe the idea that parents should be involved is really just that parents should be involved "how the school tells them to be involved."

  36. Concerned Parent, the question of parents and their competing agendas is very complex.

    On the one hand, schools are always trying to make home conform to their philosophy, for instance by sending home whole language exercises you're supposed to do with your kids, or Everyday Math homework that specifically disallows the standard algorithms.

    On the other hand, schools in a district like ours look much better than they are because the parents will backfill if the school's philosophy didn't work. It's amazing how many parents teach phonics to their kids. We'd better -- the school won't do it for us.

    The schools don't want to know how much outside tutoring their students get. They'd rather just take credit for whatever the kids learned.

  37. I've been meaning to add a little more to this thread. I can't speak for FedUpMom, but I don't expect any school official or staff member to agree with me on everything, and I don't expect to single-handedly dictate what any policy should be. That doesn't mean I won't speak up and explain why I think someone is wrong.

    More importantly, people in positions of authority have a choice to make: they can dictate policy without regard to how the people are subject to it feel about it, or they can engage with those people and try to make their decisions reflect some kind of consensus that has some buy-in. If they take the former approach, they shouldn't be surprised if people are uncooperative and push back. Right now, our school systems are looking much more like the former approach than the latter.

    Finally, I can't help but chime in on the issue of negligent parenting. I'm sure it does exist, and that TeacHer has seen some bad stuff. But I look at the three examples that TeacHer gave -- not knowing what grade the child is in, not knowing report cards had come home, and not knowing the child was in an AP class -- and I can't help thinking that my father could easily have been guilty of all three of those at any given time in my childhood. I was the youngest of six, and my father worked full time, yet he was still very present for us after school every day. We ate dinner together, we played a *lot* of gin rummy, and we just generally hung out. I'm glad he spent his time with me that way, rather than becoming the self-appointed supervisor of my schoolwork.

    Granted, my mom would probably have passed those three criteria, except maybe the AP one, so maybe a division of labor on that stuff is not the same as negligence. But I think it's possible to be a good parent and not make school as central to family life as some educators seem to think it necessarily has to be. Looking back, one thing I appreciate about my parents was how independent they allowed me to be about my school work. I would not have responded to well to a parent hovering over my school performance. I virtually never discussed the substance of my school work with either of my parents. Granted, I was doing all right, so maybe they could get away with leaving me alone about it. But it's also possible that I did well, at least in part, *because* they left me alone about it.

    If anything, my mother's inability to stop herself from the occasional nag about homework was a source of unpleasant tension in our relationship; it certainly did not help motivate me in any way. Small potatoes, though, compared to what educators seem to expect of parents today.

  38. In other words, even if you care a lot about your child's education, there are no obvious answers to the question of when and how to intervene in it. Why do we assume that a parent who insists on checking over a kid's homework, or who keeps constant tabs on the kid's tests and homework grades (which you can now do online), etc., will be experienced as helpful and supportive rather than as intrusive and demotivating? And at what point does that kind of intervention end up cultivating a kind of dependence that you'd want to discourage?

    Getting a little far afield from the initial topic here, I realize . . .

  39. If you are on Twitter, there is a discussion tonight at 9pm EST to discuss how teachers are building relationships with parents. (#ptchat)
    Thought it might be of interest to you.

  40. Miss L, I'm not on Twitter, and I have a class Wednesday nights.

    Is there a transcript of the discussion somewhere? I'd be curious to see it. Thanks.

  41. I haven't been using Twitter long so I don't know a lot about all the technicalities but if you make an account you should be able to search #ptchat under "discover" and the comments are archived there.