Sunday, February 5, 2012

"I Hate Homework, But I Assign it Anyway"

In the NYTimes Motherlode blog, I Hate Homework, But I Assign it Anyway.

I went to the author's blog and got completely annoyed by this post:

He Pushed Them, and They Flew

The post is about the middle-school teacher assigning a "personal reflection" essay, and the students' inadequate responses.

Ack! The preceding post, Tell Me A Story, is even worse, including this knockout remark:
Middle school students don't like opening up and exploring who they really are, so I particularly love to watch them squirm through this one.
Why should we blame kids for revealing personal details on the internet, when they've been taught at school that they have no right to privacy?

15 comments:

  1. Hi, FedUpMom, I posted some responses to your comments over at my blog, come on back and read them! And stay a while. I get the feeling that our opinions may just be more aligned than you think. Thanks for reading.

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  2. So basically, the author of "I hate homework" did not really start to think about the homework she assigned until her own child got into middle school as was affected by his workload.

    Hmmm... there is something to that, I think.

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  3. Deb, that's extremely common. Most teachers don't have a clue what a child's home life looks like, unless they have kids of their own. Even that is no guarantee.

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  4. Suburban Chicken FarmerFebruary 5, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    The way I see it- School should be and can be about more than producing a "good citizen" (little more than a fad driven consumer.) Developing an intellectual life must involve true critical thinking and must include one's self. Relating one's own experiences through writing, and getting authentic, caring, interested feedback about the craft is getting an excellent education. It's a real activity which develops intellectual courage and confidence.

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  5. SCF, that could be, but I think it's way out of line for teachers to tell adolescents that they have to reveal their private thoughts and feelings for a class assignment. Kids have a right to their privacy. I know my introverted older daughter hates those assignments, and I don't blame her.

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  6. Suburban Chicken FarmerFebruary 5, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    One of my faves-http://www.labnol.org/tech/internet-dog-cartoon/17469/

    I'm very introverted though I hide it pretty well.
    My husband has read a few of my college papers and said he never knew I felt this way or that. To which I've had to tell him, "I don't, I just wrote that for a grade."
    So I can't say I don't understand where you're coming from. But introverted or not, I've (obviously)got something to say.
    A good personal narrative could be about the time spent in the shoe store or the coffee aisle. You know a person doesn't have to admit some embarrassing secret for it to be personal or have a voice.
    Imagine mentors who deserve our kids' trust. There must be teachers like that out there somewhere, aren't there?

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  7. SCF, I don't know if you read Jessica Lahey's blog, but she describes giving a 0 to a kid who wrote about his disappointment at flunking his driver's license exam, because she wanted him to write something more personal.

    She also quotes a memoir writer's advice: "be honest, dig deep, or don't bother."

    So yes, she does pressure kids to reveal intimate secrets.

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  8. "I have always assigned homework because that is what teachers do; if I didn’t, word would get around that I am a pushover, or don’t care enough about my students to engage their every waking moment with academics." Really? She doesn't feel she can give those who might find her to be a "pushover" a compelling argument for not assigning homework? Oh, and it's left up to her own middle school age kid to decide what is "worth it"? A kid who has probably had homework his whole school career and believes that's the only way he can learn.

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  9. Suburban Chicken FarmerFebruary 6, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    FedUpMom, You're right.

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  10. I'm introverted too, and I always loved personal reflection kinds of assignments. They were the only writing assignments where I didn't have to do research, come up with a plot, or summarize or analyze a novel I didn't like in the first place. In other words, they were easy and fun for me. Other kids might find other kinds of writing easy and fun. I don't think school should be a miserable place for kids, but it's not possible for every assignment to be easy and fun for every kid. That doesn't mean the less-fun assignments don't have value.

    A kid who enjoys and excels at sharing memories and personal stories just might become a great blogger or even better at making small talk. I think writing like this helped me to also become better at small talk, which, as an introvert, does not come easily to me.

    If kids are being pushed to reveal intimate secrets, that's taking it too far, and that's wrong. I never felt pressured to reveal anything too personal in any classes.

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  11. Mandy, she doesn't exactly leave it up to her middle-school kid to decide whether homework is worth doing; she says she asks herself whether SHE thinks homework is worth her son's time. Using that test, she's willing to ditch about 1/4 of the homework she's been assigning.

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  12. Simple hypocrisy in doing something you hate when other people do it isn't the biggest difficulty I have with Ms. Lahey's blog post. It is, as Megan says here and FedUp in comments on Ms. Lahey's blog, the inappropriateness of assuming intimacy with her tweenage students. Here's her description of her mentor's assignment:

    ***
    In chapter one of The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are Watts talks about a "pillow book" which Japanese parents give (or gave) their young people about to be married to instruct them in the mysteries of love and sexuality (those subjects which in some sense are taboo). He then asks the question what would that pillow book contain today. He talks about those repressed, unadmitted, or just glimpsed facts about life that might be contained in such a book, and then goes on to share those thoughts in The Book as a whole. As much as I think The Book serves us, I don’t think it necessarily is the book that we would write ourselves, or that your parents would write for you. Consequently, I would like you to create a "pillow book" of your own, or interview your parent(s) or grandparent(s) to find what their book for you would contain. If it is your book, you might write it as a letter to your future child or children. In this book I would think you’d want to tell that child what no one else will, the truth about life as you know it, the un-admitted facts of being in this world.
    ***

    I have difficulty understanding how anybody could think it is appropriate to ask someone else's children to expose themselves to you with this degree of intimacy. This is simply _creepy._ What does he do next, invite them up to his treehouse to see his etchings? Or maybe he tells them Ewan MacGregor looks fabulous in the movie?

    Wanting to barge into your students' interior lives is a mark of disrespect for them as individuals and as children under the _best_ interpretation. Grading them as failing for being insufficiently intimate in their responses is downright disturbing. She can say she's just ha ha kidding when she says she loves to "watch them squirm, but if she could acquire a little objective distance from her own language, perhaps she could understand why others find this so disturbing.

    I let my children talk happily to any strangers they want to, but I will surely caution them that anybody, even a teacher, requesting more intimacy than they are comfortable with is out of bounds.

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  13. Yes, "watch them squirm" is disturbing. I thought this was disturbing too, describing the straight-A student that she gave a 0 to:

    ***
    Imagine his surprise when I failed him (temporarily, and I have to admit, it was more than a little bit entertaining) and told him to start over.
    ***

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  14. and when the criticism of Ms. Lahey's personal narrative, "He Pushed Them and They Flew," induced her to do the squirming, she took the third option of "be honest, dig deep, or don't bother." and deleted

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