Please do let me know if there is an assignment such as interviewing a family member — something that simply couldn't be done at school but that is important to the things you're doing in class — and we'll be happy to work on that together. — from an anonymous parent letter on Alfie Kohn's website.The above quote is one reason I initially thought that Alfie Kohn had written the parent letter himself — it's right out of his book The Homework Myth (which I mostly recommend highly):
"Why can't they just do this at school?" is a reasonable question to ask ... But it's a question that answers itself in the case of certain assignments, such as having children interview parents about their family history ...Interviewing parents is one of those ideas that sounds good in theory but, in practice, is a raging pain in the rosy arse*.
First of all, many kids don't have a family member who is available to be interviewed, even in the high-achieving suburbs, and it's not fair to put these kids on the spot.
Second, parents and kids alike are burnt out by the constant demands of school. I know we are in my family. The interview assignment would not come across as a welcome "meaningful" assignment; it would come across as one more invasion of what used to be our free time.
Third, I can't believe the parent of a first grader would mention the family interview as a reasonable assignment. Maybe her kid is precocious, but I think an interview would be way beyond the capacity of most 6-year-olds. My 8-yr-old second grader couldn't conduct an assigned interview (although she does a good job of quizzing us on certain subjects, like her adoption. But I digress.)
I would like to see no more homework that requires parent participation. Let the teachers teach the students, and only assign appropriate homework that the students can reasonably take complete responsibility for. That means no homework in elementary school, when kids aren't old enough to have the organizing skills that homework requires. Then, when the kids are old enough for homework, it should be minimal, and only assigned when necessary for learning the material (yes, there should be actual identifiable content that the kids are learning.)
It shouldn't be a part-time job for parents to send their kids to school. Enough already. Involve me out!
* please excuse the British spelling; I've been watching too much Downton Abbey!