I am officially the crazy, anti-homework lady at my children’s Jewish day school.
Believe me, you would be too, if your typical afternoon looked like mine: I leave work and pick up my kids from school. We have a nice, calm ride home, and I get to hear about their day. Pretty mellow so far, right? That’s because I’ve purposely avoided the dreaded topic, which I ask as calmly as possible as we walk in the house: “So, what homework do you have today?”
My 9-year-old son immediately tenses up as he pulls out his weekly homework packet, which is due at the end of the week. That is in addition to his Hebrew homework, nightly reading, and online FASTT Math that he has to do three times a week. He goes into his usual routine about how he hates Hebrew (which is precisely why we are sending him to a Jewish day school!) and finally rushes to do the least amount of homework possible so he can go and play.
My 11-year-old daughter shrugs and plops down at the dining room table. She repeats her mantra: “I don’t have that much today.” Then she proceeds to tick off about two assignments per class (that’s math, English, and Hebrew) that are due the next day in addition to working on ongoing projects, like an essay that is due in a few weeks or a science project. And my daughter will work on a project for hours. And hours. Because she is a super conscientious kid, and she worries that her teachers won’t be impressed with her. And the day slowly turns into evening and it is already time for dinner, shower, and bed.
Another afternoon squandered away.
I see what this daily grind does to my kids and their peers and think how I would hate to be a kid today. For goodness sake, I hate being a parent sometimes! The expectation to be overly involved in every aspect of my kids’ lives and overscheduled to the point of breaking is exhausting.
I think that because so many of us in my community are highly educated overachievers, we expect the same (or more) from our kids. But as the assistant head of our school commented in a town hall meeting about homework and stress, only 5.3% of kids who apply will actually get accepted to Harvard. Even though we know this statistic, and know that our kids probably won’t get into Harvard, why do we continue to push them as if that is what we expect?
Couple that with the onslaught of social media, showing us how perfectly brilliant our friends’ families are, and it leads to a giant pressure cooker of anxiety and competition. I do feel reassured when the occasional friend is honest and tells me about the stress their child is feeling about homework. I do see small cracks in the system that show me that my family is not the only one struggling to be perfect.
I am vocal about my family’s struggles and my opinions, even if they don’t fit in with the norm. Like the fact that both my kiddos get seriously anxious about doing homework after a full day of school. And the fact that I actually actively encourage them to go outside and play–or do anything–before sitting down again and focusing on more schoolwork. And that I went to a state school, I turned out just fine, and I would be just fine if they did the same.
I strongly believe that lessening the homework load is a great way to begin trying to alleviate some of the impossible expectations we are putting on our kids. When I come home after a long day of work, I am not expected to sit right back down and do more work. Maybe some of you do, but that is not a culture that I ascribe to for myself, and certainly not for my kids. Just like we need time in the evening to decompress, so do our kiddos, who have been expected to sit in class all day like perfect little soldiers.
A school in New York instituted a no homework policy, and do you know who pushed back? THE PARENTS! What? Some of them pulled their kids out to go to other schools, some assigned their own homework, while others lamented that they looked forward to homework time, as it was their time to bond with their kiddos. Bond…over homework? I would rather bond over a game of soccer, or baking something together, or reading a good book–literally anything other than homework.
A friend shared that her children’s Jewish day school, the Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland, has a no-homework policy. The school promotes Jewish values and academic excellence, just like any other day school. And I bet that parents wouldn’t send their kids there if they didn’t feel that they offered a competitive, challenging curriculum, or if they thought it harmed their chances of getting into a good college.
Apropos, have you read the article about the teacher who shadowed her students for a couple days? Could you go to work every day and get treated like that, and then go back home and work some more? I would implode! Or I would quit and look for a job with realistic expectations. Since our kids can’t quit, I think we would be doing them a huge service to reconsider how they spend their after-school time. And while homework is only one part of what they do after school, we have an opportunity to partner with our schools to reevaluate the effectiveness of current homework policies and make our kiddos’ childhoods more like, well, childhood.