"I'm surprised at the amount of homework my third grader has! Is it just me?"
"I need some alcohol to deal with all this!"
My son just started third grade two weeks ago. Barely two weeks into the school year, I've already read Facebook posts from parents of the other third graders complaining about the amount of homework these kids are given. I get it, believe me I do. I would much rather go for a root canal than sit with my son and lecture him on what needs to be done NOW instead of later and that he needs to do it PROPERLY and never sloppily. I wish we could just sit side by side peacefully watching our respective favorite YouTube videos, or have him play Minecraft while I research where I could pitch my writing to. But no. I have to dread 4 p.m. every weekday and brace myself for frustration and tears (and I'm not admitting whose they are).
In spite of this daily struggle though, I still won't go so far as to say that we're faced with an unreasonable amount of homework. I'm aware of the 10-minute rule as endorsed by the National Education Association. This means that depending on the child's grade level, starting with first grade, there should be a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per day and this increases as the child goes up a grade level. Therefore, second graders should only have 20 minutes of homework, 30 minutes for third graders and so on and so forth. Yes there have been days when my son definitely had to work way beyond the 30-minute mark. But there were also days when he was done within 20 minutes or less. Time limits aside, the real reason why I don't feel justified with the complaints is because I'm coming from my own perspective as someone who was educated abroad.
Growing up in the Philippines and attending a private Catholic school from elementary to high school, I can confidently say that I had way more homework than what my son is dealing with. From as early as first grade, we had a different teacher for each subject matter and there were days when it felt like there was homework assigned by each teacher. We just had to deal with it, organize our schedule, and be accountable.
Original (unmodified) Image by Grigory Kravchenko via Flickr Creative Commons
And herein lies the crux of my argument. What I resent most about this whole homework situation now is not the volume of the work required of our children, but the expectation of the current school system regarding the level of parental involvement. I wish I could say this is all imagined and merely subjective perception. But when the school repeatedly says that "parental involvement enhances the child's academic success," one can't help but take that as something that's extremely open to various interpretations. What kind of involvement? How much or to what extent? Though I'm certain the school wants us to encourage our children to work independently and to not lose sight of the fact that homework is meant to give the children more practice at home, I still can't help but feel that what we have now only fosters helicopter parenting. It definitely has that effect on me, and I know it's harming both me and my son.
From the moment my son enters the door in the afternoon, I start sounding like a drill sergeant. We both go through his bag, his folders, his journals. We both go through instructions. I help him review. I ask him questions or dictate items to be answered. God forbid there is some craft project that needs completion, which then naturally forces me to become even more hands-on than with his usual daily assignments. I really don't understand it and definitely don't recall my parents doing the same to me and my siblings when we were young. We had homework and dealt with it ourselves, with my mother taking pride in the fact that not once did she have to tutor any of us.
I'm sure a lot of you are thinking that it's my fault, that I'm the one who has to stay away and control my impulse to hover. I acknowledge that and know that letting go of the reins is something I need to address. However, if I let go or step back even just a little, is this to say that the other parents will let go and step back as well, hover less, hence leveling the playing field? Or would my decision to let go and be less involved simply put my son at a clear disadvantage academically? As a former overachiever and a recovering perfectionist, it's a risk that's not so easy for me to take.
So yes, I hate homework because it brings out that side of me I swore I'd never be as a parent. It brings out nothing but ambivalence in me as I do the dance of balancing involvement or support with trying to teach my child accountability, autonomy and self-discipline while still have him excel in all that he does. This current norm of hyper-involved parenting reinforced by the education institutions is driving me insane and makes me ask myself on a daily basis existential questions such as how far should I go, what can I change to make this better for everyone, or am I being a good parent with the choices I make?
I suppose the only logical thing for me to do right now is to experiment. Clearly I need to define for myself just what "parental involvement" means and start implementing what is necessary, no matter how painful it might be in the beginning. If the school won't spell it out, then we as parents need to decide what works best for our families, what is the healthiest and most beneficial for our children not only in the short-term but mostly for the human beings they need to become in the future. I need to remember that my parents standing back never made me feel unloved and that I still did pretty damn well in school. Most of all, parents need to remember that our success as parents lies not in our children's academic success or "perfection," but in their level of resilience. Let's not be that group that raised a generation of cripples.
*This post originally appeared on Catharsis.