Re: Less homework, more fun stuff - The AJC, 2001

Blast from the past! Thanks, Ma!


Less homework, more fun stuff

BYLINE:    Francia McCormack; For the Journal-Constitution
DATE: February 5, 2001
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: Home; The Atlanta Constitution
SECTION: Editorial
COLUMN: New Attitudes
What do you mean you're too busy? Ahem, attention please. When did elementary schoolchildren become so busy with homework that they're forced to miss out on the fun stuff of being a kid, such as Christmas break and pleasure reading and movies? This Christmas, my favorite gifts to the littlest members of my family were books. Many of these books -- Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss and other childhood favorites -- didn't get the attention they deserved from kids too stressed out by looming homework.
A fourth-grader at Allgood Elementary in Stone Mountain whom I've considered my kid sister over the years told me, "Thanks, but no thanks," when I offered her some of my old favorites. I knew at one point she was a big fan of Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters Club series. The "no thanks" was because she had a 500-word report due and those books weren't on her reading list.
I have a 9-year-old cousin in New York who told me she can only read a few pages a night of her Harry Potter book I gave her because she's been swamped with homework lately.
That's not right, folks. I'm not alone in noticing this trend. A 1997 University of Michigan study found that 9- to 11-year-olds averaged 3 1/2 hours a week of homework, almost an hour more than in 1981.
A popular new book out on the shelves titled "The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning," by Etta Kralovec and John Buell, vehemently argues against our nation's current homework trends.They even go as far to say that we're turning our kids into better molds to "fit the requirements of corporate capitalism."
That statement is a wake-up call if I ever heard one.
Are kids being prepared to churn out 8 to 10 hours of work a day just so they can get used to what's coming to them?
When I was a kid, I distinctly remember fussing about too much homework, but always having time to pick up one of my favorite books after dinner or go play outside before the sun went down. Those two parts of childhood are the God-given rights to any child we raise in this country, and now we're taking them away.
But not so fast. The kids aren't complaining too much because they know the kudos they get for performing well and doing their homework.
When I praise the little people in my life for doing their homework and bringing home high marks, they are more than a little thrilled. But now I have to step back and question whether we as a community of parents, teachers and people who just love being around kids are taking the fun out of childhood because of the dangerous emphasis on quantity of work vs. quality.
One poignant kid quote: "If I learned it today in school, I don't see why I have to spend hours doing it again when I get home."
Me neither.
Brains are being wasted on mindless drilling assignments. After the last school bell rings, time should be spent developing that child's talents and creativity. I can understand implementing study periods for things such as preparing for standardized tests. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have major exams coincide with exam schedules of universities in order to easily dictate how much of the school semester will be devoted to exam preparation.
Last October, not too long after the release of "The End of Homework," the Piscataway, N.J., school board voted unanimously to limit homework assignments during the week. The district now limits homework to 30 minutes in elementary school and to two hours in high school. They've gone a step further by discouraging weekend homework and prohibiting teachers from using homework as punishment.
The U.S. Department of Education has suggested that first through third grades should have no more than 20 minutes of homework, fourth through sixth grades, 20 to 40 minutes; and seventh through ninth grades, up to two hours.
Following those guidelines may help us see that the last thing we need on our list of things to fix would be recharging stressed and bored-out-of-their-minds schoolchildren. Stimulate their brains rather than waste their time, and I think they'll grow quite nicely.
>ON THE WEB: Homework standards:
Francia McCormack is an editorial assistant for the New York Law Journal and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Francia McCormack, graduate of the University of Georgia class of May 2000


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