Monday, March 24, 2014

Of Homework, Sociologists and Parenting

It never fails that every so often we are greeted with a sociological study that tells us what kind of crappy parents we in the US happen to be. The latest one is discussed in The Atlantic HERE. Actually read the article. It's not bad and it is thought provoking. I agree with the commenter that the author of the article should have begun with her last paragraph. There are many things parents are needed for when it comes to their child's education and the ideas in that last paragraph is what should be the take-away points.

But I do think the study misses a major part of reality. There is a huge difference between parents who set parameters, limits and boundaries (my favorite three words of parenting) for their children when it comes to homework and those that actually do their child's homework for them. Now in elementary school we, as parents, were encouraged to do homework with our children, especially when it comes to certain aspects of math. Why they needed us to help with math is beyond me. I haven't been able to do my children's math with them since 4th grade. First it was "new math," then "new new math," and finally a revamping of the math curriculum back to the old stages of math education. Ultimately the education gurus have so messed up the math curriculum in total with Common Core I definitely wouldn't be able to help anyone. (Who ever heard of NOT having to learn your math facts and accepting the best guess as a correct answer in math?)

Children need to learn to do their homework on their own. But that does not mean you shouldn't be there is there is a problem and to help them problem solve. This is not the same as giving them the answers. Helping your child with their homework does them no good. Homework is supposed to be about reinforcing what they learned during the day so that they can assimilate what they have been taught. If you do their research, writing and analyzing for them what will they have learned? How will they actually learn to research, write and analyze?

As early as middle school we understood that when the boys needed help, they needed to go to the teachers for support and alternatively we also hired professional tutors. These tutors were usually teachers who were looking for additional income. I suppose that is part and parcel of our village ethos. You can't always do everything for your child, so you need to seek out the best qualified to help your child be the best that they can be.

Actually in all honesty, I doubt the boys would have wanted our help. They have been viciously independent of their schoolwork since middle school. They wouldn't ask for our help even if they needed it, which at times they did. MrGS seeks out answers through research, analysis and in-school support. CM2 uses what the professors teach him to his advantage and applies all lessons to the next project. Do they always get As? No they don't. But they get something more important out of doing the work themselves and that is independence, self-reliance and they learn the ability to keep pushing themselves. It's that old pick yourself up by your bootstraps philosophy. If you mess up, find the fix and keep moving forward.

I know that there must be a lot of helicoptering here in my town when it comes to homework. When MrGS was in high school, his ability to write kicked in. It's like anything else he does, he will struggle along until one day there is a light that goes off in his brain and then there is no stopping him. MrGS ' case manager called to ask me if I had been helping him with his essay assignments. In truth I hadn't even looked at them. MrGS wouldn't let either of us help. The case manager said it was as if another person suddenly was writing his papers.

But this is just who he is. In fact if you had ever read his college senior thesis you would have witnessed a paper written by a very talented young man with a gift for writing. It is his talent. One of his professors even remarked that he is one of the best writers she had ever taught.

CM2 on the other hand struggles with his essay writing. That is not his gift. His gift is graphic arts. While he fights to get words on to paper for essays he can create the most interesting projects and designs using the computer. He is also very talented when it comes to screen writing. He has a way with interactive  language that doesn't show in a one-to-one conversation. Like his older brother, it is as if they are two different people when they write and when they talk to another human being.

Hence, never underestimate what your child can do simply because they don't have the verbal and social skills that everyone thinks is necessary to be a talented writer. Find a way to let who your child really is shine through. This is why the IQ test that measures our children's intelligence, based so much upon their verbal skills, does our aspergeans a great disservice. And does in fact undercut the potential of their real intellectual abilities.

Meanwhile, back to that Atlantic article. Parents have a role to play in their child's education. You do need to set an example for them about homework and responsibility early on in their school career. It is about making certain that they know how to schedule homework and fun, how to take breaks and when to ask for help or try to push through on their own. It is important that they be given a long leash when it comes to learning so that they can figure out how to figure things out for themselves. But that doesn't mean you are not there for support and for a show of force against the school when necessary.

Truth be told, there is a lot that we as parents can do to make school a better and happier place to be for our children. Work in concert with your child's teacher if there are problems. Help identify issues and create solutions using your village. Understand that every individual has a role to play in getting your child to be a successful and independent learner.

And when needed take that step back, so your child can move forward.

HOMEWORK : my own guide to homework help.

MR.GS' senior thesis.