Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Lapse in Logical Reasoning

Consider the following problem my 8-year-old 3rd-grader brought home for homework last night:

You need to fill a container with exactly 25 oz. of juice. You have a 16 oz. bottle and a 7 oz. cup. How can you use those containers to measure out the right amount of juice?

I imagine you had one of three reactions reading this:

1. You thought of the correct solution in under 5 seconds because you're brilliant like that (like my husband.)
2. You said to yourself, "Didn't they do this in one of the Die Hard movies?" (Also like my husband.)
3. Your brain got stuck between gears like a mountain bike being ridden by a 6-year-old, and it took a minute for the wheels to turn and everything to click into place and you got really sad because, after all, you did make an A in Calculus once upon a glorious time. (This was my reaction. Oh, brain. I miss you so.)

I did figure it out once I quit grinding gears, and I tried to explain it to the kid. With words. With drawings. With containers that actually held water. Eventually she did get it, but since her entire homework last night were what the writers of her text and workbook call "Logical Reasoning Problems" we had more like these to do and an hour and a half later, when all 8 problems were done, we were frustrated with school work, with math, with each other, and with existence in general.

I seriously doubt it's supposed to work this way.

I am all for my kid receiving an education that challenges her and pushes her to the best of her capabilities. This is one of the reasons why we are sending her to Catholic school. I am about one less Mass attendance a year away from becoming a non-practicing Catholic myself, so it's not really about the religion (though I treasured my faith as a kid and want her to, as well, even if I have times as an adult that my faith falters.) I work in public education and have seen some things in the elementary schools that I'm not crazy about. I don't want her education to be a cake-walk.

But I also don't want our life to revolve around my young child's homework, and I feel it has this year, so I am thisclose to being That Parent.

She has a teacher this year who believes homework is the answer to all ills. An hour is the average; two hours is not uncommon on weeks that book reports or special projects are due.

It's ridiculous and I am fresh out of patience and good humor.

The teachers who read this know what I mean when I talk about That Parent. That Parent emails and calls and complains that the teacher is assigning too much, grading too hard, not letting kids be kids because they have too much book-learnin' to do. That Parent not-so-secretly wonders if the teacher has any clue what he or she is doing in the classroom. That Parent is passive-aggressive at the least, plain old aggressive at the worst.

I don't want to be That Parent. But I don't want even one more hijacked night, where instead of getting exercise or reading for fun or running errands the kid and I are stuck at a desk near-tears for over 2 hours of homework.

Last night after we had murked through the math, she (I wrote "we" at first; goes to show you that this has become as much my homework as hers) had to write a pen-pal letter and study for a science test over the water cycle. She technically was supposed to study for a spelling and a religion test later in the week, too, but we drew the line. I thought it might be important that she, you know, EAT.

I've kept my mouth shut and my email-pen silent while I sat back and watched this year as she's brought "busy-work" home for homework; reading sections from the social studies or science book and answering the five questions at the end, practicing cursive o's 50 times, phonics worksheets. I didn't voice my concern at the vast Titanic project, in which she had to write both a short story (from the point of view of the iceberg) and a series of 5 journal entries from the point of view of an actual Titanic passenger, which meant research. (And because Ainsley has the storytelling gene, a whole weekend of writing because she wanted these entries to be epic.) I even have kept my mouth shut the past 2 weeks when, in her free time, she's been working on a series of 5 (!) mini-projects for Mr. Popper's Penguins involving writing a poem, a letter, a journal entry, creating a PowerPoint, and reading a picture book aloud to her class and showing them a Venn diagram of similarities and differences between two types of penguins.

I just don't know if I can keep that darn mouth of mine shut now.

When homework becomes work for the entire family, when the child doing it (who by all accounts is a perfectly bright student) can't do it on their own without help from Mom and intense frustration, when it means the kid doesn't get to play outside that day, and Mom doesn't get to go to her exercise class, when it keeps the kid from reading for fun (which I kinda think should be of the upmost importance in the primary years) or practicing piano or getting to bed on time, is it really doing what it's supposed to do? At what point has a mound of homework stopped reinforcing what was learned in the classroom?

I think we might just be there.

I know some of you are moms, and some are teachers, and some (God bless your hearts) are both. How much homework, in elementary school, is too much? And when do I unleash my inner That Parent?


Anonymous said...

Noah's therapist suggests that 45 minutes to an hour is the most that any child in elementary school should be doing for homework a night... I think it's out of control. I feel your pain with Ainsley. Noah used to sit and bawl over 3 hours of homework.

DRoss said...

Cranky, I think it is an unreasonable time to spend on homework! I would bet that if you ask some other parents in the class, they would agree with you. Ains is as smart as a whip, and if she's struggling I'll bet other kids have decided that school is a losing battle. For what it's worth, Meg has about 15 - 20 minutes of homework a night - besides working on projects like book reports. She has 2 or so of those a month. Granted, she's only a first-grader and Brandeis is a public school, but it's very well regarded and we've been very pleased with what she's learned and the quality of instruction. Good Luck! I hope you get some relief before the end of the school year and that this teacher is an anomaly.

Library Lady said...

Thanks, DRoss. You've made me feel better. I actually have been talking to one of the other parents, and there is talk of one of us trying to get an audience with the principal. This parent has another older child at the school and she has assured me this kind of thing doesn't go on in other classrooms. I so don't want to go to the principal, but several of us have talked to the teacher and that hasn't always gone well. Blurg. I hate stirring the pot.