28 January 2005

Cod Liver Homework

Perhaps you saw in the news last week that a student in Wisconsin had filed a lawsuit because he was required to complete three assignments last summer for his pre-calculus class this year. Apparently, these three assignments constituted an unfair workload and caused undue stress, especially in light of the student’s demanding job as a camp counselor.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

There are some teachers at my school who ask students to complete a summer assignment. These are usually for Advanced Placement (AP) classes and the assignment is designed to help the student review the basics of the subject before leaping willy-nilly into the college level version of it required by AP. I do teach an AP course, but I have yet to use a summer assignment. I would say that it is far more common for teachers (and not just those with AP classes) to assign homework over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring vacation times. I have rarely done so. It just doesn’t suit the way I do things. Weekends, though, I don’t have a problem with asking students to finish some work or do some studying.

However, I really can’t side with the Wisconsin student. I can’t see that having 3 assignments to complete in 9 weeks (vacation time or no) is such a burden. He probably has that amount of homework each evening during the school year...and I bet he has things to do over the weekend. If he wants to complain, why not complain about how much of his free time is taken up by work outside the school day? This case is also another example of a parent encouraging his kid to do the bare minimum. (I seem to have my share of those, even without summer and holiday assignments.) What a great lesson to teach your kid before they get out into the working world. Gonna sue your boss because you had to stay late one evening for a meeting? Or because you had to spend your weekend completing a big report?

People need to realize that the way schools do business in America is undergoing some significant changes. Kindergarten - Second Grade, for example, are no longer periods of fun and naps, punctuated with some basic skills. Second graders are now expected to be able to write paragraphs, create charts for mathematical data, and make inferences from written information. I can think of any number of adults who can’t do those things with any proficiency. Schools are becoming more rigorous and expectations for student performance are much higher. And schools who do not improve their performance are punished by the federal government. So it is incumbent upon us to make sure that students are making their very best efforts. Perhaps summer homework isn’t very motivating, but the purpose is to have a student keep up their skills and be ready for the next step.

Kids? Buck up and do your homework. It can help improve your achievement in your classes. Teachers? Design well-structured homework assignments that require students to deepen their understanding of the content and provide evidence for that. And parents? Love and support your kids above all else, but don’t forget that you cannot always be there to hold their hands. Help them acquire the skills they need to stand on their own two feet.

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