Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Too Much (Summer) Homework

I couldn't agree more with this column by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish criticizing the growing trend toward summer homework, which first reared its head for my oldest daughter a couple of years ago. She has always looked forward to summer as a time when she could finally read lots of books of her own choosing, rather than assigned school reading, and suddenly found that her teachers were diluting this highly anticipated pleasure by assigning their own choices for her summer reading material.

What's worse, her senior English teacher had the nerve to assign books and papers last summer and then didn't grade them, nor did he grade an essay test on the books. He merely marked off that the summer work was done, and had his student teacher's aide do the essay test grading! The books assigned were quality books, but since the assignments were merely "busy work," my daughter understandably resented having precious summer reading time taken up by the teacher's assignments.

I think part of the summer homework trend is about teachers, or their administrations, feeling they must make decisions based on the lowest common denominator of behavior. Too many kids don't read for pleasure and too many parents are unconcerned with their children's education, so there is a belief in some quarters that the school must step into the parental role and make rules for everyone regarding the children's vacation reading. This comes from the best of intentions, but whether it's the proper -- or effective -- thing to do is another question.

The authors write: "We need what psychologists call 'consolidation,'the time away from a problem when newly learned material is absorbed. Often we return from a break to discover that the pieces have fallen into place. Too many of our children today are denied that consolidation time. And when parents are told that their children's skills will slip without summer homework, we have to wonder: if those skills are so fragile, what kind of education are they really getting?"

It's rather interesting that past generations managed to achieve perfectly good educations without summer homework. While our schools today may face more issues than ever before, including children who speak multiple languages and lack parental support, I don't believe that the schools encroaching ever further into parental decision making and family life via assigned summer studies is the answer to improving public education.


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