That frickin’ ‘mummy homework’ thing

More of the invisible work of motherhood. From here at the Huffington Post.

For the uninitiated, Mommy Homework is the bane of many mothers’ lives. While perhaps intended to be an opportunity for bonding between parent and student, it instead frequently devolves into a parent Googling “How do you paper maché?” at midnight. It is dioramas in first grade, ancestor dolls dressed in authentic cultural costumes in second grade and re-construction of Colonial Williamsburg in fifth grade.

I have to say as a mother who works outside the home that I find homework extremely difficult to organise. If I was also a single parent it would just about break me. On the days I go off to work we don’t all set foot again inside our front door until just before the kids’ bedtime. Asking friends and family who pick up our kids from school and kindy, and who look after them for the afternoon and evening (including bathing them and giving them dinner), to also supervise their homework feels like a step too far. Fortnightly homework schedules are a little easier for me to manage because that gives us a weekend to catch up on all the homework. But my friend has this theory about homework; he says it is a capitalist plot to train children to unquestioningly do unpaid overtime in their jobs when they grow up, and I have to say I do wonder.

The other morning when I was rushing through the kindy/school/drop-Bill-at-the-train/get-to-work routine and I suddenly remembered Cormac’s kindy homework is to bring a picture for ‘sound of the week’ and that the letter was ‘o’ this week, and I then managed to find a picture of friggin’ okra in the house for him to cut out and take.. well, I felt like giving myself an effing standing ovation.

Cross-posted at blue milk.

Categories: gender & feminism, parenting, work and family


55 replies

  1. But my friend has this theory about homework; he says it is a capitalist plot to train children to unquestioningly do unpaid overtime in their jobs when they grow up, and I have to say I do wonder.

    That’s a disturbingly plausible idea.

  2. This post is resonating with me sooo much! We’ve been summoned to a Parent teacher interview with Miss 8 ‘s teacher and I suspect our lack of discipline when it comes to homework may come into the discussion. Every school night of the week we have something happening for someone or other and getting homework done on a regular rountine basis just doesn’t happen, especially with my recalcitrant ‘homework doesn’t (necessarily) help learning’ attitude.

  3. Ignoring the gendered way in which this issues has been framed for a moment (already dealt with in the first comment on the HuffPo article), the fact that a child doesn’t have a parent who can devote an hour of their time, everyday, to educating their child outside of the formal learning environment of school is a clear indication of how messed up our society is.
    When we have so much wealth as a country yet we still insist that people spend more time at work than with their families, I think it’s time to re-examine our priorities as a culture.

  4. I’ve had that theory on homework (as a tool of capitalist oppression) since I was in school! Plus, I think it’s wrong to ask children to work more hours that adults in a day. If we get to finish at 5 (at least in theory), why are children, especially teenagers, doing homework well into the evening? My-husband-the-teacher doesn’t like giving homework and can’t see a good pedagogical reason to do so (but has worked in many schools where it is required!)
    Plus, requiring adults to help with homework is not just more work for mothers and the time-short, but actively discriminates against children with parents who have certain forms of disability, who are illiterate, or do not have resources like the internet, printers and printing ink, glue, magazines, etc. I also wonder whether it might also rely on certain cultural characteristics in parents, such as being educated in certain education systems – so for example, we were never asked at school to make dioramas to my recollection, although we did make paper mache heads once. So, it’s not necessarily the case that parents can draw on their own educations to help children with their homework and what happens when they can’t? As such, it reinforces certain educational hiearchies already shaped by things like class, race etc.

  5. Far from homework being a tool of capitalism, conditioning us to do the work of others unpaid, it should be a tool of personal empowerment. It allows us to take control of our education, integrating it into every aspect of our lives rather than something that is forced upon us in a classroom. Learning should be a joyous experience that we share with our family and friends, not a staid indoctrination for the workplace.
    While I don’t want to defend the current implementations of homework, I think the idea of it is great. School is a very structured and restrictive learning environment, encouraging children to take some responsibility for their own learning and furthering their education outside of the classroom, on their own time, in their own way can only be a good thing. That said I fully acknowledge that is not the reality of most homework today.

  6. My first experience of “homework” was my nightly reading exercises from grade one. Two pages of Dick, Dora, Nip and Fluff each night, out loud to Mum, and Mum had to sign a slip to show I’d done it.
    (I’d started grade one with a reading age of nine years.)
    I never quite got the point of homework.
    I commuted to and from a high school about two major suburbs away from where I lived (about a 20 minute drive, so around 30 minutes to 1 hour transit time each way on public transport). By the time I got home from school, I was tired both physically and mentally, and definitely out of the “schoolwork” mindset. I also had a few extra-curricular activities mixed in with things (I did music as one of my units, which meant I was involved in the band and the choir; end result, some days I genuinely didn’t get home from school until about 6pm). I was also expected to do my share of the household chores, such as cooking dinner on a regular basis (my mother was working 4 days a week by then, so if she was really tired, she’d get either my brother or myself to do the cooking; whoever didn’t cook got to do the washing up). In my final two years of high school, I was also holding down a part-time job to earn some spending money (Thursday nights and Saturdays working checkouts).
    Between travel and chores, I didn’t really have much time to spend on homework. I also didn’t want to spend much time on homework, when I could be reading or watching the TV instead.
    All of this wasn’t helped by my high school teachers, all of whom loudly promoted the idea that we should be doing an hour of homework each night (and each of whom seemed determined to supply us with this hour for their subject alone). Most of what they supplied us with was make-work.

  7. @Phillomath: would that it were so, but like you say, very little homework is of the (as one music teacher once set for my class) “watch one of your favourite TV shows and consider what the opening theme music tells you about it”.
    I’m a fan of the capitalist plot theory, in a slightly different way: a friend of mine once trained as a (high school) teacher and had one student who simply never completed his homework. On questioning, the student explained that he had to take a part-time job to support his family, so worked from straight after school to 9pm each night.
    Now, my friend was happy to say “well, screw homework then, there’s no point punishing you for your family’s socioeconomic position” but how many others wouldn’t, and how disillusioned is that kid going to get about the school system or his chances at higher education?

  8. Homework for the sake of homework is terrible, however I feel homework like “read one book at your level per fortnight” or “practice the exact same type of math question we did in class a couple of times over the weekend so it sinks in” is useful. Perhaps make it clear it’s the child’s responsibility (and only assign homework in late primary/ high school) and then the teacher’s responsibility to go over it.
    IMHO parents are most useful when they support their kids in getting the best education they can (for some of the kids I tutor, having supportive parents has made a huge different in their academic progress). Helping with useless homework seems like a waste of time for everyone involved. /end rant 😛

  9. I am a terrible mother because I find homework gives me the opportunity to make the kids sit down and leave me alone while I get dinner on, or relax and read twitter. That said my kids school doesn’t give a lot of homework. My child in yr 4 gets three A4 sheets to complete in a week, which he can do in 10 minutes if he is minded to. There was one exercise last week we did together but since that was a word puzzle I got more interested in it than I had planned and ended up quite enjoying googling crossword clues.
    My daughter who is in kinder does reading most nights, reads words and sounds off a lanyard – of which she is very proud, and was given a home made white board on which she writes three 2-3 letter words five times each. This is supposed to be each night, but we’ve never managed more than 3 nights per week and the teacher seems fine with this. At the moment she enjoys this and likes to show me how well she can read now and is very proud of how she can write her words. Since she is enjoying it and it works for us atm we are going to keep doing it. I also have no compunction about telling her to read to her dad/wait until he gets home to read to him.
    My son is supposed to be reading every night for school as well, but I checked with his teacher and she said my son had told her that he reads most nights anyway and didn’t need to bring school books home and she was happy with that. He reads Starcraft of Star Wars books almost exclusively but he certainly is reading. Again, while everyone is happy with this situation I’m not going to push to change it.
    If, however, we get a teacher who gives a lot of homework or who insists on a certain routine then we will be bucking the system. A small amount which helps me get an handle on what they are learning and how they are going and which doesn’t take a lot of time or effort is fine. Pages and pages of work will get me at the school demanding to know what they are doing in class if they have to bring all this work home.

  10. I am far too tired to rant properly about how much I hate homework, especially for year 4 and younger. Suffice to say that at various times I have felt my relationships with my children have been seriously damaged but it.

  11. My son is in year 9. When he and a friend’s child were in year 7, I was having a catch-up talk with her. I was keen to know what she was up to as she usually has multiple teaching, writing and drama projects.
    “I’m not working this year,” she said. “I have to do all of G’s homework.”
    Apparently the school her son goes to (N****cote High, if you’re in Melbourne) has a simply stunning average – A grade average, if my friend’s to be believed – because the school is populated by the children of supercompetitive parents who all do their kids’ homework for them.
    At first I thought she must mean providing lots of help, but no, according to my friend she COMPLETES ALL G’S HOMEWORK for him and this is the expected thing.
    This can’t be helpful for kids as they grow into adults and have to deal with the outside world.

  12. Oh yes. I was a single mother until last year. In primary school I frankly didn’t bother – he read like a demon anyway and that was important to me, but for the rest, the kid has both Asperger’s syndrome and ADD – he’s buggered at the end of the school day! When he got into the selective stream at high school I tried to be more conscientious, but working and studying myself, it was hard to have the time to keep myself *informed* about what he was required to do, let alone to sit with him and plan out timetables, and let alone then having time to help him figure out what was required. I’ve given it the best I can, but I have to say there is a distinct attitude from the school. Despite knowing his special needs they continue to make noises about homework that indicate that they feel that I am somewhat negligent/lazy/unaware/uninterested as a parent. It’s not that – it’s that he’s TIRED, and that when we get to weekends, and I’m working on essays and exams that it’s quite hard to go interrupt his downtime, set him up, help him plan, and motivate him through while getting through my own things. Anyway – I think that *some* homework is useful, but I think that the teachers who have the attitude that it’s not something worth causing stress within the home about have been the best support to my son and I. All that said, in my heart of hearts, in the dead of night I do fear that I’ve been ‘negligent’, or selfish in working and studying and not being ‘organised enough’ to be a better help with his studies, even while I *know* that that’s a problem with the system and expectations. 😦

  13. Glad to say that my son refuses to let us help him with his homework. Also, that his school has a pretty enlightened attitude, so the homework tasks over a fortnight will include things like helping with chores around the house, looking at art you’ve never seen before and talking about a news item as well as more traditional spelling or maths sheets.

  14. @FP – personally I think kids learn more having a parent doing their own study because it teaches them that learning doesn’t have to stop when you leave school, that you can study at any age when it suits you, and what you do at school doesn’t have to determine what you do for the rest of your life.
    I’m not sure that doing homework taught me much more than how to do homework. I certainly had to sort out my study skills when I did the HSC because the 1/2hr per subject I had allegedly been doing up until that point wasn’t enough and I had to teach myself how to study when I didn’t have to be at school until it was time for the exam.

  15. @ Mindy – I sure do hope you’re right!

  16. Phillomath is so correct.
    This generation of children, for the first time in history, is performing less well at school in comparison with their parents’ generation. There are no doubt many reasons for this but if parents don’t have time to help kids to consolidate what they learn at school, at home, then kids have little hope.
    School has never functioned independently of parents and why should it? Teachers must feel a great deal of despair when parents won’t make time to help their kids with homework. Parental input is a very significant determinant of educational success.
    If you want to think of homework as a Capitalist plot, great, by all means do so. Your kids can become good socialists and work the farms and factories, it is a very worthwhile way to go. But if you want them to become educated and to have their choice of career you might have to make some time to help with with an increasingly complex world of knowledge and education.

  17. Mel – few assumptions there in your comment. Why do you think school-assigned homework is the only/best way to consolidate learnings at home? Why the judgementalism about parents – “won’t make time” – finding it so difficult (for so many valid reasons, many explained here) to do homework tasks with children? Previous generations of parents often had a stay-at-home wife, this generation more often doesn’t. Also, is education and knowledge really becoming that much more complex and are our children really less prepared for their world than we were for ours – I wonder how much of this is a form of modern parenting anxiety?
    Finally, why do you assume that a theory/joke about homework being a capitalist ploy is a sign that I’m a drop-out? For the record, my friend who made that comment is an academic – he works full-time at a university, publishes a huge amount, travels the world speaking at conferences.. he isn’t a drop-out and isn’t exactly a case of education failure either.

  18. At least in my part of the world (New York City area), homework and classwork aren’t really about learning, they’re about social status and the snobbery rat-race for the privileged.
    God forbid you can’t say that your kid is doing a project involving weeks of research on the Internet. Or that your 3rd grader’s diorama about the Indians actually looks like a 3rd grader did it. Or that your kid isn’t doing a higher level of math than the neighbor’s kid. It’s the academic version of the toddler beauty pageants.
    Of course, this is what it is for the privileged, but then, the schools are run to suit the privileged, the underprivileged can just go straight from high school to prison for all anyone cares. (Sing Sing prison is conveniently just 10 miles up the river from us 😦 )
    A related problem is that the schools are so busy running around doing stuff to prove they are Good Schools — enrichment programs, after-school stuff, special events, pull-outs and push-ins, and of course, the many weeks spent preparing for, administering, and grading the various mandated tests — that they have no time or attention to follow through on anything. I’d have been happy to help my kids with their homework, but we could never find anyone who could tell us what it actually was. Our kids could never remember, and none of the many systems that the schools set up to inform us ever worked. For that matter, half the time, nobody even knew which class our kids were supposed to be in at any time. The schools here have even worse organizational skills than my kids.

  19. Where is the evidence that children today perform less well in school than in the past? Most studies show that on things like grades and literacy, children do better now than ever. On other markers, the curriculum has changed so much it’s hard to determine what’s improving or not. IMHO, a lot of the ‘children don’t do well’ is a rightwing bullshit discourse used to undermine public workers and the state’s input into education – much of it predicated on some unprovable notion that education today is ‘easier’ than in the past so that the continual improvement in grades doesn’t mean anything.
    However, I do suspect that the ability and comfort with critiquing homework comes from an educated, perhaps even middle-class, position. We hate having to devote huge amounts of energy to annoying tasks because we know our children would get more pleasure and equal education out of the other things they do in their spare time (reading, art, classes in music etc, sport, cooking, housework) and it will ultimately make little difference to their overall educational outcomes, where many parents aren’t able to articulate this because their forms of education (caring for other family members, housework, paid work, maybe even learning how to work the benefit system, theft, and informal economies etc) aren’t considered legitimate forms of education, and certainly may not provide the right types of cultural capital to ‘succeed’ in middle-class and normative terms.
    Certainly, one of the problems I have with homework is the extent to which it impinges on home education and suggests that education in the home should be subordinate to that in school. And, in this, it reinforces the importance of the public over the private; work over homelife; free labour to support the capitalist model.

  20. Thanks for the link over at your place, BM (for some reason I can’t post there).

  21. @Skepticlawyer – if you get the log in to WordPress thing, and can remember your Gravatar password and email that should get you in. WordPress is doing some weird stuff atm.

  22. I don’t have kids, but casting my mind back to the days when I had homework, the only help I generally got from my parents was being told to sit down and do it. I suppose they would have answered questions if we had any, but I don’t remember asking, so it can’t have been a regular thing.
    It’s nearly 20 years since I finished school, though – I’m interested in whether things have changed over that period, or if my experience was atypical.

  23. We never got regular homework in Primary School, as my kids do now. There was the odd project to do and it was always expected that you did it yourself. In highschool it was usually if you didn’t finish the classwork you had to do it at home with the occassional set homework until about Yr 10 when we were told to get into the habit of doing about 15-20 minutes revision per night for each subject going up to 30 mins per night in Yrs 11 and 12.

  24. I suspect reader type homework in early primary school is more about trying to even up the support that children get at home from their parents. Lots of parents would be doing that sort of thing anyway.
    In later years I think homework probably benefits some students and not others. I found it useful because it put me in a situation where I worked without both the distractions you get in a classroom (so I was able to work and remember better) and the support of a teacher (so it really highlights what you do and don’t know).
    Having parents do the actual work rather than just provide support is pointless. In the end the children are going to have to do tests/exams on their own.

  25. @Mel #17: I find it fascinating that you morph from “if parents don’t have time” in your second paragraph to “when parents won’t make time” in your third.
    One of these is a probably-accurate reflection on the time pressures we all feel in a relatively-well-off segment of Western society – i.e. a segment who are doing all right but still need two fulltime incomes to support their lifestyle and thus don’t have the kind of time assumed by schools apparently operating under the belief every child has a stay-at-home mother (and it’s worse the less and less well-off you are).
    The other heaps blame on parents for wilfully refusing to help their kids get ahead in life, greedy b#stards. Which is kind of the problem.

  26. Mindy @22, yes, that’s what it did to me, but I have long since forgotten my gravatar password/email. I’m dyslexic and generally bad with computers (I cordially despise the latter, I have to say, using them only under sufferance).
    On topic: the two threads — here and over at my place — make for interesting reading, sort of point and counterpoint. Lots of food for thought. I do think parents are far more within their rights to tell schools where to get off on the homework issue than schools realise, if only because evidence for homework’s efficacy is so equivocal.

  27. Mel @17, parents didn’t help kids with their homework in previous decades, not to the extent they feel pressured to do now. I come from a family of academics and neither of my parents made a habit of having anything to do at all with my homework (in the 60s and 70s this was.) You were expected to do YOUR homework YOURSELF – that was the point – having a parent do more than hover and make suggestions would have been thought of as cheating!

  28. Helen, at least by the late 80s it was in fairly full swing (I went to a middle-class rural Australian Catholic school, so that’s the cultural background). My mother, who qualified to teach primary just as I was finishing it, apologised to me in high school for letting me go to primary school with 100% child-done posters and dioramas and whatever: she had had no idea that the other children’s had at the least significant parent input, she just thought I was terrible at art and craft. As a teacher the dynamic became very apparent to her, not least because parents talk about it to the teacher!
    I guess that’s another aspect of it: not all parents or children fully appreciate the dynamic, and may be inclined to compare their output to adult-assisted, adult-led or entirely adult-made projects.
    In terms of homework in general, again by the late 80s/early 90s I was assigned more or less what this thread is talking about: 15–30 minutes of assigned homework from Year 4 or so, probably staying that way into high school. Whether I did it or not was another question: graded assignments, yes, 40 questions out of the maths textbook maybe not. My end of high school experience was unusual (I took the HSC over three years, starting in Year 10) so I can’t really talk about what would have normally been assigned then: I did final year levels of homework three years running. (Unlike a lot of academically successful kids I had little trouble developing study skills, except that I’d thoroughly burned myself out on study by university! That’s advice one doesn’t hear a lot: don’t peak too soon 🙂 )
    A lawyer somewhere I read once observed (posing a hypothesis, not citing anything) that the rise of huge overtime for lawyers in private practice seemed to coincide neatly with the entry of lots of women into the legal profession, that is, suddenly the expected level of commitment rose to a level it was very difficult for women to meet. I wonder if the same is true of homework; just as women (generalising of course) become less available to supervise it, it increases a great deal.

  29. Mary, I was at school from 1981 to 1992, and it wasn’t in full swing where I was – as Helen says above, parents doing homework was looked on as cheating.

  30. Sorry, in case that wasn’t clear – we had homework, from grade 3 or 4 onwards, which consisted of reading (for English) (something I never considered ‘work’), maths worksheets, and project-based work for social studies. I don’t remember having science homework.
    In high school, we had homework for most subjects each night. I had fairly bad study skills, and didn’t generally do revision even in VCE (we were the first year of VCE).

  31. Rebekka @ 30 – around the same time period at a private school was the same experience for me. And not only looked on as cheating by students, but by teachers and explicitly discouraged – they knew the students well enough to know when it was happened.
    “Homework” workload was higher at university doing an engineering degree though. Ramping up the amount of work expected to be done without supervision and anyone around to help through high school is probably pretty good preparation.
    I have a niece in year 9 who seems to be very short on spare time. Not sure if its the amount of homework or the fairly large number of formalish extra curricular things kids get into these days.

  32. In relation to homework being a Capitalist plot I would suggest that dumbing down would serve Capitalism far more than homework. America for example, where public schools are severely under threat through neglect, lack of funding and the resulting poor performance being used as an argument to phase them out altogether.
    Capitalist governments don’t want an educated voting public, they want people who react emotionally and don’t stop to think logically and rationally or indeed, ethically.
    Homework is but one aspect of engagement with education. In my case I wouldn’t leave my children’s education solely in the hands of a public school but I would never send them to a private school so I make up for what I see as the shortfall. Homework assists with that process.
    There is no question of doing children’s homework for them, parents who do that are undermining their children’s independence. However making time whenever possible to be available to answer questions, provide explanations, discuss and teach is invaluable as there are many things that teachers don’t have time to teach children despite their best efforts.
    Teachers do become very frustrated over the lack of engagement of parents with their children’s education. I have heard teachers complain about the minimum level of skills children are starting school with compared with past years, children starting school barely able to string words together and who are obsessed with technology and unable to focus on basic tasks and of their parents who are simply not interested, leaving it all up to the classroom teacher who can only do so much.
    In relation to my initial statement, this was reported at an educational conference some years ago.
    For the record, I hate it when teachers contact me regarding homework and never my husband. I am not a door mat, my husband does his equal share of the homework supervision. Furthermore I grew up in a single parent household under very dire economic circumstances and understand the struggle that single working mothers face. I have much to say on the matter but mainly don’t wish to have the same old accusations of class and privilege aimed at me as is so common during these discussions when someone steps outside the groupthink.

    • I don’t think all homework is a plot to produce conformist compliant overtime-bots, Mel. Some of the exercises that seem to assigned as homework-for-homework’s sake do seem rather pointless though, unless the idea is just to train children to the idea that their time at home belongs first to the school rather than to themselves and their family. The sort of homework that actually does consolidate and extend on what has been taught in class is wonderful, when it appears.
      However, in my experience, not nearly as much as I would have liked, of the homework that my children were given, in primary school especially, was that sort of homework. So I picked and chose, and the stuff that my kids sailed through with ease I put aside until after we’d done the stuff that they actually needed help consolidating. If the consolidation work took more than an hour at night IN PRIMARY SCHOOL, I didn’t make them do the assigned exercises on stuff that they had already mastered, because it was a waste of time that they could better spend reading a book or playing music or watching a documentary.

  33. We’re lucky enough to have been able to plan to live one block from a public primary school, and I’m “lucky” enough to be disabled and unable to work, therefore I’m here after school every day. (However, our school also has an after-school care service where the children are encouraged/welcome to do homework if they have any, which is great for parents who work outside the home in the mid late afternoon).
    My son is in grade 5, and I find the approach to homework a piece of cake for us (with those advantages), and it’s also relatively minimal and flexible, which I hope helps parents and guardians in less ideal situations. For reading the children do the Lexile Framework, which they can do while waiting for school to start, in spare moments and silent reading time at school, and at home. There’s no fixed minimum reading time, just incentives. On top of that there are two worksheets which come home Monday and need to be done by the following Monday.
    The first worksheet is maths practice (I don’t need to give any assistance with this at the moment, but I do have a look at it). The other worksheet is language/general knowledge, and the children may use any resources at their disposal. There are about 20 questions at the top – some are general knowledge (“Where in the world is Paris?” “What is a baby cow called?” “What is a blue manna?”) If he doesn’t know, he uses Wikipedia and Google, and kids have access to a school computer lab if no computer or smartphone or encyclopaedias at home – and they’re also allowed to simply ask their parents the answer. Some questions require interaction with the world around them (“How many light switches in your home?”, “What is Bill’s (fellow student) favourite footy team?”(all students get a turn featuring)). The bottom section is a series of misspelled words which they need to correct; they are allowed to use a dictionary.
    The quantity is such that my son has no trouble getting all of the written work done on Monday afternoon, which he usually chooses because there’s no videogame time until the homework is done. He also does karate and footy and guitar lessons and choir and playdates, but we don’t have trouble fitting these in (no commute makes a huge difference, I think).
    The only other homework I can remember coming home so far this year was a bit of work on a Powerpoint presentation, but most of that was done at school in their computer lab. Oh, and there’s currently a baby sunflower on our kitchen windowsill.
    I am one of those weird parents who likes a bit of homework, as I feel it keeps me in touch with how he’s managing his schoolwork and what sort of things they’re up to. I am extremely sympathetic with country kids who have a two hour bus commute, and they really must be exempted from homework. I confess to having far less sympathy with wealthy suburbanites who turn their noses up at public school, choose an “elite” whitebread private school an hour or more across the city, overschedule their kids with extracurriculars, and then whinge about having no time to fit things in.

  34. Aside from the problem of creating more work for parents, tiring kids out, the gender gap in homework help, and the general issue of whether it’s of any use, homework also extends even more privilege to the children of parents who for a miriad of reasons have the time, ability and interest in helping their kids.
    School, public school, anyway, is supposed to be a place where we provide an opportunity for those without privilege to access the benefits of education, and begin to break the poverty/other issues cycle. What is the fucking point of that if we then set the system up so that the only way to succeed is to rely on having a number of intelligent, interested, able, adults around? What are you supposed to do if if your parent is unable to help? Or actively impedes you? Or if you yourself have responsibilities other children don’t have?
    Personal anecdote: My parents were fab at helping with my homework, when needed, and reminding me about doing it, and up til year 8 were interested, mentally healthy and intelligent enough to help. Until things went to shit for a year or two. By then I was old enough and interested enough to manage my own homework, but I had to help my brother and sister with theirs, and often manage the after-school to bedtime shift at home. Which meant that if a teacher of mine (around Yr8 and 9) gave overnight homework, I got to chose between sleep or getting it done after feeding, bathing, reading to siblings, making lunches, washing uniforms and sibling homework was sorted.
    In this situation my parents weren’t just “not making time”. They were in separate spaces of mental illness and total inability to parent as well as they would have liked. Depression, relationship breakdown, post-natal depression, etc etc etc.

  35. We can all swap stories of deprivation.

    As mentioned my mother was a single mother before there were any benefits such as the single mothers pension, any sort of tax breaks and child support payments were dismal. One had to prove fault in divorce and there was a whole lot of nasty stuff going on. She battled depression and physical ailments that made her working life awful. There was no after school care, before school care and life was pretty crap for people in her situation.

    She always made time to focus on school stuff, enough so that we valued education.

    You will never have an educational utopia. We have a fantastic education system in comparison with most of the world, to blow it off and say it is all just a Capitalist plot smacks of privilege indeed.

  36. Keira @ 36 – aren’t the sort of difficulties that you experienced due to poor support for families in need rather than the fault of the school? Just assuming for the moment that homework does help many children learn, not setting won’t even the playing field.
    There are a significant number of parents out there who can and will fill the time with other educational experiences which will give them an advantage, but still won’t occur in the disadvantaged families. Having the schools help in this regard by setting homework won’t help everyone but will help those families that may have the time, but otherwise not know how to help their children.

  37. School, public school, anyway, is supposed to be a place where we provide an opportunity for those without privilege to access the benefits of education, and begin to break the poverty/other issues cycle. What is the fucking point of that if we then set the system up so that the only way to succeed is to rely on having a number of intelligent, interested, able, adults around? What are you supposed to do if if your parent is unable to help? Or actively impedes you? Or if you yourself have responsibilities other children don’t have?

    THIS, Keira.
    But as you know, governments both State and Federal are both ignoring the role of public education in favour of a neoliberal idea of “choice”, taking money out of it to fund private education – at least in Victoria. As one guy said – Ross Gittins I think – schooling is becoming a “positional good”, not an instrument to iron out the inequalities inherent in socioeconomic and family education status. Governments who have the power to change the system are ceasing to pretend that this is important; they’re happy for generational advantage simply to be entrenched.

  38. I don’t support any undermining of public schools, I do support our public school teachers and try to engage with the system when I can.
    But the only thing that will iron out generational advantage is putting our kids into Communist creche the moment we give birth and leaving them there.

  39. @Mel: what smacks of privilege to me is you continuing to imply that there’s something wrong with parents who simply do not have the ability/time/resources/spoons to help with homework – because hey, you had it tough and your mother was a paragon of parenthood so no one can have been worse off than you, right?
    The whole “capitalist plot” thing was a joke, Mel. Yes, a joke with some seriousness behind it, because there’s a lot of theory and discussion around the capitalist system needing to propagate itself with a supply of uncritical labourers and unpaid overtime … but you seem to think that that joke is the be-all and end-all of the discussion taking place here. The many other comments seem to prove otherwise.

  40. What I think is a joke is that a woman in Afghanistan will literally risk her life to teach a handful of local female children to read and write in an heroic act of feminism and yet women with ENORMOUS privilege and material and educational advantage in comparison will blow off the importance of active engagement with their children’s education because they think it is a Capitalist plot.
    When you engage with the public system you actually improve outcomes for children other than your own which is the basis of socialist ideology, the redistribution of advantage, material and otherwise.

    • Mel, submitting to excessive loads of homework is not the only way of actively engaging with the education of one’s children. I’ve been close to many of the teachers of my children, and quite a few of them have expressed doubts to me about the Dept. of Education requirement that they set homework which they saw as pointless, a requirement apparently set by bean counters so that boxes on a form could be ticked off.
      Having seen exactly the same sort of bean counter effect stifle treatment regimes in hospitals when I worked in them, I’m extremely skeptical of anything in education which is there just so that reports can be filled out, rather than being there for the direct purpose of enhancing learning.

  41. Oh. So the only cure for a society that is rapidly polarising into a smaller and smaller group of haves versus increasingly downtrodden have-nots is OMGCOMMUNISM. I call strawman. Have you heard of the term “mixed economy” Mel?

  42. I think homework could have an important role in enabling children to demonstrate their learning to parents -but it does mean that the system falls down if the child doesn’t have parents who are, for whatever reason, unable to appreciate that learning. I think the usefulness of homework as a learning tool in and of itself is fairly limited unless it is encouraging a child to explore an area of interest for themselves or try something new.
    I agree with Mel that the best way to support the public school system is to get in there as a parent and help out at the school – with the rider that not all parents have the opportunity to do this either for a range of reasons. Unfortunately I think the quality of schooling in public schools may become largely dependent upon the amount of parental help they are able to leverage if the cuts to funding continue.

  43. I don’t disagree with you tig tog and have a similar approach to homework as you described earlier in that I decide what is reasonable and leave it at that. (re earlier comment)
    For some families, homework is the only connection between school and home apart from the sending the child to school there can be little time for much else. But I suppose I feel that parental attitudes are reflected in children and that it is parents and children more than anything else that makes a school function well which is a desirable outcome for all kids not just the ones with parents who have time, education etc.
    I certainly don’t agree with a bean counter approach to education. Yet I have spent a lot of time sending my kids to school and have many years to go. In my experience most teachers are just trying to make sure kids are equipped to move forward and try to do this with limited help and resources.
    Unfortunately for me I am the last one to advocate conformity, I reserve the right to go against the majority opinion when I feel the need to and it is always difficult and can become quite personal. But I guess I don’t see homework as enforcing conformity.

  44. Mel, re your comment @42: In the first place, you’re conflating “not agreeing with pointless homework” with “blowing off the importance of active engagement” – so we’re back to you ignoring that the entire point of this thread has been about some parents’ lack of ability to participate in homework, just so you can bang your own drum about how much better you are than other women.
    And then you’re going to use women in developing countries as your meat-shield? That’s frankly just contemptible.

  45. “and yet women with ENORMOUS privilege and material and educational advantage in comparison will blow off the importance of active engagement with their children’s education ”
    And where are the dads in this equation of yours? Leaving everything to mum, and you seem to think that’s not even something worth questioning – which was one of the original points of the post, wasn’t it?

  46. I realise the thread has moved on, but to clarify my comments: the kind of homework that parents did (or did significant chunks of, or did huge shopping trips for, etc) was primary school level, so up to age 10 or so, when expectations had been set (especially I think in art/craft, and sometimes in writing) that were developmentally inappropriate, and especially also if there was a competitive element coming up like a classroom exhibit for a parent open day. (And I don’t mean formal competition either, I mean anything where work was going to be on display and people could thus make their own comparisons between children.) It went on the most in the classrooms of bad teachers, because the bad teachers were also those who weren’t in tune with the overall capabilities of their students.
    By the time of high school, I don’t recall ever being aware that anyone’s parents were doing their homework for them, and I’m sure it would have been regarded as serious cheating had it happened and been discovered. Some parents tried to be their children’s substitute willpower for final year exams (as in, trying to “make” them study and so on), which worked about as well as could be expected, ie, not very well.

  47. Some parents tried to be their children’s substitute willpower for final year exams (as in, trying to “make” them study and so on), which worked about as well as could be expected, ie, not very well.

    And expecting students just to pick up good studying habits in the last year is I think pretty optimistic. There are some students who are able to manage their final year with minimal out of school study, but they’re pretty rare. For many students its a habit that needs to be established and refined years earlier.
    In a similar vein I was surprised to find when I got to uni that some other students had only started having end of year exams in year 11. At the school I went to we had them from year 8 so by the time year 12 came around it was a lot less stressful and had developed techniques for managing.

  48. I’m not sure that homework necessarily equates to good study practice though. If you want incremental improvement – such as when learning to play an musical instrument or learning to read – then regular practice is good. Study skills should be about teaching kids how to learn what is important and what can be discarded from the masses of information pushed at them every school day. Doing more of the same stuff at home doesn’t necessarily improve their ability to reguritate their learning in tests.

  49. Mindy – I think there definitely can be pointless or too much homework. But no homework at all does not give children the opportunity to learn some of those skills. And even repetition of what has been done at school that day is not necessarily bad.
    There’s been a time lag between when they’ve had help and when they need to do it on their own so it can reinforce skill and understanding. And there’s some types of kids like I was that was able to remember things much better if they do them in quiet environment away from the distractions of the classroom. Of course there’s some kids that don’t benefit from that as well as others who don’t have the quiet home environment, but that doesn’t mean a significant number of kids benefit.

  50. But this also presumes that it’s acceptable that children should do extra work outside of school to pass exams, as opposed to schools setting aside revision time for exams/ exams not expecting students to know more than can be learnt under the constraints of a working week. In using the metaphor of work, it’s the same conversation about whether it’s ok to ask people to work overtime because of an approaching deadline, except that most of us wouldn’t think it was acceptable ask children to work overtime in the workplace.
    I guess part of this is also about how many hours we expect children to work in a day. I think part of my concern about this is that many, if not most, children come home from school tired and then have to start again. And, I’m not convinced that making tired children do work they have little motivation to do is actually going to achieve good learning outcomes.
    With adults, there are numerous studies that suggest that productivity falls when excessive hours are worked, and that in practice few people maintain concentration and productivity for even 8 hours, let alone longer. Most schools run 9-330, so children already work 6 and a half hours (And unlike for some adults, children’s time is more heavily managed; they are less likely to be able to squeeze in a facebook break, have a chat over the office cooler, or run out for a cigarette, so they are forced to be productive in a way adults are not). Is there is a need to push this number of hours worked higher? Do we think they have more endurance than adults?
    And what about the fact that children are learning all the time even when not at school- they learn about social interaction with adults but also other young people, about how to do gender/race/class, about how to do housework or play the xbox, about how to deal with hormones and sex drives, and first love, and first job, etc etc. And all those things take energy that many adults no longer have to invest because we’ve learned those lessons. Just think how exhausting it is to change jobs or move house or change relationships as adults, which is partly because novelty and life-changing events require new learning that’s hardwork. But those kind of experiences are what young people deal with all the time, but we don’t count them as part of the working day.
    And, if children were all sitting around desperate to do homework, then why not let them (and indeed I would suspect that children who are motivated to learn and had some access to resources/ support would do this anyway)? But, how often is that the homework experience? Mostly, it’s about coercing children to do work that they’re not motivated to do. And that’s presuming that parents have the energy, will, resources, time and all the other things that are needed for homework to happen effectively.

  51. FA – a lot to respond to there, but a few things
    I’m not really convinced of the accuracy of analogy of school to “work”. For starter’s they’re primarily not doing it for anyone else’s benefit but their own. And there’s generally a fair few breaks in a school day and unless discipline within classes is a lot higher than in my day then quite a few within class as well. I do think the tiredness factor is a real issue and the amount of homework needs to be age appropriate. You also don’t want to completely crowd out out of school activities. There’s lots of kids who benefit from things like after school sports or music/arts related activities.
    I agree children learn all the time through what they do, but so do adults 🙂 Increasingly a lot more recognition of learn-through-play techniques for adults as well now.
    Perhaps it could be better for schools to schedule more homework/revision time within school hours (and you still need to solve the problem of providing an environment where children can practice studying away from other children but still within the school grounds). But what are you going to throw out of the curriculum to make room for it?
    Over the years we’ve been throwing a lot more stuff into the curriculum to attempt to compensate for the fact that things that previously were expected to be done by parents are not done by some and that puts some children at a disadvantage. But that creates a time pressure. Children already spend at least an extra year in school compared to 20-30 years ago, and kindergarten and childcare programs are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be.
    And I’ll go back to my earlier point that eliminating homework won’t remove the relative disadvantage if some parents who are able to (knowledge & time, or simply outsourced to third parties) provide their own equivalent. All it will hurt are those who could, but don’t know how to help or don’t know even know it could help.

  52. The reason the state provides education is to produce workers and citizens; it is absolutely to the benefit of the economy and society that children are educated. Afterall, it’s not children who get to decide the curriculum, but society decides what skills are important for children to have. And, absolutely, children benefit from this, because they are educated – that is their ‘wages’ if you like. But, this is a reciprocal process, because we benefit from educated workers. And, so, for me, this is like work, in that workers benefit from their labour through getting a wage; so do, children benefit their labour through receiving their education. But in both cases, there are larger entities also drawing a benefit from that labour.

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