Wall of condescending normativity?


This is one of Eila’s homework sheets, front and back, unfinished. Some weeks she has one sheet, some weeks two. And every two weeks she has to do a book review, which means being read a picture book, writing one sentence on it (using a capital only at the beginning), and drawing a picture.  Parents are permitted to help, particularly with the book review.

So what do we think of this? I’m not sure myself. On the one hand I like her learning to write.  On the other, the sheets take way longer to complete than you’d expect; she gets tired and complains, and then I have to cajole — whereas when she writes what she chooses (like her sporadically kept diary) she’s tireless.  And, hey, she’s 4 years old!


6 thoughts on “Wall of condescending normativity?

  1. Good thought Bill. We certainly didn’t have any homework at that age, did we? Not until grade one, or maybe even later. And we didn’t start learning to write until grade one either. I’m guessing the theory was that our brains would be better developed at age 6 and we’d learn the material faster — why not play (and learn through playing) until then? I don’t trust this comprehension entirely. It smacks of the 70s and “following one’s bliss.” But neither do I trust the comprehension in practice today. Eila is being hot-housed. It’s too early. And though she finds school fun, she dislikes the homework.

    There must be a middle ground. Which is what the article you’ve linked seems to say.

    I gather from the article that homework goes in and out of fashion. Currently it’s in. I suppose this has to do with the standardized curriculum and testing that Canada adopted a few years ago — at the same time as the Americans were developing No Child Left Behind.

    I also gather that social scientists have studied homework and come to no conclusions about whether it’s useful, though they have built up data on how it re-enforces class distinctions.

    And between the lines of the article there’s a further confusion. The author, advocating homework in small amounts (a safe position if I’ve ever seen one) explicitly says that homework “works if it is an opportunity to practice skills or reinforce information learned very recently.” He also says that “children need to learn how to plan large projects [and] how to discover information on their own.” So we don’t even know whether homework’s supposed to repeat or to branch out.

    This afternoon, btw, we received another impromptu assignment. We had to find an object that started with “e,” and send it to school along with three clues to what it was. We packed a toy elephant and a sheet of paper saying: 1. It’s big. 2. It’s an animal but not a pet. 3. It’s got a saggy skin. Took around half an hour.

  2. Homework is a mess. If I had the authority to refuse to assign homework, I would. I don’t. I’m required to assign my students homework every day.

    Eila shouldn’t have to do the stupid homework sheets, especially if she possesses the skill already. Even if she doesn’t, it shouldn’t be too difficult to look at a homework sheet and ask yourself “how can I get at this skill of writing this letter in a way that Eila wouldn’t complain so much about and that wouldn’t take as much time?”

    Four year olds should not be getting homework.

  3. There’s enormous controversy over homework — not just whether or not young kids should have any, but whether amounts of homework have increased over the last decade-plus in response to many things (including standardized testing) and whether this homework has actually changed in difficulty since we were kids. As I remember — and I didn’t have homework until grade 4, by school policy — homework was something you were mostly supposed to be able to do (and to do) on your own. Parental home was a relatively rare thing. That’s changed radically: parental involvement in homework is nearly mandated by the difficulty, and not doing your kid’s homework with him or her is a sign of being an uninvolved parent.

    I’m pretty adamantly anti-homework before age 7 or 8, at least. At that age I’m an agnostic. A friend’s kids went to an elementary school where before grade 2 all their homework ever was was to be read to for 15 minutes per night. That strikes me as reasonable.

    I want my kids to learn that learning is fun, and I want them to realize that the things they come up with independent of any adult involvement at all are often more interesting things that grown-ups think of. And I often think that the best way to do both of those things is to get the hell out of their way.

  4. More excellent points. Evidently we all agree that this is not merely overload, and that at this age there should be NO homework. To all your thoughts I’ll only add a summary remark: that it’s empirically clear to me that Eila’s homework trains her both in performing the specific task at hand and also more generally to perform tasks, i.e. her homework is training in doing homework. I’m a little heartsick about this, and I’d be a lot more heartsick if it weren’t that we actually can, and do, complete these assignments without too much behavioural or familial upheaval. But I hate being co-opted to initiate her into the rat race.

    Some of the mothers are really pissed off. That’s heartening. I think some of them are even doing the kids’ homework for them. Parent-teacher interviews are coming up, and I know at least one mum who’s going to complain — though we know we can’t do anything because Mrs. Mayer (teacher) is following Ministry guidelines to the letter.

    I’m curious about all of this because I have to be, but also because I believe literacy in the adult population is at a particularly low level, and I suspect that this hot-housing is entirely economically motivated and will do nothing to address literacy.

    What I’d like to know now is how does the homework I’ve been describing compare to homework in the U.S.?

    Final note: I’ve just noticed from my school calendar that this week there’ll be two letter sheets (i.e. double what’s pictured above) as well as a book review assigned Monday and due on Friday.

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