Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
Sept./ Oct. 2017
What an awful topic!
We all had it growing up, and we are now either giving it to our students or spending an inordinate amount of time helping our children with it. I am not going to spout off research data or debate the issue. What I do know is that there are not just facts involved, but emotions as well - sometimes BIG emotions. Let me share my journey and some perspective.
I am one of those students who actually likes to learn. I know. I am weird like that! Much of the learning process growing up was intuitive to me. I had homework, but it was minimal. I don’t even remember having homework in elementary school. I don’t know if they just didn’t assign it, or that I just forget doing it. I remember homework in high school, but I was able to get most of it done during study hall, so it did not consume much of my after-school time.
Then came parenthood in a whole new generation of educational systems. I home schooled my boys, one (Ryan) all the way through. The other two went to public high school. So, I don’t know homework policies from their generation of elementary schools, and their high school experiences with homework seemed to be similar to mine. But, I do remember teaching Ryan.
The process of learning for Ryan was anything but intuitive. If he had been in the classroom, his entire day would have been consumed with tasks he could not manage. He struggled working with me one-on-one, never mind working independently. For him, school tasks were equated with torture. He tried every strategy to get out of them: charm me (he has always been a charmer and funny!), be passive aggressive (“Sure, I’ll do it” and then he didn’t), and rebellion. By the time he was a teenager he was convinced that we hated him! I know that it is unproductive to look back and blame ourselves; but we can look back and learn.
Now that Ryan is an adult, we have spoken a lot about those days growing up and the rebellion we ended up dealing with. He told me that the source of his behavior was his learning challenges. So many of the things he had to do were like walking on hot coals. At the time, I didn’t think I had unrealistic expectations. But now I wonder. Did I have unrealistic expectations? Did I push him too hard? We need to have expectations, but they need to be balanced with compassion, understanding, and wisdom. We need to see the difference between what they can do with help and what they cannot. (Aside: professional help from an educational therapist may assist in gaining some valuable perspective).
Think about the struggling learner in today’s educational world. They are in school 6-8 hours a day. Then, they come home and get started on their homework, take a break for dinner, and then get back to it…even as early as second grade! Out of a sixteen-hour day (assuming they sleep for eight hours), they are “working” at least 12 hours, with many working the entire sixteen hours! That breaks my heart. They “work” more hours than most adults. And…adults get paid!
And what about the parents? They are often having to reteach what the student was unable to learn during the day (a daunting task), so they have little time to just have fun with their children – to really spend time together having natural conversation. Relationships risk becoming one dimensional – all task oriented.
That is where my heart is right now. I am concerned about the relational health of our families today. Do we eat together, play together, talk to each other and really have opportunity to build quality relationships? I know, I felt guilty that Ryan was not learning as quickly as his peers, and there were definitely times I (wrongly) placed that guilt on him or pressured him to do more than he really could handle! I can see that now.
It seems to me that the “system” is broken and everyone is caught in a lose-lose situation. Students are overwhelmed. Parents are exhausted. Teachers are pressured to produce results, cover the material and keep moving. Expectations are high.
As individuals, we may not be able to fix the system, but we do have to deal with it. So, as individuals, there are a few questions we can ask.
None of these questions are intended to induce guilt or shame, but rather to help us think about the way things are done and make wise decisions for our children moving forward.
Homework is one of life’s challenges that you need to face together, with wisdom, balance, and appropriate advocacy. Our children need us to love them, play with them, challenge them to grow, and protect them as they learn how to advocate for themselves and mature into the young men and women of character they are created to be.
I know I can’t change the past. What Ryan and I struggled through together is over now. He and I have learned from the pain of the past, the mistakes, and the daily choices to put relationship first, school second. That doesn’t mean ignoring responsibilities, but appropriately balancing them. High school was challenging, but we did it – without killing each other!
What both of us did right was forgive each other for the mistakes and the hurts, and chose to make time to do things together that were fun or meaningful. We still do that and I am so very thankful that we not only love each other, but we like each other too.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.