Jerome Christenson: Homework isn't helping our kids

Jerome Christenson: Homework isn't helping our kids

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If I had young kids, I’d be tempted to send them to school in Abu Dhabi.


No homework.

Yup, for kids in the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of Education has decreed that when school’s out, school’s out.

Jerome Christenson

Jerome Christenson

After a full day of recitation, worksheets, pop quizzes and guided practice, Emerati kids head home free of books, backpacks, laptops and requirements to “have this done by tomorrow … or else.”

And no, Sharia law has nothing to do with it. Common sense does.

I am not aware, in this whole great, grand universe of ours, of anyone who actually likes homework.

For sure, not the kids who have to do it. Not the teachers who have to correct it. Not the parents who have to wheedle and nag to get it done.

It’s as popular as a MAGA hat at a Bernie Sanders rally, yet it hangs on and hangs on like a snotty nose after a bad, bad cold.

And over the years it has gotten worse.

When I had books to tote home, I carried them in one hand, swinging easily by my side.

My kids had overpriced TrapperKeepers and other school-specific gizmos to freight assignments home and back.

Nowadays parents are regularly urged to purchase ergonomically correct backpacks to prevent permanent damage to their 9-year-olds’ backs when they stagger under a daily load that would buckle the knees of a portage-hardened voyageur.

Kids spend night after night slumped over the dining room table, doggedly completing whatever might be deemed critical to their young lives at that particular hour.

So they dutifully do their homework. The actual importance of knowing the capital of Montana in a young child’s life is unquestioned, as is the rightness of being required to give up the pleasures of a bright May evening to commit it to memory.

Meanwhile, they’re not hanging out with family, not socializing with their friends or schlepping aimlessly around the neighborhood in the company of the family dog. They’re not playing checkers with the old fart down the street, not pursuing a Boy Scout merit badge or heading off to the Y for a swim. They’re not learning to cook supper, nor to properly do the dishes afterward. They’re not reading for pleasure, chasing a butterfly or just lying motionless staring at the bedroom ceiling lost in aimless imagination, quietly daydreaming a way into their future.

There are a lot of things they’re not doing. Things to be weighed against the lifetime importance of yet another worksheet of quadratic equations or gerund identification.

Think of it, when was the last time — in real life — you were called upon to diagram an English sentence?

So what’s the deal here? We’re told “kids gotta learn this stuff. They’ve gotta learn it and they’ve gotta learn it NOW!”

Huh? Being able to give the scientific names for the parts of a flower can’t wait for a day when the fish aren’t biting?

Not if The Test is scheduled. Our kids have to learn on schedule because if they don’t, they won’t score well on the standardized tests that adults use to make decisions about the careers of other adults.

If kids don’t learn something today, odds are they’ll gladly learn it tomorrow — provided it’s worth learning in the first place.

If ever they need to know Helena is the capital of Montana, that information is just a click away. That’s what’s meant by the “lifetime learning” that the educrats routinely give lip service to.

But that approach doesn’t jibe well with election campaigns, funding cycles, curricular scope and sequence and other adult measures of what’s important for kids.

Maybe it’s time we start measuring what’s important for kids by what actually is important for kids. Those endless hours hunched over the dining room table aren’t likely to rank very far up on that list.

Meanwhile, there’s always Abu Dhabi.


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