Thursday, September 10, 2015

Great Expectations

It is now 9:45 PM, and my eighth grader has just gone to bed, having finally finished his homework. He started at 3:30, took an hour for dinner and a bit of relaxing, and finished fifteen minutes ago. Which is to say that he had five hours of  homework tonight, including practicing his musical instrument (music is one of his classes). This is a fairly typical night's work for him. If there are tests or assignments due, it may be more; rarely is it less.

The reason I mention this is that last week I watched a discussion on a cable news show about public school parents who complain of the amount of homework their children are given. How much homework? Thirty to forty-five minutes a night.


(Those who have followed my blog will know that the ellipsis represents my reaction of stunned silence.)

Forty-five minutes of homework a night?! My son has forty-five minutes in each subject. How do these indignant parents expect their children to compete in the real world on such a minimal diet of self-improvement? Forty-five minutes a night?!

Are the public schools' expectations of the children so low, and the demands made on them so scant, are the parents so utterly clueless, that they think these children can compete for places at the best universities -- or at any universities -- on forty-five minutes of homework a night? Do they expect that they will go out into the wide world armed with the knowledge necessary to secure good jobs and fashion fulfilling careers?

What planet are these people living on? Certainly not the one on which bright, well educated, ambitious students live, and on which Japanese and Chinese students live, who will gobble up the few places at the best schools, while your little underachiever struggles to get into the local community college.

On the rare night when my child has a mere three and a half or four hours of homework, we fairly celebrate. We make cookies and watch an old movie or classic TV show, or he enjoys the luxury of getting an extra hour's sleep. Unless you feel that your child is stupid and condemned to a life of underemployment, or to the pickings of academia after the choice spots have been taken, you should not be complaining about less than an hour's homework; you should be demanding more.

And you should be helping the child with that extra work, both to improve your own mind, and to keep abreast of what he or she is learning, and how well he or she is doing. That is part of the responsibility of being the parent of a school-aged child. And it is, surprisingly, fun.

Those extra hours you spend helping your child with homework are not only a bonding experience for you, they will pay big dividends later in life. And meanwhile, they will ensure that your young student has a good grounding in the fundamentals of education, and learns mental discipline, time management skills, and the self-esteem that comes from not only knowing, but knowing that you know.

Put in the time now, those extra hours in the evenings, and you will open doors for your child's future which otherwise will be closed. As Shakespeare said: Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross. And if your child doesn't know who Shakespeare is, I rest my case.