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Twelve Hours in the Homework Hot Seat

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I woke up Sunday morning looking forward to a getting a jump on packing some Christmas gifts and watching my highly motivated New England Patriots continue their march toward an undefeated season.

But then my middle school son nearly made me choke on my coffee when he showed me the progress he had made toward completing his science project about animal and plant cells, an assignment he had mentioned in passing the day before. What little progress he had made! And how worried I looked!

Reading over the assignment, I realized he had a 10-15 hour work session ahead of him if he wanted to get it done. And that meant I had a 10-15 hour oversight session ahead of me in which I would have to push, prod, instruct, and encourage like a Marine-Corps boot camp instructor if there was any hope of completing this project.

After five hours of work (with a few short breaks), it was 3 p.m. and he was still a little shy of being halfway done. When I rejected his request to take another break and ordered him to "finish task 6 first," he pleaded, "Dad, if I don't take a break, I think I'm going to have a seizure!"

He was joking, of course. So I ignored his plea and he pushed ahead.

At some point, I can't remember the time of the evening, I concluded that if I did not step in and offer more help, this project would still be underway when the rest of the family was eating their Monday breakfast. So I stepped in, first offering to type for him while he dictated to me because he is one of the world's slowest typists.

Then I began helping him figure out how to draw various cell configurations. This is where the line between helping and doing becomes quite blurry. How much help is too much? I found myself wondering whether I was doing a little too much, depriving him of the opportunity to learn the important lessons of what happens to procrastinators. Needless to say, the exchanges between us became more testy as the clock ticked closer to 10 p.m.

But, finally, he (we) finished. He went to bed. And I got one of the worst bouts of insomnia I've had in years, because terms like mitochondria, nucleolus, nucleus, cell membrane, and a bunch of other biological words and images kept swimming around in my head along with the recurring question: Why the heck didn't he tell me about this project a week ago? And if I helped him too much, did he learn the concepts he was supposed to learn? Or was this just 12 hours of pointless pain and agony?


3 Comments

I assume this is a joke - although I'm sure a lot of parents will do just what you wrote about. You will never teach children responsibility if you don't hold them accountable for their actions, or lack of actions as the case here.

My husband and I call them "parent project". It is a constant struggle trying to figure out when to help and when to just let him do it. Its a struggle because you know all the other parents are working on the project together. We've started to just let them do it and see what happens. We've already completed high school and don't need to go through it again. But "we" all celebrate when we get an A!!! If a home assignment becomes a parent assignment, its time to rework the assignment.

I'm sure that this is NOT a joke! Parents have often confided to me that they need to be involved to this level (and beyond). In San Marino, I believe that over half of our students go to some kind of tutor, and it's not because they are in need of remedial help. It's because the levels and type of homework our students are being assigned just won't be completed without adult "assistance". Without the parents and the tutors, the system would fall apart. I don't believe many 6th graders would ever be motivated to do 90 minutes + homework each night! In good districts where educators can depend on this level of parent involvement homework is getting out of control. Is it NCLB that's the problem? Maybe our schools aren't effectively teaching during the day? Could it be a crazed desire to unrelentingly drive our kids, hoping that it will pay off financially (if not emotionally)? We need to examine and fight back against a system that is hurting our children and causing parents unnecessary stress.

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