The Chocolate Covered Kitchen's Blog

Where Making a Mess Is Worth It
FEBRUARY 5, 2012 10:40AM

I Hate Homework

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As you may have noticed, I haven’t been in the kitchen much lately (except to make the requisite three meals a day).  I’ve been up to my neck in ghostwriting and avoiding the calorie overload that comes of filling the house with chocolate (and by the way, have any of you noticed that the price of chocolate has skyrocketed?  I’m thinking of taking up vegetable cookery instead).  At any rate, I thought I’d share this little piece I did for Huffington Post to keep you entertained until I return to the Chocolate Covered Kitchen.  Here goes:

When it came time for my daughter to start Kindergarten, it suddenly hit me.  I would have to get her to school each morning.  On time.  For thirteen years.  The thought had never occurred to me, and had it crossed my mind six years prior, she would probably not exist.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it after the first year,” a friend assured me.  A year?  I couldn’t imagine.  But somehow, she was right; by the time first grade rolled around I was a pro at manipulating all that six year old energy into a focused direction – clothes on, healthy breakfast efficiently consumed, hair unsnarled, combed and tied into a perky ponytail, shoes velcroed (thank God for that technological innovation), and my own frazzled flesh washed, painted, dressed and ready to go.

At first, the school years were adorable.  The cute little drawings she’d bring home (“It’s the Mona Lisa, with eyebrows”), the clever observations (“I think the principal needs to be expelled”), the major achievements (“We cut open dead people at school today to find out why they died”).  But when she had her first year-end project due, I realized things were going to get rough. She was supposed to turn in a collection of a hundred objects, collected over the school year.  We’d been meaning to get around to it for months, when one day, she came home with a notice that it was due the following morning.  I had something to do that evening or some guy to see and left her with a babysitter, like they do on TV.  I grabbed a big jar of shells she’d collected on the beach and told the sitter to count out a hundred and put them in a baggy.  She did, and my daughter dutifully carried her baggy of shells to school.

The following week there was a big event for all the parents.  I went, proud of my cute and clever little girl and all that she’d learned and done over the school year.  But when we got there, I was horrified to see the halls lined with amazing displays – the Battle of Gettysburg recreated with a hundred plastic soldiers; the food pyramid recreated with a hundred paper-mâché veggies and grains ; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry recreated with a hundred hand-carved wizards.  Each elaborate diorama was a testament to parental dedication – and parental craftsmanship from the look of most of them.  Then there was my daughter’s – a plastic bag of shells.

Turns out the assignment was not to just collect a hundred things, but to tell a story with them, construct a display that would portray their deeper meaning.  How humiliated my daughter must have been, I realized, kicking myself for not paying more attention.  I sent an email to her teacher that very night, apologizing for my neglect.  “No problem at all,” she assured me, “part of the assignment was to explain to the class why they chose what they collected.  Most of the children didn’t really know, but your daughter told a wonderful story about how the shells told the story of the history of the world.”

I realized then and there that I was raising a con artist who could put Olivia the pony-tailed pig to shame, and that my parental neglect was teaching her to be fast on her feet, a skill that would take her far.  And so it was that I relaxed and figured if she passed Kindergarten, she’d do alright.

Years passed and I got better at paying attention to her projects, though most of them tended to require last-minute trips to the crafts supply store, hot glue guns and squabbles that inevitably ended with threats to put each other up for adoption.  I couldn’t wait for the project years to end, because all the other parents seemed to do it better, and I was never quite sure what it was the kids were learning aside from how to manage us.

Eventually, there were fewer and fewer three-dimensional homework assignments to assist with, and what few there were she did on her own, rarely even telling me what it was that she was up to.  “What in the world are you doing with that nuclear waste?” I would inquire, to which she would nonchalantly reply, “I’m just doing my science homework, can you hand me the uranium hexaflouride?”   I’d shrug my shoulders, do as I was told and go back to griping on the phone about how tough it is to be a parent.

Then she hit high school, and things really got rough.  Now the homework requires asking me intellectual questions, expecting me to explain all sorts of complicated things, quiz her on her accumulating knowledge and evaluate her brilliance.  “But I don’t know logarithms!” I protest, “You still need to help me with your times tables.”

“Mom, I learned times tables in third grade,” she scolds, “please can’t you test me on this?”

“Call your Dad,” I counter, “he’s the one who gave you those quantitative genes; it’s not my doing.”

“Fine.  Then you can help me with my social studies,” she suggests, confident that my Ph.D. in the social sciences will see me through ninth grade exams, “I just want to go over the fall of the Roman Empire.”

The fall of the Roman Empire?  All they taught me in graduate school was the fall of the U.S. Empire.  That’s outside my specialty.

“But I don’t do empires!” I plead.

She looks at me like she’s descended from apes.  Recently.

“That’s okay,” she sighs, clearly ashamed to be related.  “I have social studies down pretty well.  Can you at least help me with physics?”

I feel like a criminal, caught in a lie.  How can I get out of this one?  “But you don’t really learn effectively by being quizzed,” I suggest in my best professorial tone, “pedagogically, it’s a poor method for retaining information because – “ But she cuts me off.

“Admit it; you just don’t want to help me with my homework!” “Okay,” I concede, “I thought homework was over when I got my Ph.D., and now you’re making me go all the way through high school again.  That’s too hard!” I wail at the injustice, wishing only that she’d go to her room and study so I could turn on the TV and watch a rerun of Revenge.  But she won’t budge.  She hands me her study sheet and tells me to quiz her.

“Start with the Bohr principle,” she instructs, and I find it aptly named, because this homework is really a bore.

Two hours later, we’re done, and I’m confident I could score a low C on the test, and she’s confident that if I ever decide to put my head in the oven, I won’t have sense enough to make sure it’s not electric, given my inability to know the difference between a gas and an electron.

“I’m much worse off than I was before we began,” she points out in a teenager’s tone as she heads off to study without me.  “I would have learned more by studying with the cat!”

“It’s not my fault,” I protest, “I don’t know the answers!”

“The answers are right here!” she wails at me, shaking the study guide like it was some binding contract, “All you had to do was make sure you were comparing my answers with the answers I had written down – but you kept losing your place and telling me I was wrong when I was right because you were looking at answers to questions about neutrons when I was answering questions about density and matter! Anyone can tell the difference!”

I hang my head in shame. I look up sheepishly, “I’m sorry,” I plead.  “I’ll make you cookies . . .”  She perks up, gives me a big hug and suggests that’s a good idea.  She knows I can do math in the kitchen, figure out chemical conversion as long as it involves an oven, and master physics when it comes to calculating how long I should beat the batter before density kicks in.  Just don’t ask me about the fall of the Roman Empire, unless it’s the name of a soufflé (in which case I can tell you all about it).  As Socrates said, it’s not information that gives us knowledge, but experience.

And as Socrates also said, true knowledge is knowing you know nothing.  I really don’t know much about Socrates, but I can tell you one thing. He must have been a parent.

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Comments

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I love the conclusion! I've been worried about this for a long time, too. I know my kids will find me useless when it comes to math and physics and chemistry stuff especially - and even more humiliating, since I'm not a native French speaker, I probably can't even be trusted to help them with their basic French homework. At least you can make cookies! I have nothing to offer! Ugh...
I love the conclusion! I've been worried about this for a long time, too. I know my kids will find me useless when it comes to math and physics and chemistry stuff especially - and even more humiliating, since I'm not a native French speaker, I probably can't even be trusted to help them with their basic French homework. At least you can make cookies! I have nothing to offer! Ugh...
what a wonderful story...
And I agree, cookies make everything better! :-)
/r
Yes, making a Souffle is easier than helping with Homework! R
I'm a teacher and hired a math tutor for my daughter in 8th grade--butting heads wasn't worth trying to tackle it with her myself. Great post!
It was much easier for me to go back and re-study calculus than bake; but hey, Häagen-Dazs works as well. Beautiful piece. R
Thank you everyone for the kind comments. Each one warms my heart. (And on HuffPo, as always, I got quite a few bashings for being such a bad mom!) But Alysa -- how dare you say you have nothing to offer! You'll keep your kids' heads spinning with your wonderful tales. But I don't envy you -- by the time kids graduate from European schools, the know more than most American college grads!
Teachers should teach. Teaching is, after all, their chosen profession and one in which they are supposed to have the appropriate qualifications. Children should NEVER have homework. Parents should never have to involve themselves in teaching school subjects. The parental role is in teaching values, morality, and life skills. That is enough for parents to do without asking them to also do the job for which they pay huge taxes for teacher to be paid to do.

Children also come to hate school when their 6 hours per day in school gets extended by another 2 - 4 hours of homework. Kids need some time to be kids.
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Skypixeio -- I understand your point and thank you for your comment. But as a professor for many years, I saw far too many students unable to keep up with the class because they had little or no concept of doing homework. They thought their investment in the class began and ended with the time they spent in class, and rarely or never studied, or put effort into their assignments. Students who haven't done much homework are really unprepared for the university, or for many careers. A reasonable amount of homework is essential to a quality education, though too much of it, or silly busywork, can cost kids far more than they offer.
Chocolate,
With all respect, I beg to differ. Kids is kids. They need time for themselves. Time enough when, as young adults they attend college, to ask them to handle a commensurate adult workload. Prior to college it is far too easy to burn them out with more than a six hour day. I weep every time I see a bright and capable young student declare, "I hate school." I KNOW why they say that - I was one of them. Fortunately for me, after dropping out with only Gr. VIII, I later attended an adult upgrading school where I completed grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 in seven months.

The problem is NOT that kids need to study more each day to prepare for college level studies. The problem is that our society asks teachers in the schools to spend far too much time on paperwork out of class and far too much time making sure that "special" students are kept up to speed with regular students. Teachers are not allowed to concentrate their teaching skills on teaching. They have been forced into the role of glorified babysitters and care-givers.

When - if - the day ever comes when we realize the necessity for special schools for both the gifted children and the challenged children, then, and only then, will we have a properly functioning education system in place. Specialist teachers can much better manage the various strata of a good system.

That some students are permitted to enter college while being functionally illiterate puts a tremendous and grossly unfair burden on college professors. This burden will not be lifted until the system in the preparatory grades is changed.
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The kindergarten bus is pulling up to my house in September. Your thoughts about pulling together six-year old energy really hit home, for I am ALWAYS late to preschool-- as did the cute initial homeworks. I know the dread will come too, but for now, the freedom of a six hour stretch will outweigh it. Great writing.
As a grandmother of "lots" I agree. Homework essential. Sports, music and community service (scouting etc.) all important. Believe me, when they apply for college, the rewards will be great. Parents involved in homework is wonderful. It is time spent together. We learn what our kids are doing and "not" doing. You don't have to be a genius to guide your child through a tough situation. Knowing that you are there for them is good...That is not to say that you should do their homework for them...it simply means you are there.
Still love this, the second time around.
Ugh, this hits home. My 6th grade smartypants son is too lazy to turn in his homework on time, which is driving me crazy! Plus, they are already covering the Algebra and Geometry that I did in high school. I'm not going to be able to help much longer. Now I have a plan - stick to cookies! Thanks for writing.