This is what I've been reading for the past couple of weeks:
A Christmas gift from Cole. Two thumbs up! Berube (who is not as liberal as I am, given that he calls himself "liberal" and I tend to avoid that term) takes on the rhetoric from the Fox news set that somehow, higher education has been wrongly hijacked by "liberals" who are brainwashing students (you know, unlike Fox news). Anyway, I will stack my piles of student feedback forms insisting that I, a self-described socialist pinko, give my students free reign to draw their own conclusions through free and open discussions in my classroom against any "brainwashing" claims. Berube says this, sort of, but much more cleverly and convincingly and, for the record, in beautiful prose that is a pleasure to read (contrary to another academic stereotype). If you're a teacher, this will get you all fired up to be a better one. Anyway, it has that effect on me.
The Case against Homework: How Homework is Hurting our Children and What we can do about It. by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish
The Gift of Good Manners: A Parents' Guide to Raising Respectful, Kind, Considerate Children by Peggy Post and Cindy Post Senning
So far, my response to this has been "well, duh!" But I'm only up to the preschool section. Looking forward to reading about school-aged kids, preteens, teens, etc.
I had requests to talk more about both the homework book and the homeschooling book.
The homework book is a sort of watered down version of more scientific homework books (or so I gather, not having read any others). I think they are pretty much following an Alfie Kohn logic. They also give specific guidelines and suggestions for reducing your child's homework, and/or getting your school or school board to set more reasonable homework policies.
I was interested to hear that research pretty much shows almost any homework prior to high school to be almost useless as far as learning goes, and quite often very counter-productive. The rule of thumb they cite is that kids should probably not get any homework before high school, but if they do, they should get no more than 10 minutes per grade-level.
This book, along with every homeschooling book I've ever read, really got me musing on my childhood and my schooling. I never felt terrible about my schooling. I think I had a pretty good education from K-8 grade and I know I got an excellent one from 9-12 grade.
I still have recurring nightmares about having to go back to high school (plaid skirt and all) and repeat Algebra. I have to remind myself when I wake up that now I have a terminal degree and truly never have to take Algebra again.
I had a great algebra teacher, I truly did. She even appreciated me for all my non-Math skills and gifts. I even think she liked me as a person. But she just couldn't teach the likes of me in a normal classroom setting. I was simply never going to get it without serious personal help. And so, when I was failing Algebra II, I asked her for extra help and she refused. She told me I was not turning in complete homework assignments, and given my failure to do my own work, she wasn't going to do extra on her end.
Her logic seemed fair at the time and I still think that according to her lights, it was fair. She was right about me in her assessment that I was more than bright enough to do well in algebra but needed to work harder than I was used to working in any other class. But she was wrong that I could pull myself up by my bootstraps or simply buckle down and get to work if I stopped my laziness.
I needed a coach.
So I took advantage of the "Math Resource Center" at school and the grad student tutor who staffed it. (Her name was Shannon and she was Hawaiian. I saw this as a Sign. I was right!) For weeks I spent hours in the resource center getting that tutor to coach me one-on-one through my homework and studying for quizzes and tests and I made straight A's on everything for the rest of the term, pulling my F up to a C+ (and the highest grade I ever got in HS math).
What does this have to do with homework?
The homework book says that 5 math problems is better than 40. If a student can get five right, she has shown adequate mastery to move on. If a student can't get five right, 35 more is going to be a miserable, overwhelming, demoralizing experience and only give the student exercise in doing it wrong.
When I read that, boy did it strike a chord. That's why I wasn't turning in my homework. I couldn't figure out the first two or three problems and continuing on for 30, 35, 40 or 50 more was just unthinkable. Impossible. I really, honestly couldn't do it after mere classroom instruction.
I have hated Math with an unrelenting passion ever since 3rd grade when the impossible homework started and it makes me so sad--especially now that I see what simple joy Nat is taking in numbers. I want not just to encourage her, but somehow identify even slightly with her joy.
But I digress. When I wasn't doing my Math homework, guess what I was doing? I was reading my way through the Penguin Classics section of my father's bookstore. And I was, often enough, getting in trouble for practicing this leisure activity when I was supposed to be doing homework.
The homework book says parents should write notes to teachers that say something like this:
"Dear Wonderful Teacher Whom our Child Adores, We know you are a professional who knows best, but after 5 math problems, it was clear to us that our child understands the math and rather than making her do 40 more, we wanted to let her get back the book she's been reading on her own this week. We believe reading is very important and hate to discourage her. Signed, supportive, respectful parents."
That blew me away. Mind you, just because I say I got in trouble for reading doesn't mean I was actually discouraged from it. My father did own a bookstore after all. It's just that reading was so taken-for-granted in our family that I came to see it on the same level as t.v. It was a fun leisure activity and anything you enjoyed that much must not be okay to do until you've finished your math homework and your chores, right? So I love the idea of telling a teacher that my kid couldn't do her homework because she was too busy reading!
The more I read about homeschooling the more I think back on how much dumb stuff I did in school and how much time was wasted--even in my good schools in my expensive education. I spent the better part of my 7th grade social studies class memorizing state and national capitals (many of which have changed numerous times since then, of course) and the order of the terms of the U.S. presidents. I got B's instead of A's in that class because I couldn't memorize facts in a void very well and did a mediocre job on the tests over this stuff.
In the homeschooling book above, Rivero gives as an example of a course of study a kid around 7th grade age might do, reading a biography of each U.S. president. And at the end of the year, if the kid can't quite recall the exact order they all came in? Who the heck cares. But she probably will be able to, given all the context she'll have gotten on history and society and politics via those biographies.
When blowing off my homework I also used to sneak off to the local art gallery with sketch materials and sit and draw statues in the corridors for hours. I used to write short stories and poems in my journals. In short, I did stuff that would pretty much qualify as homeschooling in my "spare" time while getting mediocre grades in school because I blew off busy work (and algebra until that tutor). I graduated last of the top half of my class in high school (somewhere around 160th), while my ten best friends were all in the top 15 (including the top two).
Everyone shook their heads and tsk-tsked ("everyone" meaning my hardworking good-grade-getting peers) and went off to fancy colleges while I went an hour north of home to Small Baptist U. But Small Baptist U. sent me to Oxford for a year which I wouldn't trade for an extra decade of life on this planet, so that was all for the best.
And the homeschool book points out that when a kid wants something--say, admission to a certain college--a kid will be able to do what she needs to do--including finding an algebra tutor, for example--to meet the requirements of that goal.
Thinking about all of this gets me so excited to homeschool. It gets me excited about giving my girls a chance to follow their own strongest interests, to work hard with good coaches on stuff that doesn't come as easily, to learn for myself all kinds of wonderful things as they are learning. But these books also have a healing effect on this unshakeable shame that has been sitting in my gut most of my life for not having done better by working harder in school. I feel vindicated and actually glad that I was so "lazy" that I set aside work that didn't interest me for what I can now recognize as self-directed learning in subjects that were not only more fun at the time, but have made a significant contribution to the best parts of who I am today. BAsically, I am learning that it is okay to prioritize learning what is fun to learn. Fun doesn't mean "bad for you."
I know there are great schools, wonderful teachers and kids who thrive with and in them in the world. But for my family and me, nothing seems as exciting as the infinite possibilities of homeschooling. I am planning to start a homeschool journal where I record what we do every day, starting in the fall when Nat is about three and a half. Basically, I want to make sure that we hit certain things weekly. Some will be through classes and some will be at home and some will be via "field trips." There are big changes afoot chez LilySea that make these prospects even more exciting, but I won't tell you the details of those today.
/Insert your own conclusion here. I must get to bed./
ETA: If you're looking to read up on homeschooling, I started a couple of years ago with John Holt's Teach Your Own, as recommended by Dawn and I recommend it too! I also like the Big Classical Homeschooling Book, The Well-Trained Mind.