October 1, 2010

Regents Daily News:
October 1, 2010

The Dreaded “H” Word

Among the most dreaded words in the English language, right up there with plague, traffic, and insurance seminar, is the word homework. Who wants to do homework when the great outdoors is beckoning? Who wants to do homework after a long day buckled to a desk? But then life is filled with things we have to do when we would rather be doing something else.

One day a mother brought her son to Robert E. Lee asking for a blessing. Lee said simply, “Teach him he must deny himself.” That lesson applies throughout life, and homework is good training for it.

But homework has real practical value also. Through homework students gain extra practice on needed skills, especially in math and foreign languages. Sometimes students need to complete work they did not finish at school. At times work outside of class is necessary, especially when students are studying for tests, memorizing, reviewing notes, reading literature, or working on projects. Also, homework affords an opportunity for parents to work directly with their children.

I dislike homework but see it as a necessary expedient. There simply is not enough time in the day to get as much done as we need to. I want evenings to be time for families to be together, for children to play, and for students to pursue other interests. But there has to be some amount of homework for most students, and the need increases as students progress through the curriculum year by year.

The Regents Board has set guidelines for the expected amount of homework most students should take home. The administration and teachers are eager to comply, but consider how difficult the process of assigning homework really is. Teachers have to take into account a host of variables. Teachers must know their students and understand how they differ in terms of ability and pace of work. Teachers must take into account the assignments themselves and how demanding they are. Then teachers have to factor in (very worthwhile) extracurricular activities and the competing demands of other classes. Some students dawdle while other students work efficiently. Some students are content with average grades, while other students will work however long it takes to excel. On top of all that, teachers love their subjects and have very high goals for their students’ education; teachers dream of every student excelling. Good teachers see rigor as good, clean fun.

These are not excuses for teachers assigning piles of homework, but hopefully they illustrate how challenging the process of planning homework is. We have students for at least 7 hours per day. We should be able to get most of what we want to accomplish done during that time. But sometimes it takes more. And sometimes we get it wrong and err toward too much homework.

If the homework load becomes too heavy, I want to know about it. If a child is doing hour after hour of homework, something is probably out of balance. Perhaps the teacher is demanding too much, and their expectations should be adjusted. Or maybe the student is dallying. Possibly the child needs to change the setting for his homework so that he can get his work done more efficiently. And then the stubborn fact remains that some students just might have to work harder to get the assignment done.

Whatever the case, I want to honor two promises to you: first, to deliver an excellent classical and Christian education that demands much while bestowing much, and second, to do so within the bounds of a reasonable and relatively predictable homework load that accords with a child’s frame. It is my goal to keep these two promises from conflicting.

But if they are, let me repeat: I want to know about it. In our effort, as a school, to correct the woefully low standards of contemporary education, we need to beware of overcorrecting, being overly zealous, at our children’s expense.

But for now I will bring this article to an end. The great outdoors is beckoning.

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