The Rest of the Story

If you think no one cares about you, try missing a car payment. If you think no one knows you're alive, see what happens if you overlook your mortgage. Similarly, if you think that homework is about mastery of academic material, just neglect to turn in an assignment. Because homework is not about "did you learn it?" Homework is about "did you do it?" Specifically, homework has to do with power and control. Homework does not have to be exclusively about learning any more than sex has to be only about love.
Do you believe that homework informs teachers whether or not students are learning effectively? When was the last time you heard about a teacher grading homework and determining "I better review this topic?" To the contrary, teachers say "those lazy children chose not do their homework."
As always, it's the fundamental underlying reasons that make all the difference. Even a stray dog knows whether she has been tripped over or kicked. Students are well aware why they are being given homework. If homework is about the joy of learning, I'm all for it. What is life about if not constructing meaning from experience? Is there anything more transformative than understanding that which was previously obscure? More simply, it's great to know "then what happened?"
Know the story of Odysseus and the thrilling dangers of Scylla and Charybdis? So do a billion other people. It's a great yarn. Everybody likes it. Unless of course you're one of the six guys who got eaten by the monster. People have been telling the story of those guys and their journey home for 2500 years. Lots of campfires and lots of living rooms. Everybody wants to know "did Odysseus get to see his 20-year-old dog? What happened next?"
Indeed, the only way to ruin the story of the Odyssey would be to force someone to answer inane reading comprehension questions about it. "How many men did Polyphemus eat?" "What was Circe's email address?" Power and control rather than joy.
Vapid questions prove that students read what they were told, but do little to inspire curiosity or joy. Shared discovery, and exuberance beat curricular goals and quantification in the classroom. Shared purpose and excitement trump behavior management and punishments in the home as well. Homework is frequently "because I said so." A kid doing homework can be about learning in the sense that a kid giving his lunch money to a menacing bully is a "contribution." Compliance implies coercion.
Learning should be about joy. Being a parent should be fun too. If there's anything more enjoyable than reading with your kids and talking about the stories, I don't know what that is. "You Only Live Once" proclaim the tee-shirts. Might as well have some good times for our "three score years and ten." Or as David McKay said, "No amount of success outside the home can compensate for failure within it."
And speaking of the inevitable fast forward in the direction of aging, don't you want your kids to look back on enjoying books rather than having questions about books shoved down their throats? Toward the end of life, our cognitive capabilities typically decline. From my early years, I remember the magic of my dad reading Winnie the Pooh. I have no memory of any worksheets or any reading comprehension questions from that same time period. I remember being forced to read passages; I just don't recall anything I learned from those ill-conceived mimeographed pages. Indeed, the older I get, the less likely I am to remember anything I was forced to learn in school.
Less time spent with "which of the following is the best title of the passage?" is more time for other books. I hear The Iliad holds up pretty well too. Maybe there are some books you loved as a kid that your kids would love too.

5 thoughts on “The Rest of the Story

  1. Joseph Loftin

    David,

    Your posting about homework is excellent! It is time we focus school being a place where the joy of learning is experienced. Just as Bhutan measures societal well being in terms of Gross National Happiness, schools should be dedicated to creating learning environments of creativity and discovery. Well done!

    Joe

    Reply
  2. Joe Meree

    David,
    Great article. One question: How does one have a kid enjoy doing math problems as much as reading a great engaging story? Math problems require lots of repetition. I kinda liked it, but my kid doesn’t.
    Joe

    Reply
  3. Thelma Altshuler

    I guess if you say you don’t remember what you were “forced to learn in school” everyone would agree, but surely some appealing things went on in class, and someone had to choose them. There’s “force” in the choice of one assignment or provocative discussion topic over another. Don’t give up on all authority!

    Reply
  4. Caroline de Posada

    I agree whole-heartedly with this post. One of the dumbest things I’ve seen implemented in schools is a “reading log” where kids are forced to write down the titles of the books they read for their 30 minute time slot. It simply does not provoke a love of reading. So my question is – what can we do about it?

    Reply

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