Wake up! It’s Time for Your Sleeping Pill!

Sam and Susie meet every day at noon at their brightly lit, air conditioned gym. While walking on adjacent treadmills, they pass a bottle of designer water back and forth, chatting amicably about their families or events of the day. Sometimes they'll watch a favorite show on one of the abundant flat screen televisions while they lift weights. Sam and Susie chat about how many calories they've burned and how happy they are that they're staying fit. They agree that the greatest gift you can give to your kids is to stay healthy.

Kevin and Clarissa meet every day at noon on a dusty field littered with broken beer bottles. They carry CBS blocks back and forth in the heat of the Miami summer until their fingers bleed. Kevin and Clarissa do not understand why they are exercising or what the benefits might be. They carry the heavy blocks back and forth, avoiding the shards of glass, because they are told to do so. A paternalistic figure has said something they didn't quite understand about "bad cholesterol" and has threatened them with negative consequences should they put down their bricks. They are not allowed to speak.

Sam and Susie love "physical education." They look forward to their workout, the chance to stay healthy, chat, catch up on their TV shows, feel good about their progress.

Kevin and Clarissa not so much.

Is there a difference between these two workouts? Is there a difference between making love on your honeymoon, thinking about starting a family and, on the other hand, hitting a woman over the head and raping her in an alley?

***

At bed time, five year-old Katie brings her father Fox in Socks, their favorite book, and snuggles up under his arm. Dad reads "When tweetle beetles fight, it's called a tweetle beetle battle." Katie giggles and pulls her blanket closer to her chest. Dad says, "If you pull the blanket, then we can see our toes.

Next door, a mother shouts at her kindergartener: "Eight o'clock! Bed! Now!"

Fast forward ten years. Katie's geometry teacher is using the "If, then" construct. "If three points are non-collinear, then they determine a unique plane." Katie's computer science teacher is also talking about "If, then statements" in programming. So is Katie's philosophy teacher. Katie is as comfortable with "If, then" as she is with snuggling with her dad and a tweedle beedle battle.

The kid next door? Again, not so much.

Which brings us--finally, you might say--to the subject of homework.

Why homework?

In a perfect world, homework is about learning. Kids who are excited to know what happens next in "The Giver," "Island of the Blue Dolphins," and "The Hobbit," will race home and read chapter after chapter. If they are not impeded by vacuous quizzes asking them to prove they've read only a certain chapter on a certain day, if they are not annoyed with stopping to write definitions of vocabulary words, if they are not tasked with dissecting and desiccating the books, they'll read, reflect, and learn.

In a perfect world, homework is about a shared journey, a teacher and a student both of whom are interested in knowing how the world works, walking together in the direction of the joy of discovery.

In the real world, is the purpose of homework is to engender a love of learning? Probably not. Is the purpose of homework to help students learn? Nah. The purpose of homework is to demonstrate power and control, to give administrators a way to say, "Gotcha!" The purpose of homework is to allow teachers to say, "It's not my fault, Timmy didn't do well on the exam; he didn't do his homework."

Well, of course, Timmy didn't do his homework. If he was able to do his homework--the mind numbing worksheets, the repetitive silliness--he wouldn't need to do it.

Homework is boring for kids who already know what they're doing. Homework is unhelpful for kids who don't.

In homes across the country, kids are learning, exploring, creating. They are coloring, trying to learn how to read, deriving their own meaning from their experience, wondering about how things work, trying to make sense of it all. They are learning from their parents, they are learning from their peers, they are learning by themselves. They are learning because they want to. Every child wants to learn. Until someone gives them a homework assignment. With homework--"read only chapter two;" "do addition not subtraction;" "write these words ten times;" "memorize the names of the 67 counties in Florida"--comes an agenda of power and control. Learn this how I say, when I say and for no apparent reason. All over our communities, children have to stop learning--in order to do homework.

Wake up! It's time to take your sleeping pill!

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