When my daughter was in grade school she would carry on to beat the band about her Summer homework packet. I was a member of The Board of Education at the time and she exhausted a great deal of time and energy constructing arguments aimed at encouraging me to take up the mantle against the stupidity of Summer work. I pointed out that the work could have been completed already if she had devoted the same amount of time and energy on just flipping doing the damn thing, as she had on constructing the arguments against what she perceived as the injustice of having to do Summer work at all. While I do remember being impressed by some of her points, I regret that I don’t recall the specifics all these years later, most just ended up being one variation or another on the same old theme: “I shouldn’t have to do homework because it’s Summer”.
While I hate being wrong, I will admit when I am; a quality I find refreshing, but scarce, in others. Ah, well, not everyone can be as perfect as I am. So, here it is. I am admitting that I was wrong about Summer work. What began, as I recall, as a well-meaning attempt to address the “forgetting curve”, particularly in subject areas like math and science, has evolved into something altogether different.
I am not opposed to self-directed learning, especially for kids who are capable of such, but the depth and the breadth of my daughter’s Summer assignments have, over the past few years, exceeded what any student should be expected to learn on his or her own. I’m no fan of “busy work” either; that’s just a waste of time, money, and energy. Seriously, though, find some middle ground or scrap the whole experiment (frankly, I’m in favor of scrapping, but what the hell do I know?).
Thus far she has completed the packets for Pre-Calculus and Physics (she knows that she is on her own in these subject areas, as I don’t even know what the hell they are). For the past two weeks she has been doing the reading for History. There was a great deal of moaning and groaning associated with this activity, but I was unsympathetic (as usual). I should have been more sympathetic. More sympathetic than I have ever been in my life, as it turns out. Let me say, once again, that I was wrong. With a capital W.
She was struggling with the essay, so I agreed to help her. This is when I discovered, only moments before I nearly fell over, that the assignment consisted of writing a 1,500 word critical AND persuasive essay on civil disobedience as evidenced in “Antigone” (Yes. THAT “Antigone”) using AT LEAST six primary supplemental reading sources. Additionally, each paragraph had to include a minimum of four quotes from four different sources, blah, blah, blah,blah, blah. There was more, but that’s enough. You get the picture, right? I have a B.A. in History and I don’t think my senior thesis had that many requirements (of course I’m exaggerating… a little)!
Civil disobedience is an extremely complex issue. Ask anyone on The Supreme Court. Requiring a junior in high school (it’s an AP class, but still) to discuss its relationship to a classic Greek text written 2,400 years ago and, by the way, work in some John Locke, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and a couple of lesser known legal scholars, while she’s at it. Well, that’s just patently ridiculous. I was tempted to tell her to go ahead and be civilly disobedient by not doing this crazy assignment, but she patiently pointed out to me that one of the tenets of civil disobedience is a willingness to suffer the consequences of ones actions; she was unwilling to take a zero, so she had to do the work.
So, guess how I spent my day? Brushing up on my social philosophy and reading some Thoreau and Sophocles, that’s how. I also helped her with the essay. I figure if we work very hard and put our heads together (because I wouldn’t do it for her even if she would let me), trying all the while to keep the whining and the crying (mostly mine) to a minimum, we should have a handle on this bullshit by Friday.
I was bleary-eyed. Exhausted. I needed some sustenance in the form of sugar or salt; some ice cream or chips. Something. Anything. So, I hit the freezer and the cupboard. My daughter, and I am not kidding, went to hit the books some more AND she thanked me for my help (who is this child? And, more importantly, what did she do with my daughter?). She informed me that due to our efforts today she felt confident that she could start on her last bit of Summer work. It turns out she has to read a few chapters of Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and answer a few reading-related questions for Contemporary Studies. I could blame the fact that my mouth was full of chips, but it was more about how well we got along today and how I just didn’t want to break the spell, that I refrained from telling her that she should have started reading that book last May. I’ve read it. On purpose. Of my own volition (don’t ask; as I feel has been demonstrated, we all make mistakes). They should market it as a cure for insomnia.
I’m no longer a Board of Education member, but I still may take up the “No More Summer Work!” battle cry. Because I was misguided when I supported it. And I was wrong when I told my kid not to whine about it. And I feel that I should try to right this wrong. But, most importantly, because no one should have to do homework because it’s Summer!