In a post this week about how parents can and should back off homework collaboration, a reader brought up an excellent point: Many schools won’t let us.
Rick Ackerly, a former principal and author of the newly published “The Genius in Every Child,” was adamant that “The child is responsible to the teacher for the homework. Generally, the parental role is to be doing their own work nearby in the event that children want to ask for help, and not to interfere with the consequences of not doing their homework.”
He went on to talk about what intervening can lead to: a lack of confidence and, perhaps, even a misunderstanding about the difference between collaboration and cheating. (See recent Harvard cheating scandal, when students who were caught seemed confused about what they had done wrong.)
A frustrated parent almost immediately responded to Ackerly’s advice:
“Please have Mr. Ackerly speak to the teachers at my daughter’s former elementary school. They very clearly explained that it was the parents’ responsibility to make sure homework was completed and correct — they were too busy moving on to the next lesson to do so. We didn’t even need to send it back in.
“And: if the kids fell behind in any of the units, we needed to practice with them at home to catch them up. And we had to teach/drill multiplication tables; they only had a week for the entire multiplication unit (to stay on schedule), so we were told to drill the kids nightly for a month or so to help them get their multiplication facts down.
I will be extremely glad to treat homework as my kids’ responsibility — that’s the way I grew up, after all. But seems like the teachers didn’t get the message.”
This is an all-too-common predicament.
I went back to Ackerly and asked him to respond to that and to the other comments, many of which complained that schools are asking parents to become overly involved in homework. Below is an edited version of his response.
“In the first place, a curriculum is the medium for leading each child’s genius out into the world to function creatively, effectively and gracefully within it. The goals for our children are self-determination, self-discipline, resilience, confidence in problem-solving ability. Mastery of an academic curriculum is a by-product of education not education itself. Schools that ignore the main goals of education compromise the children’s academic performance,” he wrote.
As for the specific problem of a teacher expecting a parent to drill their child, he said: “This kind of intrusion into your home is like the metastasizing of a cancer from one organ to another. It is bad enough for schoolwork to be oppressive (it doesn’t need to be) at school alone, but it is completely unacceptable for the school to be making home handle what it can’t seem to do on its own ...
“Kids need parents at home and teachers at school, otherwise they are surrounded, and it can become destructive of some other important things like love of learning, love of life, even love of self.
He went on: “Another symptom of our the problem in schools today is that for the last 20 years, all too many so-called educators have been blaming the parents for how kids behave in school. A professional takes responsibility and attributing fault is the prime symptom of not taking responsibility.
“What would we think of a dentist who said something like: ‘How do you expect me to deal with these teeth when your nutrition is so bad?’
What do you think? Are school expectations turning more of us into helicopter parents? If so, how can we fend off the pressure?