Homework is stupid and Ms. A is mean
“Argh!” I exclaimed in the direction of my four-year-old son’s homework Tuesday evening.
Li’l D looked up at me wide-eyed. “Are you frustrated because I’m doing it wrong?” he asked.
“No, no, sweetie,” I told him while reaching to ruffle his hair. “I’m frustrated that you have homework.”
We had a short but candid conversation about why I dislike homework. I explained that my problem wasn’t with his teacher, Ms. A, or his school’s principal, Miss N, but with the school system for which they’re trying to prepare him.
I believe in open discussion with kids, but there are some risks. In this case, I was pretty sure my son would report some version of the conversation to his teacher. The question was, which one?
My son answered my question shortly after we pulled away from his preschool yesterday.
“Do I have to do homework tonight?” he asked.
“Nope. We’re checking out a different school tonight.”
“Oh, okay,” he said. After a moment’s pause, he added, “I told Ms. A you said homework is stupid and she’s mean.”
And there it was: his version of our conversation! “Did you tell her anything else?”
“Nope, that’s it!” he reported cheerfully.
This morning I spotted his teacher on the playground and relayed yesterday evening’s discussion with Li’l D. Li’l D, who usually growls at me when I try removing him from the playground, surprisingly opted to skip playing and instead wrap himself up in my dress this way and that as I talked to Ms. A.
I gave her a more complete overview of my discussion with Li’l D. I explained that we’re considering alternative educational opportunities, and why. The biggest part of this is how Li’l D is starting to see “education” as “obnoxious hoops I have to jump through” instead of “the exciting process of learning about the world,” a change I absolutely do not want to take root.
I’m not interested in pushing him through the “right” preschool to the “right” kindergarten all the way through to the “right” college. I believe emphasizing one “right” path has powerful, hurtful potential to blind children to the prospect of shaping their own individual paths. I want to encourage my son to make his own path, and to find joy in seeking it. I believe that enthusiasm for learning–not hours of worksheets–will be the foundation for his success in life.
When I wrote my popular “What report cards can’t report” post, some commenters expressed concern with teachers. Others believed I was attacking teachers. That was absolutely not my intention, as I explained in this short follow up. I expressed the same to Ms. A this morning, saying I’m grateful she’s been Li’l D’s teacher and that I’ll miss her deeply if we do take him down an alternative educational path.
I stepped away after Ms. A and I wrapped up our heartfelt conversation. Li’l D ran into the school and waved at me through a window. He shouted “I love you!” and made a heart shape with his hands as I have done for him through that exact window for the last many months. I returned his gesture, and then blew him a kiss before wandering away feeling a little discomfited.
Change is hard even when it’s good.
Li’l D immediately loved the school we visited last night. He spent an hour exploring maybe one-quarter of the classroom before his dad and I were finally able to shuffle his very tired self out the door and toward bed.
If further assessment supports it, Li’l D will soon change schools. He’ll do so because it seems like the best long-term choice for him. It will be right, even if it feels a little wrong to my change-averse self.
I wish I could talk all this through with my mom, who dedicated herself foremost to her children’s education. She was already thinking about college when I, her eldest, was in diapers. Wrote her friend Shannon:
She once told me that with the circumstances you all possessed, you would qualify for aid to any college and any course of study you ever wanted. At the time, my children were so young that I had not even looked that far down the road, but she had.
My mom pushed for my siblings and I to go to schools that would challenge us in right-for-us ways, and successfully fought each of the teachers who tried to get us designated “special needs” because our ways of learning didn’t always fit inside pre-constructed boxes. She was determined to push us out of poverty and into easier living.
I want to ask her, “What’s right here, Mom? What would you do?” I ache that I can’t; she’s been gone for four years. And yet, in the very act of pursuing alternatives, I feel stirrings of my mom inside me. She didn’t know the right answers, either. She did her best to find them with what she had, and I believe time has shown her best worked wonderfully.
I don’t remember any individual discussions my mom had with teachers, though I was there for many of them. What I do remember is the feeling of her advocacy, and the powerful sense it instilled in me that I was worthy of advocacy.
When my son started preschool, I told myself to remember:
He is not walking away from me,
but toward who he is meant to be.
Who is he meant to be? I’m not sure, but more so, I’m not sure it’s important I’m sure. What feels much more important is encouraging him to discover and shape that.
I wish there were a pamphlet that would point me the right way for him. There isn’t. So, listening, watching, assessing, and discussing with my husband, I will strive to take comfort in knowing I am doing the best I can with what I have and setting an example–as my mom once did–for my kids to do the same.
Whatever twists and turns lie ahead, my son will also benefit from knowing he is worthy of advocacy . . . yes, even when he tells his teachers Mom says homework is stupid and they’re mean.