Homework or none? Parents still have role

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What is your view on that familiar and well-rooted part of school life -- homework? Do you consider it essential to your child's academic progress and enrichment or do you recall times when it conflicted with family schedules or seemed too repetitive or boring?

Some parents might take it for granted while others question its value. Two fathers, both closely involved with schools, recently spoke about homework assignments. Their divergent opinions show the range of positions existing on this subject.

The first man, a former headmaster of a private school in Connecticut, argues against any type of homework.

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"Homework has become an educational ritual which can't be supported by research in the United States," he cautions, recalling a father who admitted his disappointment in receiving only a "C" on a poem he wrote for his son.

Besides parents doing the assignments, he found homework abused by cheating, busywork exercises, and children's endless excuses such as, "The cat ate it" or "My little brother lost it." This educator finally eliminated homework at the school and reported the consequences were good, except for a few shocked parents.

The policy, however, did not leave an educational vacuum. Homework was turned into work at home which involved pertinent learning and family cooperation. "Parents can assign activities which correspond to current family events, such as writing letters to relatives or learning about taxes," he recommends.

A more traditional view was stated by the second father, currently the principal of our public elementary school. He advocates homework from the first grade on as a regular activity. But teachers, children, and parents have a role to play if it's going to be a meaningful part of school, he says. Teachers should treat assignments as an extension of the classroom work and not use it to introduce new material.

Homework that is "maintenance" in reading and math builds skill and increases speed.Research projects that involve a thought process -- reading, absorbing, putting information into one's own words -- help students summarize what they've read. Above all, a teacher should be consistent about checking work, noting its completeness and accuracy.

These are worthy goals, but there are greater ones which perhaps only a student can measure. They include accepting responsibility, honesty and perseverance, management of time, and developing confidence in one's ability.

A parent's role is clearly supportive. Providing study materials and constructive suggestions are helpful, but don't give the answers! This is a disservice to children, holding back their progress and confidence.

There aren't any clear-cut answers to the homework question. What parents can do is look beyond the daily dose of assignments to examine their goals and purpose. A director of school instruction sums it up this way: "Homework has merit if it develops good work habits and a love of reading outside the school."

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