Whose homework is it, anyway?
Although most parents would agree that the answer to that question is simple, veteran teacher Martha Wood says the reality is much more complicated.
"When kids bring home an ambitious project and only do a so-so job on it, many parents can't resist tinkering with it just a little."
But, she adds, this isn't in anyone's best interest. "It's the child's work. Sometime he's going to have to learn to do it himself."
The experts agree. In his book "Homework Without Tears," Lee Canter devotes an entire chapter to this problem, entitled, "Children Must Do Homework on Their Own."
Recognizing that it goes against a parent's instincts to deny a child's plea for help, he states unequivocally, "the best help you can give your child is to encourage him to do the homework on his own."
He goes even further in his admonitions against getting too involved in a child's homework. "By doing work for him, you are confirming his belief that he's not capable of doing the work on his own."
Christine Brown, a professional tutor and parent of four children, says she will step in with gentle suggestions, but tries not to cross that delicate line. "It's too easy to do it for them. They have to learn themselves, even their mistakes."
Sometimes, she says, it's all she can do to let her third-grade daughter turn in sloppy or incorrect homework, "but if I try to tell her it's wrong or should look better, she won't listen to me, anyway." Mrs. Brown adds that she hopes that in a few years, when the grades start to really matter, her child will have learned to take pride in her work.
In the case of older children or more complicated projects, Brown points out that it's up to the school to keep the playing field level and stop parents from helping their offspring turn in professional-quality work that they haven't done themselves.
"It makes me really angry when I go to school and see the wide disparity between some of the projects. You know perfectly well the parents have done most of the work." She adds that sadly, in that situation, the child who did his own work and who should take the most pride often gets upstaged and feels just the opposite.
But Ms. Wood ruefully points out the other side of the coin. In the good old days before computers and laser printers, a teacher easily could sniff out too much parental participation.
"Now," she muses, "what with spellcheck, grammarcheck and the Internet added to these gorgeous table-top publishing setups, you don't know who's doing the work for sure. A first-grader could turn out something publishing quality just by pressing some buttons."