Kids' Homework Can Help Families Learn

As an experienced teacher I am writing to express my concerns for the way student homework was handled in "Families Find Homework Is a Tricky Assignment" (Jan 13).

Like all of learning, homework should be viewed in a broad and more enjoyable light. It shouldn't be "tricky," or something we "stay on kids for." Rather, it's a wonderful opportunity for children and parents to work and learn together, and it should be part of a family's plans to experience the satisfaction and enjoyment of learning.

At a time when schools are teaching cooperative learning, it's hard to understand why some experts would say, "the best help you can give your child is to encourage him to do the homework on his own," and "he or she will not be allowed to do anything else until it is done, and follow through." "Monitoring" and providing extrinsic "incentives" is an authoritarian "you versus I" approach of parents struggling with their children, as opposed to a more democratic "we" relationship. Parents may win the short-term struggle only to lose the long-term goal of helping their children and themselves to continually find pleasure in learning.

I advocate quite a different educational approach. Parents should take charge of their children's learning by maintaining individual learning programs. Strategic plans give families "road maps" to celebrate accomplishments and anticipate future successes that produce enthusiasm for learning. Without individual plans, children often learn random bits here and there, some parts overlapping and other parts missing altogether.

Learning can be done anywhere and anytime, and children need more competencies than they can get at school alone. Families should view themselves as learning organizations. As parents share learning pleasures with their children, their own lives will be enriched. They can set and accelerate the learning of their children, and give their youngsters value-added learning experiences during out-of-school time. This will help them to make the best use of the time they do spend in school.

As families learn together, the quality of family living will improve.

AnnMae Johnson

Lino Lakes, Minn.

Author, 'Parents Shape School Success' (Galde Press)

Urban teaching can be worthwhile

In response to the opinion article, "On the Front Line - at School" (Jan. 13): As a high school teacher in Chicago for more than 30 years, I identified with the frustrations that were described - non-attendance, lost books, falling ceilings, indifference to the consequences of misbehavior and failure.

How does one survive as a teacher under such conditions? What are the options? Despair? Indifference? Counting the hours until Friday or the next holiday? Today, more energy and stamina are required than ever before to continue being a "good" teacher. But one does go on because there are occasional moments among all the gloomy ones that make the effort worthwhile. The rate of success may be small, but nothing can beat those moments. When students grow up they come back and say thanks. I hope the author will give teaching another chance some day.

Gretchen Hane


Yes, local schools could use help with more teachers and more classrooms. But I hope the government keeps in mind that the essence of an educated person is a love and habit of reading. I would love to see federal programs that made it possible for schools to have libraries and classrooms overflowing with the wonderful books being published for children and young adults. Children who love reading will sooner or later end up well-educated; they won't be able to help it. As a high school English teacher, I can tell you that the divide between excellent, mediocre, and poor students is their love of reading.

Mary Leonhardt

Concord, Mass.

Author, '99 Ways to Get Kids to Love Reading' (Three Rivers Press)

Your letters are welcome. All letters are subject to editing. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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