The Christian Science Monitor/Tony Avelar
Homework help often falls on the shoulders of the nearest parent. Sabine Steck helps her kids with homework at their home in San Diego, California, on November 19, 2010.

Homework help is overwhelming for some parents

Helping with homework is too much for some moms and dads, but others say after-school worksheets will help kids in the long run.

The words slip off the tongue of the dad who triages a math assignment from his corner office or the mother who darts home from work to review dozens of spelling words: Stop the homework insanity!

I’ve uttered those words myself, often late at night after my daughter is melting down from hours of math problems on top of essays and chapter outlines. Ask almost any parent, and they will tell you that the volume of homework that fills their kid’s agenda is overwhelming.

To rebel, books and websites have been dedicated to the Stop Homework movement, urging letter writing campaigns and teacher confrontation. Last week, I read about a woman who bragged that her grade school daughter had never done a lick of homework. Each year, the mom sits down with the teacher and principal and explains that her daughter will pay attention, get stellar grades and perform well on tests but she will not do homework. She tells the school they can alert her if intervention is required. Somehow, this has worked.

Yet I’m wondering if we’re taking the wrong approach. Is the homework insanity we complain about as working parents, the key to preparing our kids for the workplace of the future?

One father I know convincingly argues that homework, even volumes, is critical preparation for career success. “It’s not realistic for us to raise kids to think they’re going to work 9 to 5, leave and they’re done,” he said. “These kids are going to need to be well prepared to handle all the meetings and projects and emails that come at them in the workplace.”

Clearly, there are new rules we play by in the workplace today. If you want a decent job that will lead to a decent life, you have to work harder and smarter. Workplace experts say the next generation of workers will need to be innovators, problem solvers, open-minded risk-takers with the ability to learn new things, adapt to new work situations and maintain high productivity.

“The onus will be on workers to structure their time,” said Lynn Karoly, a senior economist with RAND Corp. who has studied the future workforce. From her own kids’ homework experience, Karoly said she’s seen a shift, with teachers giving short and long-term assignments, team projects and verbal presentations. “That’s indicative of the way students are expected to learn and the skills they will need in the workforce.”

Tell that to Debbie Regent, a mother of two girls, 14 and 10, who says homework stress is ruining her life. After a day of work, she arrives home to several hours of homework supervision. “There is a value to reinforcing what you learned that day through homework. There is not value in torturing a kid with five pages of math problems, when they have other classes with homework assignments as well.” Regent, a campaign executive with the Jewish National Fund, asserts that homework, much of which is just busywork, not only keeps kids from needed down time, it burdens parents, too.

Today, most working parents juggle multiple responsibilities at work, home, in the community and even as coaches on the soccer field. I suggested to Regent that our kids will be better prepared for their juggling act. “You could say we’re trying to prepare them for a society where everyone is having heart attacks or is on some kind of drug for stress. If you call the real world a stressful, frustrating place, then I guess there’s a point to be had there.”

Cristy Leon-Rivero, vice president of marketing and human resources at Miami-based Navarro Discount Pharmacy, says that homework teaches responsibility, work ethic and time management — critical skills for workplace success. Today, with laptops and smartphones, few of us truly leave work behind when we exit the office. “I think it boils down to one word — discipline,” said Leon-Rivero, a mother of three. “We’re teaching our children from a young age that they have responsibilities and that their actions carry consequences and hard work will lead to results.”

Josh Merkin, a Miami public relations professional, offers a different prospective: “Generations coming up don’t want to work as hard but they will have to work even harder. If they are better prepared, it’s not because of homework.”

In fact, Merkin, father of five kids ranging from 13 to 3, asserts that homework, originally intended to reinforce learning, often gets assigned on concepts students aren’t being taught and are expected to learn on their own. He believes the unnecessary volume often forces kids to give up sports or other extracurricular activities that teach teamwork and other workplace critical skills.

The new generation of worker provides some perspective. Lindsay Parkinson, 22 and on the job as a nurse since July, said she sees value in having slogged through homework assignments. “I learned early on what happens if you procrastinate.” Parkinson said she and many of her friends are entering workplaces that are short-staffed. “There’s a lot expected of us and we know how to prioritize. We’re prepared for that.”

Still, Parkinson says she’s not an advocate of volumes of homework, agreeing with Merkin that it needs to be given in moderation.

Meanwhile, countless reports reveal the 20-somethings entering the workplace today put a higher value than other generations on work-life balance. It makes me wonder: Is this pushback? Are the next generation of workers burned out from years of homework insanity and college pressure by the time they land a job?

Alyssa Alonso, a 24-year-old Bay Harbor Islands, Fla., police dispatcher, says she and most of her friends will admit, even if they love their jobs, “life outside of work is way more important.” Many have entered professions where they’re expected to respond to email or client calls at all hours and take home paperwork. “We have the work ethic and we’re prepared to handle it,” she said, “but we want to avoid it as much as possible.”

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