It's a lingering reminder of countless family tutorial sessions. At times when the combined assignments seemed particularly massive, an inner voice would call to me and say, "Don't you think we should be getting paid for this? Maybe it’s time for homework helpers to organize and take our grievances to Washington!" That notion always faded away by the next morning, which is fortunate because I would have been a terrible lobbyist.
Our homework load reached its peak during the first decade of the new millennium, and I know my feelings were shared by many other families because the subject popped into the mainstream media a few times.
I still have a copy of Newsweek from January 2001 with a headline proclaiming, “The Parent Trap: Is Juggling Your Kids’ Sports, Music, Homework, Etc. Burning You Out?” My household did not experience burnout but we definitely burned a lot of midnight oil.
From fifth grade all the way through 12th, I estimate both parental units spent several hundred hours each school year providing academic assistance to our student. My wife devoted considerable time to helping with Spanish, and I focused mostly on algebra. Having scored 670 on the math SAT back in the olden days, my confidence level started out high and quickly declined. Whatever mathematical talent I possessed as a teenager had mostly vanished.
But all of us pressed on, and I like to believe that if we ever visit Spain, my wife can order our meals in restaurants and I will interpret the bill if it’s presented in scientific notation.
At one point during my battle with math I came to a dead end. It may have involved synthetic division of polynomials but I can’t recall precisely. Determined to regain some of my algebraic skills in order to provide reliable guidance, I went to the teacher and she let me attend her next after-school review session. When I signed in at the office and asked the secretary if other parents had ever come in for similar reasons she said, “You’re the first one I know about.”
Is there any way to measure how much homework kids are doing?
Perhaps some educational foundation can establish a national repository where all completed assignments from every school in the country could be archived and the total mass compared year by year. The logistics would be tricky, and the building itself would need to be about 500 times larger than the Pentagon. One fact I can state with certainty is that parental caustic comments about homework have been part of American culture for at least 60 years.
I know this because recently I was leafing through a book that belonged to my parents and a clipping from the Los Angeles Times fell out. It’s a one-panel cartoon called "The Neighbors," by George Clark and shows a dad sitting at a table helping his son, who is writing in a notebook. Papers are lying on the floor. Mom is in a nearby chair, and the dad looks annoyed as he speaks in her direction. The caption says, “I wonder how I was spending my time when they were teaching this stuff to the rest of my class.”
The coping technique that worked best for me is fairly simple:
A) Try not to get angry (most of the time, anyway).
B) Don’t take it personally when you come up with an incorrect answer.
C) Accept the fact that in the Classroom Of Real Life Parenting, helping your kids with homework will probably always be included in the curriculum.