Where Is Your Homework, Lisa?
Is Homework Really That Important?
I no longer teach in public schools, but for what seems like 100 years, I did. During my long career, I did the best I knew how to do at the time, based on where I was in life, and what I had learned about teaching.
In parenting and teaching both, however, we sometimes learn things too late. If only I could go back, I would do many things differently. One thing I would handle differently would be homework.
Today, I?m going to address an issue that raises the hair on the heads of many people: Homework. Homework is so revered in our culture that to oppose it can almost result in being one declared a heretic.
I?m going to tell you about the proverbial straw that prompted me to end homework forever. (That is, except for optional homework I gave so that the kids whose parents wanted something to occupy their kids at home other than television had something constructive to do.)
One day, I heard ?.
?Help! Help my mommy! He's beating her! And he took the baby! Help!?
Those are words of a real little girl named Lisa, who called 911 in California when her father was in one of his violent rages. A tape of the actual phone call was played at a domestic violence meeting I attended some years back in Atlanta.
We listened as the six year old child cried and begged the police to get to her mommy before it was too late. We could hear sounds in the background that reminded us the situation was both urgent and real.
I could almost picture the woman being slammed to the ground as her drunken husband held the baby above her with a smirk, reminding her that he would take that baby and she'd never see him again if she didn't get up and do as he ordered right that minute.
The police arrived, and the tape ended. My face felt wet with tears that did not stop when the speaker hit the stop button.
As I sat there, my "teacher" mind started thinking. If that little girl was in a typical classroom, the next morning, Lisa would walk into her class at school, pretending all was well. Even at age six, she knew how to play the game.
And then, before long, the teacher would ask for homework. Lisa would look through her bookbag, hoping that somehow, the homework would magically appear. But of course, the miracle she needed right then didn't happen. (She needed that miracle much more the previous night, but that?s a whole different issue.)
A moment later, she'd hear her name called. She'd go to the teacher's desk, and the teacher would speak to her firmly. "Lisa? I don't see your homework. Where is it? Did you forget to do it again?"
Lisa would lower her head, nodding nervously. "Yes, mam," she'd say.
"Lisa, I don't know what we're going to do with you, but I can tell you right now that at this rate, you are going to make an F on your report card. You won't do your homework. I have six zeros written in my grade-book for you, and this is only the second week of the quarter," the teacher informs Lisa.
Lisa says nothing, but inside, she feels her little body tensing up.
"Lisa!" the teacher snarls. "I spoke to you. WHY won?t you do your homework? You certainly won?t pass first grade if you keep this up! What happened to the note that I sent home to your parents? Did you show it to them? I bet you didn't, because I know your dad, and I know he'd see that you did your homework if he knew what was going on."
Lisa's eyes get big, and she starts to speak but she cannot get any words out.
"Lisa! WHERE IS THE NOTE I SENT HOME YESTERDAY?" the teacher says. Lisa hears snickering sounds coming from the other students, who probably are relieved that SHE is the one getting in trouble, not them.
"Ummm .... I have it at home. I forgot to show it to my mom, but I will tonight," Lisa says.
"You forgot? Bring that note AND the homework back tomorrow!" the teacher replies. "Or else!"
All of a sudden, the lights came on and I realized that the meeting was over. I was not in the mood to socialize with the other attendees. All I could focus on was getting out of the meeting.
I had been learning towards ending homework for my students, but after I heard that tape, I knew I would never make an issue of homework again. For all I knew, every child in the classroom could be living through similar nightmares at home. In the big scheme of life, is homework REALLY that important?
Quote for the week: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." - Henry Thoreau (1817-1862)
I wish you peace.
Karyl Chastain Beal
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