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Kindergarten Homework is Absurd

The Valentine train he drew instead of the homework

Published in ChicagoNow, February 19, 2015

My grandson has kindergarten homework. Starting in January, he receives a weekly homework packet that is due every Monday. I guess that’s a good due day because, like 64% of mothers with young kids, my daughter works. At least she has the weekend to force him to complete it. Because my grandson can’t do this homework without parental support and intervention, it has turned into a battle.

Like most 5-year-old boys, my grandson would rather be doing something with his family like building a Lego construction, going to the zoo, or even playing at a park. Instead, he cries about spending 3-4 hours every weekend doing his homework. And he has become a homework-hater before he even is able to read the directions for himself.

One part of his weekly homework focuses on “reading comprehension.” He is instructed to “visualize” what is happening in a story in his mind, draw a picture of what he visualized when he was reading the story, and write a sentence about his “illustration.”

Since I was visiting last weekend, I thought he and I could easily do this part. He loves to draw and I brought him a set of solid tempera crayons, which are huge fun by the way. My daughter had already read him a book about a garbage truck. He had already drawn a very detailed train and rocket ship. How hard could it be to get him to draw the garbage truck?

Turns out it was very hard. In fact, it was an epic fail. When I told him to visualize the garbage truck, he said,

I wanted to draw a train valentine and a rocket ship. I can’t even visualize. My brain does not know how to visualize. But I can draw lots of pictures because I have so many ideas in my head.”

I’m not going to touch that quote. My grandson is much smarter than the textbook company that designed this homework for a child his age. So I just watched him draw picture after picture, and he told me stories about all of them. He just refused to draw that garbage truck. It wasn’t in his head. And he declined to write a sentence about any of his “illustrations” because, as he told me, he doesn’t know how to write yet.

What he would rather be doing than his homework

As a firm believer in developmentally appropriate education, I am disheartened by what has happened to education since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became law under President Bush in 2002, followed by Race to the Top (RTTT) under President Obama. Right now, Congress is debating the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is basically the same thing as NCLB and RTTT.

A policy memo published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) calls for moving education away from the high stakes testing model that has been in place for the past 13 years. Actual data reveal that it hasn’t worked. The problem isn’t fixing the tests, but rather making them cease to be the focus of teaching our kids.

I will write more about this important NEPC position paper in my next blog, featuring more examples of my grandson’s kindergarten homework. But the very notion that a child this young should be doing homework, let alone the quality and content of what is assigned, is a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the way we are attempting to educate kids.

Eventually, my grandson was cajoled into drawing that garbage truck and printing, “I love trash” under it. My daughter told him what he had to draw and spelled out “trash.” He knew how to spell “love” because he had written it on drawings dedicated to the special people in his life. Both of them were pleased, not with the work but rather with the fact that it was done and he could go back to creating an amazing Lego rocket.

Is this how the politicians and business leaders behind the so-called education reform movement gripping our schools would want/have wanted their own kids taught in kindergarten? More importantly, if they had been taught this way, would they have become the successful people they are today?


by Laurie Levy
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