Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Homework Conundrum

I hate homework. Granted, it's been several years since I had any assigned to me directly (hey, I went to grad school. When I say "several" I don't mean "dozens." I mean, like, eight.). But as if to help me appreciate the misery that my middle- and high-school-aged sons must suffer, teachers make sure to pile on the homework so that no kid can really do it alone. Invariably, they will start off fine. But before long, they need to call in reinforcements. Read: Mom, just as she's starting to cook dinner.

This year, however, has been different. Ben comes home, sits down, takes out his planner and his books and gets to work. When he says he's done, I pop onto the computer and log in to the school website, click on his name and check all the assignments he has due tomorrow, listed by class.

"Ooh. Science test tomorrow. Did you study?"
"Yep, we studied in class."
"OK, we'll review after dinner. Math worksheet?"
"Done." Holds it up.
"Spanish vocabulary words list?"
"Done." Holds it up.
"Did you start your music paragraph on jazz yet?"
"I started it at school, but it's not due 'til Friday. I'll finish it tomorrow."

And I brush the computer dust from my hands as he heads outside to play.

Jacob, however, is in high school. They use a different grading system, which means the assignments can't be posted on the school calendar site the way Ben's can. This year, it's up to Jacob to write it all down, keep track of it and get it done. And he has stated categorically that he hates homework and doesn't see the value in it.

But with my ignorance of the assignments, and the inability to check them, I have to take him at his word when he says the work is done. The fact that he's a sophomore means he should be mature enough to handle the responsibility. I mean really, what 15-year-old needs his mother nagging him about his homework? I was excited to have a hands-off year with him, finally.

Until the grades started showing up.

"Um, hey Jacob. What's with this chemistry homework grade?"
"Oh, yeah, that. I didn't realize it was two pages so I didn't do the back."
"Hey Jacob, what's with this math homework grade?"
"Oh, I didn't realize it was due today."

Etcetera, etcetera. Control freak that I am, I went a little crazy. Crazy to the point of lecturing every day, threatening to take away privileges, following him around the house and telling him he couldn't possibly be done with his homework because he had hardly done any at all and I'd better not see another bad grade or else blah, blah, blah.

It was so effective that I managed to end every afternoon in a shouting match with him, and every bedtime became a mutual apology session.

Then the other day I read a quote by Ben Franklin that I loved:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."

And it dawned on me that maybe this new situation is a good thing. Maybe the fact that I can't go on line, see what his assignments are, remind him and nag him and ride him about getting them done is a sign that I need to let go. I need to allow my kids make their own choices and mistakes, regardless of whether I agree with them. Will it impact his ability to get into college? No. Will it ruin the rest of his life? No. So do I need to start World War III over it every single day? Unquestionably no.

Jacob is old enough to do this stuff on his own. And he is the one whose grades will drop if he doesn't figure out how to manage it all. He'll be disappointed in himself when we don't go out to dinner at the end of the quarter to celebrate his making the honor roll. Maybe the only way for him to learn is to let him see what happens when he does the work on his own, and when he doesn't.

Maybe homework does have some redeeming educational value after all.