I read this and just had to react.
This is the key. “His teachers were wonderful, and thankfully, they made it very clear at the beginning of the year that homework was not supposed to give kids anxiety.” So why was the kid anxious? Did the “mommy” insist that the kid had to do the homework because she didn’t want the kid to fall behind others doing the homework?
Firstly this kid is primary, and I don’t know how important homework is to primary kids. For me homework was essential for reinforcement of classwork skills, occasional problem-solving to see if there were kids capable, and generally providing academic discipline. Because of collusion or other factors, not all of these goals were achieved but our education system is far from perfect.
I do not know how important my goals are for primary kids. What mattered to me with the homework was never achievement but effort, however what mattered for the kids and the parents who cared was achievement. Both kids and parents wanted the exam results so they would push – possibly creating anxiety. Now if primary school “mommy” did not care whether the kid passed exams, then there would be no concerns about homework – if you look at the teachers’ attitudes.
The issue is not anxiety about homework but anxiety about success. Mommy wants the success without the anxiety. Mommy says her kid is good – “Most of the time, it wasn’t that he didn’t know how to complete his work”, yet there is a contradiction “I have sat with all of my kids through excruciating evenings of trying to help them figure out long division and fractions.” In the article there is no assessment of the ability of the kid concerned – for obvious reasons.
Teachers have to provide opportunities. The bright kids in the class pick up the skills in the class and do not need any reinforcement. Hard workers struggle with the skills in class and through determination, whether with outside help – parents or otherwise, and can achieve the same standard. Homework gives them that opportunity. Because I worked in an exam factory, as do secondary school teachers, my rationale was always to give the students the best opportunities to pass their exams, it was up to them if they took the opportunity. Mommies also wanted those opportunities for their kids, would have been angry with me if I hadn’t provided those opportunities, and accepted with regret that anxiety over homework was par for the course especially if the kid was a “hard worker”.
I could imagine schools caving into pressure from the “scary mommy” brigade, but should they? All kids are competing for the same exams. Scary Mommy did not discuss the achievement of the school without homework – just quote dthe PR of the head. That would be my first question but I would just get flannel answers – they would have to lie. They cannot say “the standards of our school are falling compared with pay school down the road yet our kids are not anxious about homework”.
Schools are exam factories – except for a few private schools with different objectives. To pass exams you have to study because exams as they stand are just regurgitation. You need discipline to study, and that discipline needs to be built up, and starting with homework in primary school helps create that discipline.
We have an appalling education system that is just based on exams because that is what the employers want. The employers don’t say we will give you a job even though you get anxious. They say get over it or leave. For revision you either do it or fail, students have to learn how much they have to do to pass. Homework is not the issue, it is a small part of the stress that is caused by a pass/fail competitive system that has little to do with education.
Scary Mommy has a right to complain about her anxious kids but this is maternal emotional protectiveness without apparent consideration for exam consequences.
However if primary school teachers were to advise me that the discipline of homework does not help their kids with exams I might be prepared to listen. If they tell me exams don’t matter in terms of education I would agree but we are not in an education system we are in an exam system.
Change from exams to education and all the appalling misery (that leads to suicides in some cases) will disappear. A quality portfolio would make such a change.
I picked up this on twitter, and answered it because zandtao was on his “blogs I follow” – the only one???
Education does not occur without motivation but that does not mean Carl is wrong. Sadly in our education system because achievement is rewarded students become addicted to achievement reward, and therefore become motivated by them. None of this has anything to do with genuine education but a lot to do with the test-passing curriculum in schools.
Genuine motivation produces its own reward as can be seen from those who try to learn for themselves outside the education system. How useful that is to know for test-passing I am not sure.
2) Learning and Engagement
But this engagement, what percentage is it? And what percentage engagement is offered? A demanding student attending school cannot learn at their pace because it is not individual. Such a rapacious student soon gets dulled down because of classroom practicalities. Such a student never has 100% motivation as the institution can never offer it. They become partially engaged doing 10, and maybe additional problem-solving might engage them. But that has drawbacks because reduced learning motivation leads to half-assed efforts at problem-solving, a creative learning gift that requires good focus.
3) Marking and Feedback
I used to try and insist on corrections because at least the student is forced to consider evaluating the marking. Because of achievement orientation, test-passing etc., student evaluation is what score did I get and did the teacher make a mistake. Yet again testing is the benchmark and not education.
b) Generalised Skills
I have never taught critical thinking as a skill but I have taught problem-solving. If a student has the ability to solve a problem in one branch of maths in schools then it is likely that skill could transcend to other branches. The methodology of various problem-solving techniques applies across different branches, and the ability to focus and create the starting point would not be branch-dependent. At higher levels of maths this would not apply, an algebra expert might well not be able to solve geometry problems – at university and higher.
As for critical thinking I cannot discuss school-teaching. But having the ability to enquire is not skill-dependent. There are people who enquire as to truth in all spheres of life, they criticise and evaluate “fake news”, propaganda, and conspiracy theories in whatever sphere. Is this enquiry not critical thinking? Through enquiry insight can develop especially in conjunction with meditation. Is insight skill dependent? Having said this I don’t know what passes for critical thinking in schools. I think back to my own critical thinking about education, and feel it was minimal yet often I was considered rebellious. Now I can’t see beyond education for wage-slavery as being the dominant methodology.