The other day my 7-year-old told me he didn’t want to go to college. He said it was going to be too much work. He had just finished the 1st grade.
My soon to be 4th grader does deep breathing exercises on Sunday nights and on Monday mornings before going to school to manage his daily stomachaches and headaches associated with the pressures and anxiety of the school day ahead of him.
They spend six and a half hours inside an old, decaying building with questionable water quality and poor air circulation. On warm days, I have gotten migraines from being inside the building because there is no place for the air to escape and the classroom temperatures reach an illegal high temperature far greater than that which it is outside on its hottest days.
My 7-year-old is allowed one snack at a designated time before his 11:30 lunch. If he gets hungry between 12:00 and 3:00, he needs to wait until he gets home. On the first day of school, no one noticed that he didn’t advocate for himself to get his hot lunch, that he had money on his lunch card, because he was confused as to how to do it, so he sat quietly and ate his handful of grapes I had packed for him for his morning snack. He had not wanted to make a fuss or get into trouble. He came home crying, exhausted and hungry.
My 10-year-old child is in a classroom where the teacher is militant and strict. He has a ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ rule. Once you’re out, you lose recess.
On the first day, my son received 4 strikes. Talk about feeling like a failure. I asked him what they were for. He was confused and anxious and didn’t know why. He just knew he didn’t want to go back.
During the school day, there is one 15 minute recess. If the weather is deemed nice enough – that is, not rainy or wet or too cold, they go outside and play on the playground. That is it. 15 minutes. If the weather is inclement and there is an indoor recess, it remains in the classroom. The same classroom that they do all their work.
When it snows, or there is snow on the ground, children are not allowed to touch the snow. They are not allowed to play in it or pick it up. They are to stay away from the snow.
So, when they come home from school and they are “required” to do a sheet – or two – or three – I don’t care how many – of homework – I have a problem with that. It is now after 3:00. By 8:00, they will be tucked in and falling asleep. In 5 hours, I want to see them play, exercise their bodies and souls. I want them to freely talk about their hopes and dreams with me without a schedule looming over and tell me what they are thinking. I want to let them go to that guitar lesson or help cook supper and help clear the table afterwards. I want to see them build Legos together afterwards. I want to be together as a family – anyway that I define that to be.
What I don’t want is the pressure of school hanging over their young minds into the afternoon and evening hours. This gives my children the stomachaches, the headaches and kills their natural desires to learn and discover. This robs my family of our precious time together and the quality of that time together because that homework sheet brings out the very worst in all of us – it especially brings out the anxiety and the understandable resentment in my child. They are done at 3:00. DONE.
They are little kids.
Bleeding into whatever couldn’t be completed by 3:00 into the rest of their day is no longer acceptable, if we want to raise mentally healthy, productive citizens. The system is broken enough, but I can no longer stand by and watch the system corrupt their natural inclination to want to keep learning and to continue with their education. If I do – if I assist in that effort – I am just as much to blame. It is time for me to turn this ship before it gets too much off course. So as unpopular as it might make me, I am going to do what very few are willing to say: NO MORE.
Count it against his report card. It’s elementary school. I’m more worried about him wanting to continue school than his elementary school record.
Call me in for a meeting. You can’t bully me. I live with these kids. I’m a pretty compliant, play-by-the-rules type of person. For the last four years of public education, I’ve insisted on their homework completion and I’ve been the homework coach – all with a great attitude. So I know it’s not me just being some sort of non-conformist type.
I tried that. It didn’t work. It BACKFIRED. They are my children and I need to do right by them. And this homework thing isn’t doing right by them.
It’s making them hate school more than they already do. I regularly have to have a discussion about the difference between school and learning in an effort to stop the bleeding that the system has done to education. I tell them that even if they don’t enjoy going to school right now, that LEARNING can still be fun. Fortunately, they are still at an age that they are willing to accept this.
But I need to do more.
I need to draw a line at 3:00 to preserve what’s good from 8:30 to 3:00 or it’ll all be soon lost. Spilling into the afterhours with homework is the definition of diminishing returns. It’s making them hate their young lives more than they already do. And boy, just typing that sentence breaks my heart. Yes, the system is that bad for some kids. Yes, it clouds their worlds THAT much. It’s contributes to their pessimistic views of life at way too early of an age – of a feeling that they are never going to be able to get free from under ‘all this work’. And while I agree that life is full of work and that I need to prepare them for that in their futures, there is such a thing as ‘too much, too soon’.
Right now, I need to fill up their souls and minds with hope. I need to fill their time with family and running around and playing – because before I know it, they will be grown. This is critical. This is not the lazy way out. This is what they NEED to thrive – what they will need as a foundation for a lifetime of happiness.
So, NO MORE.
NO MORE HOMEWORK.
My child is clocking out at 3:00. I’m filling up my kid with hope and a childhood.
And if they aren’t filled with a capacity to hope, a zest to learn, with the values of family – whatever they’re working for won’t be worth working for at all.