Danny Tyree: Abolition of homework
Most American schoolchildren are not particularly wrapped up in France’s current events, but that may be changing.
According to “The National Review,” French President Francois Hollande has boldly announced a wish list of education reforms, including the complete abolition of homework.
Personally, I would like to see some common sense amount of homework retained; but I must admit a grudging admiration for the American students and parents who would welcome a complete cessation of homework. I didn’t realize I had it made when I was in school in the ’60s and ’70s, but homework has increased alarmingly over the decades.
The current level of take-home assignments has made it nearly impossible to have a decent classroom discussion about science. (“Why do we have seasons?” “Because of the earth’s tilt on its axis.” “And why does the earth tilt on its axis?” “Because of all the books you make me haul home in my backpack every night!”)
Even on a good day, even with a bright son, I dread dragging home from work to help with a big stack of his fourth-grade homework. I especially dread seeing math homework. I thought my generation was supposed to be the guinea pig for “new math,” but this must be the “newer than new” math. I’ve lulled myself into a false sense of security about my understanding of basic principles, but these math problems take a more meandering route than the youngsters in the “Family Circus” cartoon.
If Dustin Hoffman’s character from “Rain Man” encountered this type of math, he would have a nervous breakdown and revert to “The Graduate” mode. (“Mrs. Robinson, I believe a greedy textbook publisher is trying to seduce you.”)
Thirty years ago the homework acceleration was justified by our competition with Japan; but now that Japan’s economy seems to be permanently underperforming, educators are scrambling for substitute incentives. (“You’ve got to keep up with the Joneses. What would the Joneses think if they saw you not bringing home a diesel engine from shop class?”)
Let’s not even mention the Chinese influence. That’s already marring the homework experience. (“Yeah, I got a sweatshop with six four-eyed geeks doin’ all my homework for me. Hey, where’s that essay on bullying?”)
The main concern of President Hollande (and American reformers) is the need for a level playing field. Affluent students and/or students with parents who are more involved in their studies supposedly have an unfair advantage. (Will the reforms go beyond the “book learnin’” aspects of school? Will monitors check to make sure parents aren’t shooting hoops with the kids after school? “Lay down that basketball, place your hands on your head and walk away slowly...”)
I nervously watch this new French Revolution, with its cry of “Liberty, equality, mediocrity!”
It almost makes me long for the good old days of the Cold War. Back then the worst thing we students had to worry about was Soviet nukes. Those espousing Hollande’s ideas have different priorities and insecurities. (“Look out! It’s a parent who gives a rat’s rump! Shield yourselves under your desks!”)
Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.