Last week, my 6 year-old son’s homework assignment was to tell a personal story like early Native Americans did — by drawing primitive symbols on animal skin. Fortunately for neighborhood cats and squirrels, we substituted a torn paper bag for the skin and created our own symbols for crucial life tools like “car,” “fork,” and “TiVo.”
Watching Evan work on this project reminded me of when I did homework of my own -– or, more accurately, didn’t do it. I learned to put off homework until it was way too late, a pathetic cycle that I blamed on the homework, not myself. Even now as a full-time executive, I sometimes look at my piling workload and think “yeah, well, at least I don’t have homework.”
Then I surf the web for a while, make a few personal phone calls, and rationalize coming home early.
Fortunately, Evan’s homework associations are mostly positive. This fascinates me given the bombardment of television shows, books, movies, video games, and commercials telling kids that, among other things, homework stinks, school blows, toys rule, and pizza is best enjoyed in the presence of arcade games and creepy, life-sized mouse robots named Chucky.
According to movies I’ve seen, kids in the 1950s ran around with one or two schoolbooks under their arms, strapped with some kind of belt. Nowadays, school backpacks are enormous, and come with multiple zippered pockets, water bottle holders, reinforced bottoms, and wheels. Are we sending our kids to school or to Costa Rica?
According to the American Society of Orthopedics, a child’s backpack should be 20
percent of his body weight. The American Physical Therapy Association recommends a backpack should be 10 to 15 percent of a child’s weight. My brother, a pediatrician at Jersey Shore Medical Center, agrees, adding, “Mom thinks you should call her more often.”
Doctors and nosy-bodies point to loose or uneven straps on a backpack as a cause of school-related injury among young kids, followed closely by locker room towelsnaps and human pyramid mishaps. If you notice your kid hunched forward while walking to school, it may mean a poorly balanced backpack is hurting his shoulders or ankles. Either that or he’s trying to disguise the fact you’re still waving goodbye long after you’ve dropped him off.
I honestly don’t know how much homework is enough or too much. But my local Board of Education does, and talks about homework in the policy manual of its website. Among the more useful things I learned:
• Homework should be reviewed and returned by the teacher in a time frame no longer than one school week… or the next homework’s on them.
• Homework shall never be used as a punitive measure. I believe this is also part of the Geneva Convention, although some say Secretary Rumsfeld condones the use of Calculus and Advanced Russian Literature homework as coercive measures against Guantanamo detainees.
• Homework due after the Thanksgiving, Winter, February and Spring Break vacations shall not be assigned less than one week before these vacations, and shall not be due less than one week after school resumes. In freshman algebra terms, if Timmy is assigned homework X number of days before vacation, is expected to turn it in Y number of days after vacation, and X+Y<14, then Timmy gets a slacker-go-free card and more time to give himself a decent nickname. Evan, who still thinks AP is something he needs to raise his hand before making, happily completed his Thanksgiving homework with slight help from Mom –- and a crack team of University-trained epigraphists. I hear it may even be displayed on the school walls. So the next time you find yourself wandering aimlessly through the halls of Clinton Elementary School in Maplewood, New Jersey, check out some of this amazing homemade homework. Minutes later, as you’re spotted, reported as an intruder, and being wrestled to the ground by school security, consider the innocent joy and authentic interest with which this homework was completed. And how long we can possibly make it last.