I hate homework. I am an educator who knows the value of reinforcing skills and reading, but I am confounded by the generation that thinks that having parents do homework with kids is a good thing. As a parent, I confess to always hating homework time, and was relieved when my kids were finally expected to do their own thing(which they always did anyway)–probably high school. The expectation in Middle School that parents should assist their kids on projects and regular assignments is not only baffling to me, but a practice with which I strongly disagree. Should parents have a sense of what their children are learning and how they are doing? Absolutely. Should parents be working with their kids because the schools expect it? NO!

As parents and educators, we need to be raising children to become adults who can think for themselves, express themselves, realize their own potential (and limits), and adjust accordingly. With the best of intentions, we have added projects and busyness to everything in our lives, and expected that parents should be ever present in their children’s lives. Perhaps this has been an overreaction to previous generations and the baby boom’s experience of the generation gap, as well as the fear of the absent parent or raising deprived children. Having parents involved in their kids’ school life does not need to take the form of taking on their children’s lives. Parents can complement their children’s education with community cultural experiences, broadening their children’s school experiences while letting their children fully experience their own schooling.

The tween tribe exasperates parents and teachers, and while adult authority is still necessary, the generation gap is part and parcel of development.Tweens and their elder teens need tremendous guidance, but also a bit of space for healthy exploration. The trick is figuring out what healthy exploration is. Parents see disaster at every turn and have tried to create safety and optimal conditions for their children’s success. But maybe this time of upheaval, which is generally difficult to navigate on a good day, can be embraced in small ways.  How can we influence our adolescents in a positive way, while giving them freedom to do the dumb things that they do?

We can stay out of their way in small ways (like not participating in projects other than life histories) and not doing their work, and allowing them to struggle with their work. They will probably reject our music, and aesthetics, and seem utterly materialistic or ascetic and make themselves appear in ways that may make us cringe, but when we encourage them to choose their own reading and arts and sports and outdoor activities as well as their choices for the screen and mall, we are participating in their education and growth in more important ways than sharing their work.

Kids (and adults) need freedom from work in order to generate better thinking and productivity. Kids need guidance and freedom from adults, but guidance does not mean doing everything with them (and certainly not for them). As much as parents want to provide everything possible for their children, providing them with other mentors and teachers in their communities is a gift. If parents are involved in their children’s schools, they should consider connecting schools to the larger community–exposing students to life outside of what seems like a mandated life that gets assessed with tests and rubrics. But that outside world has to become integrated into school life.

Teachers and administrators can bridge the school with the outside community. When artists in residence come to schools, or even assemblies with performances, kids may think they are just getting out of class, but often they are inspired as well as entertained. The arts often attract those who are critical thinkers and masters of technique and expression, features that attract our yearning for creativity and newness, whether or not we have talent. This yearning is particularly prevalent and undeveloped among adolescents. They need Cultural heroes to inspire them and encourage them to create and participate in positive ways.

We have a lot of homework to do, but it isn’t our kids’ assignments. Our homework is to connect schools to greater communities during school hours; to encourage our kids to engage in the arts and cultural community at large. For too long, schools have been cut off from the “real” world. We can begin to change the culture of schools by connecting schools to the larger culture. There are so many education and outreach programs in cities and towns, from cultural centers to business and science and technology centers, that are still largely separated from schooling. Let’s do a little bit of extra-credit homework: Let’s insist that schools incorporate more cultural programming and residencies and let our kids experience a bit more of what matters.

11 thoughts on “Homework

  1. Thank you — I often feel like a negligent mother when my young daughter turns in her homework packet on Fridays… has she done it? Sometimes I don’t have any clue. But she is happy and thriving – and doing well in school, so I figure it’s all good. I was trained by my older son, who –even at a very, very early age — refused to take my direction, so I stepped back and allowed him the space take charge of his own homework. On the rare occasion that my kids ask for help on a project, it is a pleasure. Thank you for this article and nancy – for passing it on!


    1. Thank YOU! You are a wise mother. It is interesting that parents tend to feel that they must know everything or they are somehow not being good parents. Maybe we can shift that thinking to parents who neglect to let their kids be responsible are the ones who need to reassess. You are giving your kids all the right stuff–the opposite of being negligent. You say that your daughter is happy and thriving and doing well in school, so you are in fact dutiful. If you had no idea how she was faring, that would be a different story. But, you have empowered your children by letting them do their work. Kudos to you for creating the space for them to take charge of their work. The fact that they ask for help on rare occasions is the dream! Sounds like you are Yoda Mom!


  2. our 3rd grader does all his homework by himself…but those special assignments are murder on the mother. we’re lucky, though. he’s a bright boy, so i kind of like the regular assignments.


    1. Always good to hear about peace in the home and bright,thriving children (and parents)! It has been my experience both as parent and educator that many schools (public and private) encourage parent involvement in homework. This is my objection. Often, especially around the tween and early teen years, the projects become elaborate (and for some families, expensive and extremely inconvenient), and even by default, parents must buy materials and in some cases, do the project with the student. Many schools encourage parental participation early on and continue to “encourage” parental participation by actually giving assignments that involve the parents. By the tween and early teen years, the results of homework are less about a bit of reinforcement or a bit of reading time. Nor are they often used as mini assessments to adjust lessons. Most of the time, the assignments are excessive and used as a means to accumulating a grade without adjusting the lessons. The value becomes about the points and too many parents are unwilling to see their children miss points. It becomes part of the obsession with getting into the right class, school, college…etc…. I’d like to see parental involvement include more connectivity between the arts and texts; the schools and the cultural community. I’m interested in shifting cultural attitudes of parents more towards impacting children and schools and education more broadly, not scaffolding their own so much. Of course it’s great to be in touch with so many great parents who also seem to be comfortable staying out of the way. I also appreciate why it has become so difficult for so many other parents to not stay out of the way, given this moment in education and society. Onward and outward!


  3. I may sound awful, but I’ve always (since both my kids were in 1st grade) refused to help them with homework. I check to make sure they completed it. If I think they misread the instructions to the assignment, I might point that out. However, I never help or tell them where or how to correct. I feel that making mistakes in HW is the best indicator to the teacher of where my kids are struggling. Though I still have to hound them to do their work, this strategy helps preserve my sanity, too.


    1. I don’t think you sound awful. On the contrary! You are a rare breed, and I applaud your willingness to not interfere. You are giving your kids (and their teachers) the best support!


    1. Thank you, Nancy! Hang in there! Maybe you could share this with your fellow parents et.al. Engage with teachers and administrators about homework and connecting schools to cultural organizations and integrating the arts into the curriculum. Our kids would be much better served (and educated)!


  4. Well said.I have worked with many teens with low self-esteem issues who have parents doing all the homework (and everything else) for them. The feeling that comes across to the child is “Gee, even my own parents don’t think I am capable”.


    1. I agree, Wendy. I think it also makes the parents feel necessary. It’s difficult to stay out of the way. In addition, often teachers expect parental involvement rather than discourage it. We (broadly speaking, as a society) are a bit too uncomfortable with struggle. A bit of struggle is not the same as suffering. A bit of struggle calls forth our strength. A lot of homework is mostly depleting, not augmenting. Likewise, we have become a society obsessed with busyness and entertainment, both of which interfere with contemplation and absorbing lessons.


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