Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Homework détente 2

Following up on Homework détente and Homework plagiarism, Iris' year end third grade assignment makes me eat my words.

She brought home multi-page instructions about the assignment. The teacher wants the kids to design and build a spacecraft from common household objects-no kits allowed. Furthermore, the kids need to write a report explaining the purpose of their spacecraft and how function determines form. The handout explained that parent participation is required for this assignment. The projects will be on display during the year end open house.

This assignment just makes me ill, but not because I worry that Iris' project won't measure up. You see, her school is less than a mile from the birthplace of GPS. Our neighborhood had once been working class. But, starting in the 1970s after the first oil shocks, highly educated space industry workers have been moving into urban infill townhouses and condos within walking distance to their workplaces.

The kids in her class go home to everything from section 8 apartments to million dollar townhouses. Their parents are as likely to be a PhD as a high school dropout.

Is it really fair to assign spacecraft design as homework? Some of the parents design spacecraft professionally! How is everyone else going to compete with that?

Additionally, the city library has been cleaned out of spacecraft books. Fortunately, the library at work is so good, historians petition for permission to use it for space race research. Now I understand why so many of my coworkers brought their kids in to the library during lunch.

I'm dreading open house already.


  1. Yes, it's totally unfair -- to the kids and the parents.

    You know my views on homework. I think we should help our kids, but only when and insofar as help will be a learning experience for them. Sometimes a kid can learn a lot from having four hands on a project, and have fun at the same time. Other times help is inappropriate and discouraging to the child.

    It seems to me that this assignment is the worst kind. It requires help, but the help that can be given will mostly be discouraging: parents giving long boring lectures and finally doing most of the work themselves; other kids feeling bad about themselves because their projects aren't as good and possibly even ashamed of their parents.

    In my ideal world, parents would never be *required* to help. But sometimes they could, if it seemed to them that the results would be positive. I remember Emma doing assignements on Shakespeare in school and having lots of great conversations with Z about them. Was this help that other students didn't have? Yes. Did it unbalance the playing field? Yes. But what could be better than family members sitting around discussing Shakespeare? It became a bond between them, and a lifelong source of excitement for Emma -- which it wouldn't have been if Z had butted out.

  2. Anonymous07:35

    Million dollar townhouses is all that is left of Ross Road Elementary School in Palo Alto, CA, the town where I grew up. What a shift in values. I still have dreams of running in the field there, or being a crossing guard in our funny maroon uniforms, or my first school-boy crush. Now that dreams are all there is. At least I wasn't around when it was leveled.

  3. Anonymous08:06

    That does seem really out of line. Hopefully there is enough spacecraft design information online that being first in the queue at the library doesn't make or break a project.

  4. If only all the kids had high speed internet at home. Or if their parents knew how to find information on line. Or their parents weren't so busy working 3 jobs to pay rent, so that the parents could take the kids to the library before it closed.

  5. Anonymous10:26

    I'm with you, Grace, on this issue. I'm going to our school's science open house tonight to see my daughter's display. Telling people how to do better science projects is essentially how I earn my living, and I could have taken over her project and made it much better. But I limited myself to a few Socratic questions here and there, and I'm very proud of what she did. I think you should drop the teacher a quick note saying "requiring parent participation in homework runs contrary to our family's philosophy of education and parenting. In the open house, could there perhaps be a separate display area to show student projects that were completed with only minimal parental involvement?"

  6. Anonymous10:35

    I'm afraid I might rebel and interpret the assignment in an unexpected way. It wouldn't be hard to convince my 3rd grader to create a "spacecraft of the future", when incredible things can be done. Something fantastic and totally unrealistic would appeal to me. A teleporting basket, or a ship that burns garbage to fly. Or maybe a themed spacecraft, like an "Art Ship", or a "musical ship" (complete with functional kazoo).
    I just couldn't take an assignment like this too seriously.

    Cindy T.


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