Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Free-market Economy. For Homework.

This post has been brewing for a while.  Certainly since September, but really since the first time Jackson was assigned homework.

In grade 4 the year homework really starts, we started with denial of all homework assignments and I believe progressed through all other stages of grief. I think we were stuck at the bargaining stage for 7 months.  I believe we may have reached the acceptance stage for 10 minutes in April, then went back to denial. 

In grade 5, we had lengthy discussion about whether parents are supposed to go over the homework and whether kids are supposed to correct the math questions.  Turns out, we are, and they are.

Nothing  in the parenting portfolio has more diverse opinions amongst the parenting set, than homework. 

The options range from the complete free-market homework economy where parents ask no questions, proffer no suggestions, and maintain plausible deniability when the teacher asks why no math homework has been done for the prior term.  The homework market will determine the marks. Child does no homework, child gets poor grade.

The control economy (or socialism), has parents so involved, that the child has no ownership in the project and I dare say, no learning.  The parents are wedded to the outcome of good marks.

I see myself as Keynesian -- acknowledging the free market, but sometimes the free market needs a strong monetary policy and good regulation.

I would actually like to be a free market parent. My parents were. I don't ever remember them having to ask me if a project was completed or how math was going. It belied no lack of interest. I did my work. My projects and papers were done early.  My marks were excellent, except when they dipped in grade 11 due to the distraction of a part time job and the social life that went with it.

I would love to see my kids come home from school, grab a snack and then crack open a textbook. Actually Sydney is not too far off that mark and has shown great promise in homework compliance.

But my eldest, oh my eldest, he has good focus when he needs to and gets things done. Eventually.  But he does not have the same over-achiever brain both his parents were born with.  And the problem is not just sitting down to DO the homeowork. He has to know what the homework is.

He also appears to be too busy memorizing the periodic table of elements (so he can quiz the family at dinner time) to apprehend just what the homework is.

So when, for example, on a good day when there is actually a note in the planner and it says "Terry Fox Poster due October 13". I ask Jackson about it and he says "I have to make a Terry Fox Poster and it's due October 13."

I ask him how big? Can it be digital? Are there any requirements? Parameters? Theme?  Is it really due on October 13th? That is a Saturday.

I get blank stares, impatient sighs and exaggerated eye rolls.

After a few days, he admits it is a district contest.  After 19 reminders he reluctantly tries Googling to see if he can find the parameters on-line.  He can't.

If there is one thing I am good at, it is finding things with my pal Google.  I too come up empty-handed.  So I suggest that our J Boy ask his teacher. I am almost positive that more expansive instructions have been given than "make a poster".  For days, our after school routine is thus:

Me: Hi! How was school?
Him: Great!!!
Me: Do you have any new homework today?
Him: No.
Me: Did you ask Mr. L. about the Terry Fox thing?
Him: I forgot.

I was trying really, really, really hard not to email, call or attend in the classroom about this. I, no doubt, already have an interventionist reputation for enquiring about the school opening hours and the band assignments by email.

But we had but one more day before a 4 days weekend, the last weekend before the Saturday due date for the Fox project. So I emailed the teacher.  He replied, on the morning of the last day before the 4 day weekend that he would give Jackson  the parameters and the appropriate sized paper (11 by 17). And it is due on Friday, October 12th.

I called Jackson after school, and this is how it went:

Me: Hi! How was school?
Him: Great!!!
Me: Do you have any new homework today?
Him: No.
Me: Did you get the parameters and paper for the Terry Fox project.
Him: Yes [hallelujah!]
Me: Great!!!
Him: Wait. No, I forgot to get the paper.

You can see how the free market would go in our house.  I know there are many who would say "let him hand in his project late, or not at all" or "let him do as much homework as he will do and see how that affects his grades -- that will snap him out of it."

But my theory on parenting is that we are here to support him. It is less about the grades and more about learning good study habits, good focus on the task at hand, appreciating time management and learning the material, especially when it comes to math.  I want him to do the best he can, even if it is a poster contest. I don't want him to scratch out something  on the back of an envelope the last night before it's due.   I want us to put in the time now, after all he is only 10, in the hopes of laying a good foundation for high school and beyond.

But we acknowledge that it is time for us to take a step back.  In grade 6, we told him he needed to set his own schedule. We gave him a limited amount of computer time on school nights, but the rest was up to him to organize.  We asked him to set up a Google calendar (as Husband and I both have), make a study plan. He need to remember the days he has activities as he may have less time to study on certain days. 

When he failed to do any of those, I made him a checklist of the things to be done each day. He could do them within his time plan, but those things needed to be done.  Most days they weren't, or a couple of them, only because we would say something like "Jackson, do you have anything you want to be working on now?"

With his complete lack of attention, I resorted to go through his binder and saw unfinished worksheets, a study sheet for French and my heart started to race.  I started to  conduct a cross examination ask him questions, but he grabbed his binder and told me it was none of his business.

So I made him a deal: I would leave him generally to his own devices for a couple weeks, when the parent-teacher interviews were scheduled.  If things were under control, we could continue as was. If not, it would be Mommy squared.

He agreed.

About 18 hours later, he reported that they had a French quiz.  Turns out that French study sheet was something he was supposed to be attending to. His grade? Half a mark out of five. 

Turns out I am sometimes an outright socialist Mom. We studied a lot of French that weekend.  He had another quiz one Friday later (unlike the first one, this one is supposed to count).  He doesn't have his mark yet, but he sounded pretty confident that he had improved his grade.  I dare say, he is now able to travel to the French part of this country, give his name, provide his age, provide the day and month and talk about the weather (but only it is hot, nice  or cold).

And I had a brilliant idea that would allow me to foster my free-market side: I am going start selling wine smoothies in middle school parking lots. I believe there is a vast untapped market.

1 comment:

DramaMama86 said...

Loved this post. Makes me feel so much better as I am the mother of J-boy's female twin ... thank you for making me laugh!