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Homework in kindergarten?

25 January 2014

Homework in kindergarten?

Can anyone present a cogent argument as to why homework in kindergarten isn’t absolute bullshit? Or is it yet another head of the factory schooling “teach to the test” hydra, out there efficiently making kids (and plenty of parents) miserable? Does it teach Valuable Life Skills™ any faster or better and without an added cost to the benefit, or does it teach nothing quite so well as hatred or fear of school starting from age five?

Seriously, who in their right mind gives a five year old fucking homework?[1] Has nobody seen any of the 10,000 films on ennui and alienation in Murrica’s suburban asteroid belts? Does anyone think this might be a piece of that puzzle?

Given Tumblr’s demographics, I’m curious if anyone reading this grew up with homework starting before fifth grade or so. I know my nieces did and I know it did not help anything, in fact very much the opposite.

Did anyone reading grow up not allowed to leave their yard until some ridiculous age like 10?[2] Did anyone reading grow up on the wrong end of a “kid leash?” If so – what do you think of this constellation of social failure?

There was an article a few years back in one of the UK papers[3] with a map showing the limits of where three or four generations of kids in one family were allowed to go by themselves at the same age – the eldest ranged six miles from the house, the youngest was confined to the immediate vicinity of the house.[4]

I believe that raising kids in this bubble produces intellectually stunted adults with poor critical thinking skills, little insight into socioeconomic class, and little capability of having thoughts which do not support the status quo. One thing I know for sure: unstructured play without helicopter parents constantly hovering in arm’s reach is critical for child development. This essential freedom has been in steady decline in Murrica for decades now; it seems to be near extinction in the middle and upper classes. I was lucky enough to narrowly escape the early years by living in a state that lags national trends, bad or good, by about a decade.

As a kid, I grew up with thousands of hours of completely unstructured – or perhaps more aptly and importantly, kid-structured – play.[5] The neighborhood kids built forts (including fairly complicated semi-permanent ones), sculpted extensive dams and water channels out of mud in the gutter[6], ran eight blocks down to the park with the pool almost every summer day without getting abducted or drowning, walked to school with near-zero supervision from first grade on, and played house and doctor under the best hiding trees.[7]

This play taught us not only about the realities of the world – physics, engineering, biology – but about conflict resolution, cooperation, communication, and about the fabric of our social landscape. I was friends with girls and boys, upper middle class kids and fairly poor kids – both white and nonwhite – and I saw how they all lived. My best friend for my first few years in town was a little girl up the street who was a year younger than me, a tough-as-nails tomboy with a male alter ego and zero interest in dolls. I credit her with giving me the early foundation on which I became able to think about gender roles. Some of that foundation came from our games in which gender was just another thing to pretend about – “you were the mom yesterday, it’s my turn!” Some of it came in the form of a bump and a bruise here and there when I pissed her off, since she was stronger than me![8]

To this day I find the concept of a “play date” subtly horrifying, because when my friend wanted to play with me, starting at age five she called me on the telephone, by herself, with no parental involvement, to ask: “can you play?”[9,10,11]

About 12 years after the time I started reasonably being assigned homework, and about 18 years after my friend started calling me every day to see if I could play, I had a back-roads commute in Massachusetts which coincided with school bus drop-off time in an upper middle class area. Every day, regardless of weather, parents were sitting in idling SUVs at the border of their single-entrance subdivisions waiting to pick their kids up from the bus.

People wonder why my biggest political fear for what’s left of my country is a neofascist movement. What better breeding ground than in the invisibly circumscribed minds of those kids – the ones who don’t manage to develop critical thinking skills on their own despite the bubble, despite factory schooling, despite the system working as intended?

1. One parent I know with a five year old burdened with homework suggests it’s a reaction to chronic underfunding of schools and the resulting class sizes which are too large for effective teaching. I hadn’t thought of it that way – it’s a brilliant way to offload the unfunded costs of public school onto overworked parents.

2. There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in the United States than today, but among parents who watch TV, I very strongly suspect most believe the opposite. Fuck TV.

3. I found a copy without the map in the Daily Mail; I’m not sure if they were the original publisher and it was amongst the 3% of their articles worth reading, or what. I could swear it was on the BBC and the text at the Daily Mail looks pasted. Anyway: How children lost the right to roam in four generations.

4. This is also reminiscent of the masses of fear-cultured parents calling for Lenore Skenazy’s head on a platter after she wrote a column on letting her nine year old ride the subway in New York by himself.

5. This was helped along by my otherwise wolfish parents’ unassailable refusal to own a TV until I was 12, five years after we owned a computer. I hated them for it at the time. Now I understand it’s one of the few things they deserve thanks for.

6. I once got a comment from the neighbor who had the best gutter mud and water availability that “boy if you was my kid, you’d get a whuppin’” because I was covered head to toe in mud – like I said, my state lagged trends, bad or good.

7. Another normal and important part of child development which routinely evokes absolute horror and moral panic from adults, causing far more harm than good.

8. Last I knew, she was married with kids and a successful career as a dentist. Not a hygienist, a dentist.

9. I understand “play dates” are “how things are” now among the middle and upper classes, and this isn’t an indictment of parents who go along with it because what are you gonna do, but I reserve the right to continue being fascinated by the concept in the way one is fascinated by a car accident.

10. This was not an isolated occurrence. It happened daily. Because my friend’s family ate dinner at the early hour typical of the area and my parents ate later, my excuse for a mom actually called her much nicer mom to bitch about the phone calls, demanding she not call to ask me to play during our dinner hour. Aside from that, it worked quite well. Imagine, kindergarteners using Bell System telephones to arrange their own “play dates.” Hard to even contemplate in 2014, isn’t it? I think that’s a problem.

11. This would be one of about two times a girl asked me for my number before pagers (yes) and then mobile phones became common, by which time they were asking me for business reasons, not personal.[12] Le sigh.

12. I’ve sold drugs to survive; I’ve also lived in a 1986 Ford Escort, both during my teenage years. Growing up (and remaining) inside or outside the bubble merely changes one’s landscape of potential problems. I argue that growing up outside the bubble is the better option. Imagine a helicopter-parented bubble kid who never had to (or never was allowed to) make a choice in her life trying to live in a Ford Escort when that bubble bursts. Might not turn out as well, eh?

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