My 10-Year-Old Could Graduate

The other evening I washed the dishes. (Warning: Long post. Angry at times, too.)

Everybody try to push your mouth closed, please revive anyone who might have fainted.

Anyway, I washed the dishes and did some other housework which required that I make my way back and forth through my home a few times. Several times I walked by my 8-year-old, Bill, as he hunched over his math homework.

After a few times going back and forth, reminding him to stay on task, I realized the following:

My 3rd grader, who is doing 4th grade math (huzzah?), has been working on his math homework for nearly 45 minutes!

What the holy heck?

Do any of you out there (see? no jokes about having only one or two readers– I know there are at least four people who regularly try to hack my password) remember being in 3rd grade? I was in 3rd grade in 1984. (Stop it; I’m not THAT old.) I went to a school called Garden Place Elementary in Denver, Colorado. The school, and I still don’t understand why, only went to 3rd grade. I maybe had homework three times during that year. Heck, the only homework I actually had to do at home during my 4th grade year were projects on Abe Lincoln and Baboons. No, not together. Separate projects.

Although, come to think of it, that might be a fun offshoot. You know, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This would be prominent historical figures combined with creatures from the jungle or savanna. Napoleon and Giraffes. Teddy Roosevelt and Jaguars. Okay, now I’m just projecting some historical fantasies…

On we go.

Where was I?

Homework, right. Really, what’s the point of making an 8 year old kid sit at a table for nearly an hour doing math homework? Is it a drill? Are we saying practice makes perfect?

That would be valid if he ever got an answer wrong! He knows the principles; his ability to deconstruct equations in his head  and see patterns in numbers is about equal to his brother’s, which is going to rival mine within a year or two. I’m not saying I’m a math expert, but if you need some numbers multiplied, come see me and we can see who gets the right answer quicker: you on paper or me in my head.

Algebra, now that’s a different story.

I digress. Again.

So my 8 year old has homework pretty much every day. He spends from 20 minutes to an hour on it every week day. He also has several major projects to work on throughout the school year, including a book report in the form of a board game and other stuff.

My 8 year old is being taught to toe the line, do work as assigned by others, get work done on time, and basically not make waves.

That sounds like most cubicle jobs, doesn’t it? Mind numbing, too.

Now, I have to point out that our older two boys, Spasmodeus and Bill, go to a charter school of our choosing. And our daughter, Princesa, goes to an elementary school with Chinese immersion. And all of this is by our design. We have chosen to send these kids to these schools. We homeschooled previously.

But my question is why do public education institutions think that homework is a factor for success? Is it because the homework is an opportunity to interact one-on-one with the subject matter?

That’s pretty valid, all things considered, especially when you remember that even the best schools have 1 or 2 teachers per 20+ students.

And that’s all fine and dandy, except exactly what is the driving, urgent need that makes them think that an 8 year old, even a 10 year old, MUST MASTER THESE SKILLS OR ALL IS LOST?

I just want to tell them to lay off. Let them come home with one project per week or month. “Learn about ants.” “Create a planet, including its ecosystems, flora and fauna.” What on earth has possessed our public schools to impose STANDARDS of PERFORMANCE on little kids??? Can’t we at least ACT like we care about what really works and what doesn’t?

Finland has some of the best performing students in the world, and they don’t start school until they’re 8 or 9.

“Yes, but Japan has top performing students, too and they go to school from the bum-crack of dawn until zombies are out wandering, looking for brains.”

See, that’s a nice argument, except it’s crap. I lived and worked in Japan. Those numbers we get from them are their TOP scores from around the nation, from the TOP students at the TOP schools. Many of their students don’t care about school, just like here. Many of them have no interest in learning anything beyond what it will take to land a job that helps them pay for their manga and jagged hairstyles.

And like dullards, we compare their top scores to our worst performing students. Are we chronically addicted to heaping ignominy and scorn upon ourselves?

Gah. When was the last time you looked at a listing of recent Nobel Prize winners? Here: www.nobelprize.org. See how many of those folks are American.

We are doing well, too. So all of this flatulence about the USA sucking it up at education is bogus. We are good and bad, much like many other countries.

But back to my earlier point. Why do we have to impose some central standard on little kids so that they have to do tons of homework, worry about grades at a young age, and then perform well on some test?

Money.

Blech.

It’s like there’s a movement out there to convince everyone that learning isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be in a classroom where you freaking SIT, ABSORB and REGURGITATE.

The truth is that my 10 year old son could probably sit for a graduation test to get a high school diploma and pass it. This isn’t because of schools; it’s because he loves learning despite it all.

Okay, no more warpath.

I like the schools and teachers that my kids go to and work with. Because these schools are exemplary in their support for good teaching, and their standards focus on having effective TEACHERS, these schools are successful.

Because what matters is the actual learning experience that goes on between teacher and student. I taught high school in a very dysfunctional school in Japan, as well as in Taiwan. I did my best to fire up those students’ brains, get them thinking more about their world and discovering truths and knowledge for themselves. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I do know that my class was the one those students looked forward to. Typically shy students would have a blast in those classes, making friends that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

I just don’t think it’s necessary to send my 8 year old home with an hour’s worth of homework. Can’t he learn because learning is fun and can’t we save all that standard and deadline stuff for high school when he’s better able to deal with the stress? Honestly.

Those who would argue, here are your words: “If you don’t like it, homeschool.”

No. I’d rather treat schools like a buffet, we will take what we want from them and leave what we don’t want. Heck, I’m paying for it.

Now for Utah. Silly state. I love you and love the people here. But why did our state legislature just vote to have a state -freaking- gun? And why does the legislature think they should have central power over the school districts? And why did the people of this fair state vote down vouchers?

All this and we allow teachers’ unions to continue? Gah. I say eliminate all unions and their massive budgets which I AM PAYING FOR and the TEACHERS ARE PAYING FOR. You want an organization or institution that will protect teachers and be their voice?

I gotcher voice: Its’ called Twitter and Facebook.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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