This is topic Homework Ruined my Childhood. A true story. in forum Discussions About Orson Scott Card at Hatrack River Forum.

To visit this topic, use this URL:;f=1;t=004461

Posted by Orincoro (Member # 8854) on :
This is in support of OSC's essay on homework, from Ornery American, I wanted to get the ball rolling on the discussion and share my take on it- because I'm vain that way, and no-one asked me about it, so it isn't a burden to me. [Wink]

At seven I was known to have a bad temper. My Father was that way, still is, and I think I learned at an early age to confront my problems with blind anger and force. It never worked- and the worst part was that once everyone started saying I had such a bad temper, it got me really angry and... well you get the drift.

The battle began with spelling. Write each word 5 times, and once you've done that, include each word in a sentence. 10 words, so fifty words and ten sentences- it was 20 words by 4th grade. At the same time, about the 1st or 2nd grade level, I became intensely interested in books- especially ones that required little reading- and my favorites were Gary Larsen's Farside collections. I read them all voraciously, first looking at the pictures and constructing stories around them and examining every detail and finding an explanation for that too. I got so good at it that I am told now by family members that I would state matter-of-factly the nature of the situations in the panels, complete with a backstory, completely unrelalated to the captions. I had these kinds of books piled dangerously high next to my bed. It was heartening to learn years later that Larsen had a near identical approach when he was writing his cartoons, but that's another story.

As I said, it began with spelling. I didn't want to write out the words all five times, and my handwriting, then as now, was not particularly legible. I was good at the sentences, and I would always construct a theme around which all the words centered, so that the creative work was less of a burden to me. The problem was the spelling. I couldn't spell very well, and I was always the loser in the in-class spelling contest. My spelling tests came home with 40% of the words spelled correctly, while my reading comprehension tests (once I was convinced that reading was a good thing) were all very high. I started simply not doing the homework that was assigned. If the page came home with me, say a fill-in-the-blank sheet or a puzzle or a sheet of math problems, I would simply hide them behind my bookcase. My parents would discover stacks of unfinished homework, and the teacher would be consulted.

Once in the sixth grade, I had a 20 minute screaming match with my mom over ven diagrams. I didn't understand how they worked, and the operation she was showing me didn't make sense to me. It looked wrong, and i was afraid she was making me write down the wrong answers. Why I hadn't learned the thing in class I don't remember, but the stress of involving my parents in the decisions about my homework, for which I would be graded, made things worse. Once, in 3rd or 4th grade, my dad became convinced that the verb "thresh," which was included in my spelling list, was a mistake, and that the teacher really meant "thrash." He made me write "thrash" in my homework, and told me to write that on the test as well. I did, and when I showed him the red marks and asked him why he had told me to do that, he said that the teacher was just wrong, so I shouldn't worry about it. I took to shoving my homework into odd places in my room, or "losing" the sheets at school.

Eventually I had to get a hand-written note every friday from my teacher, saying that I had completed all the homework, if I wanted to watch TV or play nintendo over the weekend. My father also began assigning me extra homework when I got bad grades in spelling and math. He would make me double the assigned homework, show it to him, and then do it all over again if it wasn't up to his standards in handwriting. I once did his extra assignment, then waited an hour, then showed him the same sheet of paper again, in hopes that he would be fooled. He sent me to my room with the question: "Do YOU think I'm stupid?" I had already done the homework, mind you, but he was taking me to task because my grades weren't that good in the homework I had already done.

As I write this, I can hardly believe I am talking about my Dad. In my highschool years, he suffered a series of small, diabetes related strokes, and they left his personality permenantly altered. He would advise me in the 3rd grade, to settle my problems by punching people in the nose. No one meeting him today would believe that story- because he's a meek and quiet man now. Still, when I was in the 12th grade, I opted out of Calculus so that I could spend time studying guitar (I went on to study classical until the present, my senior year in college). I had already taken advanced Algebra 2/Trig classes, and was well beyond the material I would need as an English and Music student at University, and yet when I settled the discussion by flatly refusing to take the 4th year of math (though it was practically shoved down your throat at my Catholic Highschool), he didn't talk to me for a month. When my Mom stood up for me, he didn't talk to her for a week. My Dad hadn't used calculas since the 12th grade, but the school counselor had called him to advise him that my chances of college admission would be hurt if I didn't take it. He had gone to Harvard, and a private boarding school before that, and to him, your college was everything. My attempts to explain that my education was everything were lost on him- but in the end I was accepted at UCD anyway [Razz] . We've since come to an understanding, and he has admitted that he listened to my school counselor without really thinking about the situation.

I remember my mother sitting with me at my desk and kissing my head as I cried and poured mucous all over my shirt over the spelling homework. She bargained with me, offering to write out the first two words in each line, so that I could do the last three- having seen how it was done. I think I was 7. Another time I went into my room and broke every pencil I had, put it all into a drawer and threw it out the window. I wanted to go outside and bike, but I was inside doing my homework. I remember clawing at my door trying to get out - this is one truly horrifying memory from my childhood- and one of my parents holding it from the other side and saying I couldn't come out until my homework was done. The rage I felt at everything fed on itself, so that I didn't want to do anything at all, and in 3rd grade I told my teacher I wanted to kill myself. My parents were very concerned, and brought me to a phyciatrist- a proposition which involved a stressful drive into the city, parking, walking, and coming home late on fridays while the rest of the family was at home. Once I forgot about my appointment and played football at school until 5, and my Dad saw me and drove me home in a rage, then had my Mom drive me in for the belated appointment.

At the phyciatrists office, I played risk, chess, and talked about books and movies. I was never told what was wrong with me, but I recall that my parents' consultations with the doctor were about as long as my own. At about the same age, my parents allowed me to stop taking piano lessons because of the stress of the lessons, and of practicing in the living room with the rest of the family (three sisters) nearby. Its probably the saddest memory I have, because music is my life now, and I gave up lessons because I was too busy doing homework to want to practice. Lessons had become their own trial, as my parents listened and commented on how much time I was spending, how much lessons cost in time and aggravation, etc.

In the 5th grade, I read Carl Sagaan's Cosmos and Contact, and had a wonderful science teacher who got me interested in astronomy and rocketry. He assigned very little homework, and had numerous in class projects, including video documentaries, and rocket building. I remember almost nothing from the 2nd to the 4th grade but aggravation, anger, pain, humiliation, frustration and isolation- but I still remember some of the basic information I first learned about science in the 5th grade. I also still love those books, which were WAY above my reading level. I got through them because I would bring them to school and talk about them with the teacher at recess or lunch, because I was interested in them. He had a daily activity, one hour in class: Silent Sustained Reading time. Seems simple enough, but it was the thing I looked forward to every day.

It would be difficult to recount every aweful story about homework that I can remember from my childhood. They were all bad. And OSC is exactly right when he touches on those trapped feelings, the sense of absolutely no escape from structure and work taht encompasses a child's life- or at least some children's lives. For me, it was manifested in something so vivid as a memory of kicking and clawing at a door, but I also remember the vague, never ending pressure that only let up when I was on summer vacation. I think partly teachers didn't understand how demanding their homework was of our time, but I also think that my parents invested an enormous amount of faith in the assignments.

Even today, I mentioned OSC's article to my father over the phone, and he responded that OSC is forgetting that the homework is also there as a tool for parent and child to interact, and for parents to become involved in the child's work. Something in my memories of my childhood made that answer sound a little strange, and I started to think about things i haven't dredged up in a long, long time. Funny thing is, most of the details I remember about talking to my parents in grade school are stressful situations and arguments about homework. Some kind of interaction. I'm afraid homework may have ruined my childhood.
Posted by Adam_S (Member # 9695) on :
Ouch. that's a truely wretched set of experiences you had there. I never had big issues with homework, but then I had a great school district and phenomenal parents.

I'm so lucky my parents were terrific, but I never struggled with grades. for spelling homework my mom would help me with weird non-phonetic words like Friend by giving me mnemonics like 'fry-end-with-an-I' that becuase she knew me knew would work for me. The school I went to for first grade had a very sensible spelling/reading program. They used phonics, the workbooks were even called phonics. Everyone in our class could read perfectly; later, I couldn't understand why kids in my other schools struggled with reading. They were taught the cruel, anti-reading sight-words method, so I suppose their troubles are understandable.

I remember in second grade some high schoolers did a presentation on why we should work hard and stay in school and not do drugs and recycle (yadda yadda whatever)--so we could go to college! they also mentioned that most of our parents probably had a college fund set up for us and if not we should ask so that they could start one. I asked, my mom told me, 'Nope, I went to college on my own and on scholarships, I know you can do the same, and I expect you'll have no trouble doing so.' From that moment on (I already knew I wanted to go to college so I could be an inventor, plus my favorite aunts were at college and it was therefore a holy and awesome place) I knew I was in charge of my educational career, it was up to me--my decisions, my life--with support from my parents, not control. We never had a shouting match over homework, they'd occasionally ask if I'd done it, get aggravated if I'd left it til the last minute and sometimes make me go to bed and turn in unfinished or rushed work, but such were the foibles. For the most part any time between the end of the school day and 9PM were my own to play outside, read, Nintendo, or watch TV as I pleased. Nine was when my Mom started reading to me or my little sister or when I would usually start homework. I recall very little homework in first or second grade. In third grade I occasionally had homework, but it wasn't bad and the teacher set it up so that industrious students had PLENTY of in class time to work on the day's assignments. Fourth grade was a lark, I was class librarian, the teacher hated homework. Fifth grade had bits of homwork but not bad. Started getting regular homework in middle school, but I'd do a lot of it on the bus or before school or in other classes. Once I got home, the work was ignored until 9 o clock or later--this kept me sane. high school was similar, ninth grade was fantastic because of a block schedule and an eighth period study hall everyother day. I almost never had homework because I did about 90% of it in the study hall or before school or during lunch. More homework in the later years (different high school) and my procrastinatory habits started to haunt me--but made me very acclimated to the all-nighter college attitude towards papers.

For those that want to fume and vent about the problems with education, I'd suggest John Taylor Gatto's site, where he claims that the current system (and homework policy) is designed to break the spirit and independence of children, destroy family and community bonds, and prevent children from learning by using the most ineffective teaching methods and barrind the most effective ones so that the adults grown out of our schools will be rootless, tractable and malleable--acclimated to suspending their rights in favor of their corporate parents that employ them.

Why do teachers participate? why, because Teachers are some of the most notorious rule followers there are. There aren't a majority of Thoreau's that are teaching, nor are their Umbridge's (that do the above deliberately). But something about the personality of those who become teachers loves rules.
Posted by 0Megabyte (Member # 8624) on :
I have always had trouble with homework.

I learn very well. I read very well. I'm actually pretty smart.

I just don't likw to do assignments. I'd rather read a book on the American revolution (like David McCoullagh's 1776) or about science (A Brief History of Time, for example) or Jared Diamond books, as examples of nonfiction, and good ole' OSC as the best example of fiction.

Back in high school, I had emotional break downs due to homework, particularly math work. It was brutal.

Worst, however, was my parents insistence thta I do well in school. Anything but A's were unacceptable. It is only recently thta I have had the epiphany that it isn't a sin to not do homework (and I mean this seriously. While I wouldn't use the word 'sin' for it before, the word's meaning was what I felt not doing well in school was, thanks to my parents.)

I am now paying myself for my college. And my parents have been rather silent about my grades. But I know how intent they are on me getting only A's.

But I don't want that. I want to learn! And usually, learning ends up meaning that I do very well, and DO get A's or B's, at least here in college. Usually.

When grades and homework are more important than learning and bettering yourself, and when it in fact causes harm and actually makes you think that you're a bad person because you didn't do your math homework.. sorry, something's wrong with that.
Posted by Soara (Member # 6729) on :
I really enjoyed reading your post, Orincoro. [Smile]
For me, school up to seventh grade was like that -- really bad. But after seventh grade, it was like I broke through, I stopped feeling incompetent and trapped, and I stopped detesting school, and I've never looked back. [Smile]
Posted by Orincoro (Member # 8854) on :
Omegabyte- I also read the Bryson book. He makes a fairl good point about writing in the introduction- mainly that there are few good writers being read in science classrooms, so that the best science reading as all voluntary; the structure of the science textbook destroys the will to learn.
Posted by Orincoro (Member # 8854) on :
Omegabyte- I also read the Bryson book. He makes a fairl good point about writing in the introduction- mainly that there are few good writers being read in science classrooms, so that the best science reading as all voluntary; the structure of the science textbook destroys the will to learn.
Posted by Dagonee (Member # 5818) on :
Orincoro, this is off topic, but were you studying classical guitar?
Posted by Cyronist (Member # 9691) on :
I'm a freshman in highschool right now, and I do hate homework.

I find most of it pointless. I hate documenting thoughts that live just fine in my mind just to prove I know them. If we had audio recorders and we could talk into them that I could deal with, but having to write a report on how the Animal Farm book is different than the movie really gets me frusterated.

Once in class last year we had to write a class constitution in class. I was assigned partners with one of the pretty girls who can't think and has beautiful handwriting. (Mine is barely ledgible... I spend WAY to much time on the computer.) For the next hour I just talked to her and she scribbled down what I was saying (in that unbareable neat handwriteing...) and we got 100% and the paper was like mounted in the hall or something. That was a really fun assignment.

Anyway, I digress. I think homework does have some good effects tho. It can keep kids out of gangs and off the streets, but that doens't have much effect on the hardcore gangbangers because they just don't do it.

Again, my thoughts are moving faster than I can type them, I'm changeing subject.

My parents are grade Nazi's. "Why did you get a 'B' in that math class!" (I'm in 10th grade honors math, whilst I'm only in 9th grade. I suck at math. My teacher must have really wanted me to suffer through this year... her reasoning I don't know why.) I recently got a 96 on my math homework packet, which is all the assignments of the chapter and they said "Why isn't it 100?"

I had a summer job this year working downtown as a intern for alot of building engineers, (and 11$ and hour intership) and I learned more that summer than I had the previous year. I think our whole education system is flawed.

Children should be divided by skill level and abilities, not age. I know plenty of 6th graders that can outwit and out think many 9th graders. And just because a kid is in the worst math class doesn't mean he should be in the dumbest LA class too.

Ack... well I got to go do my homework (I'm serious) I would have continued but oh well. Thanks for reading my rambling feelings put into words.
Posted by Steev (Member # 6805) on :
I hated homework. I had done all the work I could mentally handle at school and I wasn't about to do anymore once I got home. After school was my time! It was my sanctuary from work and all the other crap associated with public schools. Eventually, some time in early middle school, I was able to get away with lying about it. My parents would ask, I would lie and they wouldn't bother me about it. They didn't seem to suspect anything or perhaps they knew but didn't really care. I wasn't able to get much help from them anyway during the times I really wanted to do the work. They were usually writing assignments for English class. There was a time I actually got inspired to work on my own but having some brilliant English writing instructors.

However, the best education I got was at a trade school. Everything was done in class. I was in class from 10am to 2:30pm with a 30-minute lunch break. All work was at my own pace with the instructor nearby if I had questions and no homework. The grading was all based on how long it took to run the course not my test score. Which meant that if I didn't pass the test I would be spending more time studying the subject until I was able to pass the test. They couldn't gauge the time spent if I was doing work at home.

I did very little homework until I got to college but college is a completely different thing.

In any case I always hated my grade school and college teachers telling me that they were preparing me for the real world.

The real world is actually much more forgiving than school.
Posted by Orincoro (Member # 8854) on :
Originally posted by Dagonee:
Orincoro, this is off topic, but were you studying classical guitar?

Yes. Partly.

I dropped Calc so that I could take the beginner's guitar course at my highschool. It was a class that met every day, and about that time I started playing all kinds of guitar. The class centered on folk and classical method, with some beatles and eagles type rock mixed in- generally vanilla type guitar playing.

The classical was on the Carulli-Sor level; early Studios Progresivi, and the final performance project was a Carulli Rondo in am. I was probably the most enthusiastic student in a class of about 20, and I got the farthest with my training in that year. I had already spent many years as a chorus member ( and i am a tenor in my Univ Chorus to this day).

I was also playing rythm guitar, rock, blues and some jazz in the hallways with more experienced guitarists at my school. The school happened to have a huge number of amatuer guitarists, and I started taking my guitar with me to school every day, playing at all possible opportunities (much to everyone's annoyance). That was mostly my senior year, and I didn't begin studying with a really classical approach until my sophomore year in college, two years ago, at the same time that I started with my classical theory and history core classes. So really, to be fair to myself, I've only spent two really productive years as a classical guitarist. If you're a guitarist, then you know the peaks and platues of the guitar learning curve, that make you feel that every new challenge is a new beginning where you "really" started playing. I have lots of those, and probably always will.

Today I play in a music department guitar ensemble, and I've played one concert (two dance peices) as a da Gamba player (viola da Gamba, like a renaissance cello). I intend in the next year to continue as a singer and da gamba player in our Early music ensemble, a singer in the chorus, and a player in the guitar ensemble, as well as a solo guitarist. My latest guitar projects are Walton's Bagatelle No.2, Reichs' Electric Counterpoint (ensemble), and the Bach cello suite No.1 (because I'm lame that way). I am also studying the Chaconne from Partita no. 2 in dm, but that is a side project, as I have no hope of achieving a decent performance in the next year.
Posted by JLM (Member # 7800) on :
Funny. I never had much homework in high school. I had two classes, AP US History and AP English, that had alot of homework. However, once I figured out the the history teacher never read any of the homework but graded it no the number of pages submitted I just started copying random things down like the Dear Abby or the bridge column. For tests, all I had to do was pick the answer that portrayed white men, business or republicans in an negative light and I was sure to get an A.

Similarly in AP english, I only read 2 of the books we were supposed to read, but I got ripped on grading because I apparently didn't interpret the book "correctly". So for the rest of the year I would read the first and last chapters, and then write how the book teaches about how evil and corrupt the government and white businessmen are and I got all A's from that point on.

Math homework? Well, I did that during history or social studies. Science homework? With one exception my science teachers were morons, so I usually ignored the lecture and read the book and did the assignment during class.

So if any of you are still in high school, the trick is to find out what the teacher wants, and give it to them, because about 90% of what you "learn" in high school is either completely false or completely useless. Pay your dues in HS, go to college where you can learn what you want to learn, and then find a career you enjoy.
Posted by El JT de Spang (Member # 7742) on :
I hate homework for the same reason I hate all busy work -- I don't like the line of reasoning that says volume, rote, and repetition are the keys to learning.

And, since I've had a keenly developed sense of justice for as long as I can remember, I simply didn't do homework.

I never brought home books, and my homework was either done in other classes or frantically scribbled on the bus ride to school. I figured schooltime was when schoolwork should be done, and I flat out refused to do any more than the bare minimum of homework.

By the time I got to high school, I dealt with homework by making it a social activity. I grew up around several of my close friends, and pretty much every night of sophomore, junior, and senior year of high school we'd get together and shoot pool, copy homework, and maybe study if we had tests the next day.

In college, I was pretty much the king of procrastination.

And throughout, I managed to get good grades by smashing tests and projects into tiny bite-size pieces while neglecting homework as much as possible. I also carefully read the syllabi to search for weaknesses; ways to beat the system. Attendance quizzes were another gradekiller for me, as I never felt the need to go to class.
Posted by lynn johnson (Member # 9620) on :
I did little homework through high school and passed tests to get passing grades. I was mystified how friends were on the honor roll. When I went to college I discovered it was that they were studying outside of class time. That was an astounding revelation to me.

I love this country. Where else could I be a mediocre student in high school, go to a small community college, and eventually wind up with a doctorate? This is the country of second chances.

I didn't make my kids do homework like my wife did. My youngest likes to get it done, and gets A's an an occasional A-. The rest got into a fairly good Div I state university, got good degrees and are fine.

My only problem with OSC's column is how does one learn a foreign language without a ton of out-of-school practice.

I got a D in 8th grade spanish. I was hanging with a friend one day, and was astounded when he took some 3x5 cards out of his pocket to drill himself on verb congegation. I hadn't thought of practicing outside of class! I later became fairly fluent in spanish, but it wasn't because I learned it in a classroom.
Posted by Launchywiggin (Member # 9116) on :
I learn by reading and discussing. I only did homework if it actually did help. The best homework assignment I ever had:

In AP US history, our only homework for every chapter was to write our own chapter summary for the chapter. She had a checklist of everything she wanted in our summaries, and took off only if you missed 5 or more (out of 10-15). By the end of the semester, everyone had learned how to see the important points and think critically about them.

And we got through the entire textbook, up to the first Gulf War--the only class I've had where that happened.

I have a long track record of getting perfect test scores and low semester grades because of worthless homework and attendance grades.

I know, however, that while I am a good test-taker, I also learn just as much if not more than other students without doing homework. I got 4s and 5s on all my AP exams, but Bs and Cs for my final semester grades.

The way I like to think about it: Ender would have never put up with the worthless homework they assign kids today. And he probably wouldn't care about his grades, either, because he would know the system was flawed.
Posted by Karmen (Member # 9666) on :
Hah, the spanish thing is completely true for me. I'm in my fourth year of spanish, a supposedly honors level of it, and I just moved to a new school. Some of the first friends I've made are latinas. And I can't carry on a proper conversation with my new friends. My prononciation is among the best in my class, and they look at me funny and ask why I said arm instead of hug. The verbs we get are pointless in the realworld; to sew, to flee, to direct are just a few of the beauties we got monday. I've learned more by having my locker next to a native speaker who is eager to exchange her knowledge of spanish for mine of english than I have in more than three years of classes, hw, study sessions and tutoring.

I never thought of reading science outside of the text book. I think I'm going to look that Bryson person up. It's always been formulas without meaning and desperate study sessions before tests that I bomb. (Save bio) I love thinking about physics and am fascinated by how they work. I was ecstatic that I was finally "old" enough in the eyes of the school to take it. So I'm now in Honors Physics and am slowly beginning to hate it because my teacher does not teach. No, he gives fricken homework out the wazzo.

English is the exact nightmare that OSC makes of college professors. I got an F on my first paper cause she asked for us to write about a social conscience, and where we thought one was needed. So I give her a couple pages on how the media is turning us against each other, those in charge and the world through their diction, stating examples to back myself up, cause that's how I was taught to organize. Topic, example, explain, example, explain, next paragraph. And I fail a paper that's "being graded on organization alone, I wont even think about what the topic is." The next paper we turned in I got an A on; it was talking about the characters in Canterbury Tales.
(Which she mutilated to a point that almost no one in the class liked the book. Well, why should they? She prefers Paradise Lost, so they should obviously remain malleable and conform to her thoughts.)

I am not a lackwit. Homework has yet to aid me in anyway other than making crud up and learning how to write steady while rushing to class. I am currently avoiding homework. But that's ok, cause I'll do the truly necessary parts of it in the 45 mintes I sit in the halls in the morning. After all, I need decent grades to go to college, so saith the lord.

It's just so ludicrous, I only read the chapter once in my AP Euro class and got the highest score as a junior in a class of all seniors. There was no homework, no in class worksheets, and I feel confidant in my understanding. WHY couldn't it have been like this for the last eleven years? WHY!?
Posted by Katarain (Member # 6659) on :
I always hated the list of questions at the end of stories in my high school literature books. They completely ruined the fun of reading. And so also began my hatred of a certain kind of all-too-popular short stories. You know the ones where the author is too lazy or stupid or boring to actually think of an ending, so they do the artsy thing and leave you hanging? Yeah, I hate those.

I'm re-entering the teaching world next year, if I can get a job. I'll have my masters in English by then, so I figure that will help.

Any tips on what sorts of things to do to engage and assess my students without giving excessive (or any) homework? How do you do a short story (ugh) without having the students read it beforehand? What would have helped you enjoy literature class? Or writing class?

Since doing homework only increased scores by 4% in high school, according to OSC's article, it suggests to me that there are English teachers out there who don't give homework--how is that possible? And how can I get in on that?

Edit: Besides, it's been my experience that way too many kids don't do the homework anyway... then I have to give quizzes and that's just another hassle with the possibility of cheating and more stupid grading. And I remember having at least one student with a bad grade because he didn't do homework but did well on the tests and knew the material anyway.
Posted by Oliver Dale (Member # 8398) on :
Posted by Jeesh (Member # 9163) on :
My parents are pretty strict about my grades too. I can remember several times in grade school when I got one or two problems wrong on a test. I was still proud of myself so I showed my parents, who asked me why I didn't get 100%. When I told them I just made a mistake, they told me there was no reason why I shouldn't have gotten them all right. They didn't yell, but they were still angry at me, and I remember crying myself to sleep because they were mad. In third grade I failed a math test, and I never showed it to my mom and dad because I knew how ticked off they'd get. I've always gotten As and Bs, and I've been perfectly fine with that. I remember bringing home report cards that were all As and a Bs or two. Other kids in my class would be getting Bs and Cs, and their parents were happy if they brought up a grade. My mom always asked me why I got a B instead of an A. Now, in my schools, they cram the new and hard stuff into one quarter, so most people went down a bit, and I explained it to my mother. Always she would say "Anne, there is no reason you're not getting straight As on everything" My brother would bring home report cards with Cs and Bs, and maybe one A. My mom never commented on it. My brother s in high school, taking AP classes, and I've always been put into the advanced classes in every grade, so were my other siblings. She always and only asked me why there weren't all As on my report card. She rarely yelled, but she was always so dissapointed, and I just had to be better than my siblings, so it tore me up. Just last year, on my report card I got a B in Reading, and once again my mom asked me why. I told her the stories were boring, the homework was stupid and my classmates were loud. She asked me why, again. At that time we were reading 'The Egypt Game' I love that book, but I've read it for school before. My reading teacher rarely talked about the book with us, and just handed out worksheets every chapter. We were required to write in cursive, complete sentences, and with absolutely correct grammar, or points were deducted. I told my mom and she said to deal with it and to pay attention to the stories. I stormed off and refused to talk to her. Then I'd get 'Lacks verbal selfcontrol' on my report card. In that particular class, I was surrounded by very talkative people, and pretty much everybody got the same note. Mom didn't listen and threatened to make me quit band, chorus, and any sport I wanted to play. I rarely talked in class, even to raise my hand, and my classmates started talking to me less, in and out of class. Right now I've got to show my parents my progress report, and get it signed. I have a B in science and I'm dreading having to explain why.
Posted by Steev (Member # 6805) on :
The stupidest homework assignment I have ever had was to write out all of the numbers from 0 to 1000 in order in a notebook and turn it in the next day. I remember thinking at the time of what a completely useless and stupid waste of time and paper that was. This was 1st grade. My parents thought it was a great idea. So in my attempt to remove the monotony of such an assignment that only an obsessive compulsive would love I wrote the numbers down out of order. What the teacher got was the correct sequence but to me it was like doing a cut and paste.
Posted by Orincoro (Member # 8854) on :
Jeesh, that happened to me as well. You bring an assignment home that you're really proud of, and you parents ask, first thing, why you didn't get 100%. This caused me to eventually become very hostile to my parents' involvement in my work.

Of course these days, I'm studying material neither of them would understand if I tried to explain!
Posted by Steev (Member # 6805) on :
Originally posted by Orincoro:
Of course these days, I'm studying material neither of them would understand if I tried to explain!

Yeah me too. First it was music and then electrical engineering.
Posted by Jeesh (Member # 9163) on :
Originally posted by Steev:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
Of course these days, I'm studying material neither of them would understand if I tried to explain!

Yeah me too. First it was music and then electrical engineering.
Same here, except I don't get electrical engineering. I play two (soon adding the tuba) instruments, and niether of my parents knows anything about them. I tried getting my dad to play my baritone, but he refused to even try buzzing (you buzz into the mouthpiece and that makes the sound, to everyone who doesn't play brass) Neither of my parents get why I write so much. Actually, they didn't know I'd been writing stories until a week or two ago. I've been writing since I was in first grade. Neither has picked up a fiction book in at least two years, while I read about five a day.

*sigh* I still haven't shown them my progress report.
Posted by Rohan (Member # 5141) on :
The stupidest homework assignment I have ever had was to write out all of the numbers from 0 to 1000 in order in a notebook and turn it in the next day.
Once my kids are old enough for school (another year or so), I plan to review the homework given, and if I find something so mindnumbingly stupid, to tell them they don't have to do it. Then I'll give them my card to take to school, so when they get crap from the teacher, they can just say, "Yeah, about that. My dad wants to talk to you about it, here's his number" and hand them the card. My experience paralleled Orincoro's and I'm not letting my kids go through the same time- and life-wasting crapola.
Posted by Orincoro (Member # 8854) on :
Haha, jeesh.

For a second there I was excited because I thought you meant the Barytone, the archaic instrument, half harp, half viole, that Haydn famously wrote for (famous later anyway). That would have been interesting, as only specialists and hobbiests even have them now. I'd like to see one.

Yeah, my parents just not their heads and look away when I talk about music. Its okay, that's why music is such an academic discipline now- people in this culture really have no understanding of it anymore, nor want of one.
Posted by Adam_S (Member # 9695) on :
I always hated the list of questions at the end of stories in my high school literature books. They completely ruined the fun of reading. And so also began my hatred of a certain kind of all-too-popular short stories. You know the ones where the author is too lazy or stupid or boring to actually think of an ending, so they do the artsy thing and leave you hanging? Yeah, I hate those.

I'm re-entering the teaching world next year, if I can get a job. I'll have my masters in English by then, so I figure that will help.

Any tips on what sorts of things to do to engage and assess my students without giving excessive (or any) homework? How do you do a short story (ugh) without having the students read it beforehand? What would have helped you enjoy literature class? Or writing class?

Yeah I hate how textbooks try to make reading teacher-proof. We pasteurize and contain stories with those questions. They make reading a chore rather than a pleasure. They ruin everything. the best thing you could do is ignore them. I'm thinking the tearing out of the pages in Dead Poets Society for instance.

I would suggest that most children don't know how to read for pleasure if they didn't learn at home. They only know how to read for questions. The first thing I'd do is focus in on visual and sensory perceptions a particularly evocative passage can convey. Give it to your students, see how many can recall it, it'll let you know how many are reading immersively and how many have glazed over eyes attempting to decode one word after another.

What age students? Sub-sixth grade I'd say you can do more for their reading by just reading aloud to them for a half hour (or more) every day. Pick great stories for reading aloud: EL Koningsburg, Katherine Patterson for instance. Don't let them follow along in a book, kick them out of their desks and just let them sit (or lie) and listen and be washed away in the story. No assignments, pure pleasure.

Think of it as a reading recess--an oasis in the day from regular schoolwork.

One variation on this would be to start the year with reading to the class for an hour each day and after finishing one or two books cut the reading to a half hour and for the other half hour let them have uninterrupted time in which they should be reading. But don't enforce that they must be reading, sometimes kids will need to use that time for other important kid things. I guarentee that if you let it be their time when they 'can' read if they want to at some point during the year every kid in your class will make use of that time at least once for pleasure reading.

Unfortunately if you did something like this you'd probably be fired because the kids would have learned to read for pleasure and personal desire; for self enlightenment and education--they will not have learned how to read in the mechanical, deadly manner that a state or national standardized test will expect and demand they perform.

I always got poor (like 85-95 percentile) marks on standarized tests in reading comprehension because after reading the passage I couldn't possibly figure out which of four extremely bad answers was the correct answer to an even worse question. I think some of those choices and questions could only be thought up by someone who actively hates reading and attacks the process as a mechanical chore and challenge.

I never understood the strategy of reading the questions first. How could I possibly read the passage for comprehension if I'm just reading it to answer a handful of selected questions? Reading comprehension tests are antithetical to actual reading comprehension. Teaching reading to the test destroys a student's ability to read for pleasure.

If you're teaching reading and writing at a middle school or high school level assume the students are college students who won't put up with busy work nonsense and are intelligent individuals fully equal to yourself. Expect responsibility from them, give them a syllabus that lays out the entire semester for them: what percentage of final grade are tests (how many are there, I'd suggest no more than three, two midterms and a final), how many assignments there are (I'd suggest no more than five, depending on how many books you assign, and allow them to adjust it if they need to, if someone wants to do one or two longer papers rather than five big ones, make the exception) and what are their percentage of the grade, and the percentage of the grade for class participation in lectures and discussion.

a syllabus is important. A syllabus includes your students, it gives them a measure of control. It grants them knowledge about the class, the class goals and all the work expected of them. Some teachers would find that knowledge dangerous to hand out. I only ever had one high school teacher give me a syllabus, and I learned more in that class than in any other in all of 13 years of cumpulsory education. Because I had been granted agency in a part of my education, it was like being given the key to a jail cell. It was wonderful, I was less a slave in that class and more a person.

I'd assign a handful of books and films per semester as part of the syllabus and encourage the students to go outside its boundaries. Let class end fifteen minutes early as often as you can and use the time for the equivalent of office hours--make time to go over each assignment/paper with each student, individually. Discuss your corrections and how they can improve their grammer, their thesis, the effectiveness of their argument, for example. They'll learn more about grammer, passive voice, supporting an argument etc by actually DOING these things and getting feedback than they ever will by mindlessly filling in worksheets or answering story-killing questions about the main idea of the first five paragraphs or what four transitional words the author used to jump between scenes.

Make your room a haven of a library coated in a variety of books. Go to goodwill. Put a natty old couch in the back of the room, maybe a recliner--a couple bean bags. let the students that want to sit in any of them all hour, don't confine them to the desks, the majority of students will still sit in the desks. If a student wants or needs to use the library during class time (perhaps to even work on your assignments) allow them to--let your classroom be an open place of learning rather than a strictly controlled prison cell.

[ October 02, 2006, 05:34 PM: Message edited by: Adam_S ]
Posted by Hamson (Member # 7808) on :
Adam S (and anyone else)-

Definitely one of the most insightful things that I've read in a long, long time. That would be a wonderful way to run a classroom. Although I'm sure a lot of people are thinking, "oh, the teacher wouldn't be allowed to do that." They could be right, but the more important thing is that the teacher would know the right thing to do if they accepted something such as setting aside time for pleasured reading.

One of the reasons I'm disliking high school so much this (junior) year, is that I'm loaded down with busywork, and have had almost no time at all to read; when I DO get the time, I usually just fall asleep within a page or two, since I stay up so incredibly late doing usually useless homework every night. Like tonight....

I do feel that there are more important things to do than homework though, which is why I end up staying up even later than I would if I did solely homework. I feel that I usually learn more spending an hour on Hatrack than doing an hour of homework. And several times in the past month, my friend and I would be discussing (usually at 2 in the morning on weeknights) such topics as: how important/unimportant influence is, the degree of socialism needed for a well functioning society, and why people practice religion.

THESE kinds of things are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than 90% of the things that we do in school. School shouldn’t be about learning stuff that I can read out of a textbook, it should be about discussions, and everyone’s insight to topics- that kind of stuff can’t be absorbed from a textbook, but can only be obtained from an organized discussion area- something schools seem completely suited for. Yet in all of my years of schooling, I believe (and this is probably abnormally high compared to other peoples experiences) I’ve only had 3 teachers that actively used discussion as a means of teaching. They would be: my 6th grade English/math teacher- A Vietnam vet who was full of insight- although his math class worked like a clock (check homework, play euchre), it was not only more fun, but it was more beneficial to many aspects of life: social skills were gained in euchre, and we often discussed a wide variety of issues while passing the time.

The second and third teachers both come from my current high school. One of them my 9th and 10th grade English teacher; although I disagreed with her on many assignments, the important thing was she listened to my input. She’s fairly new out of college, and we also discussed a random topic at the beginning of each class for “journal” points. It usually involved our opinion.

The last teacher I can think of that teaches through discussion is my current APEuro instructor. He’s quite a hoot, and always spends at least 25 minutes (just because of his personality) discussing what’s wrong with our school, and our country, and our world. Everyone in the class takes his opinion to their heart, and it’s the first class I’ve been in where students are genuinely curious as to our teachers personal life, and it’s the first class I’ve been in where the teacher is genuinely willing to share his personal life. He gives a very moderate amount of homework, and his notes simply outline the major points, and he spends his class time elaborating on the rest of the information. We can give him our homework through e-mail, and he listens to everyone. The most amazing thing that I’ve noticed however, is that not one single time has anyone been tardy to his class- and it’s not because he punishes you for it, because he doesn’t. I believe that no one WANTS to miss his class.

So I guess to sum everything up, there are some things more important than what school has to offer, and that school should be more like a discussion than a straight out lecture, note taking period, or busywork hour. I’m optimistic, but given how few teachers come to Hatrack for teaching advice before melding children’s’ minds, I don’t foresee any noticeable changes in the way things are run. Thanks for listening…
Posted by Katarain (Member # 6659) on :
Adam_S, those are great ideas! And I'll be teaching high school, although I could teach 7 and 8, too.

I also liked Card's part two of the article. It has some great rules and ideas.

I have given my students a 9-week assignment sheet. I really wasn't able to plan individual assignments that far a long. I had the students 5 days a week, but I only assigned reading to be due on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays and Wednesdays were writing days. Friday was a kind of miscellaneous day with grammar, reading, and make-up work.

That worked okay, but only marginally. I really like your idea of limiting the assignments to larger ones that mean more.

I used to give quizzes when reading was due to ensure reading, but it really just made a lot of annoying grading for me. I think I'll make a deal with my students that if they participate in the discussions, I won't quiz them..but I'll always have a hard quiz ready. The subject matter of those quizzes can be used as discussion aids, as tests later, and can be available as study guides. That way I'm not making a quiz for nothing.

Really great ideas. I'll have to keep a copy for reference. Thanks:)
Posted by Adam_S (Member # 9695) on :
all the ideas that are mixtures of the variety of magical teachers I had myself as well as my thoughts on what makes college better than high school (besides only a few hours of class time a day and class only a few days a week).

I really think the college system approach to English makes much more sense. A few books, a few papers per class per semester but you don't drown in work, and a hardcore class can go through a ton of material and assignments in a single semester. Relying on midterms, finals and papers as the only grades (plus the nominal ten percent class participation) takes away so much stress.

I had a math teacher in Algebra two that took this approach. After the first quarter if you were making an A (or maybe a B) you could opt out of all homework, being graded only on finals and chapter tests. So long as you maintained your grade you could continue to opt out of homework. She allowed this in her college prep classes because she said it would better prepare us for college. And it did.

The other problem with public school is funds. High School students are not expected to buy books for class, the school is expected to provide them. This means the school subsidizes the textbook industry--what school could afford to buy thirty copies of a dozen different novels for four levels of English? Let's say the books average twelve dollars, that's $17,280 to furnish books for the English department that need to be completely replaced every three years because they're paperbacks and subjected to highschool backpacks.

This studiously ignores the difficulty of the English department at agreeing on 48 separate books and getting the school board, the parents groups, the superintendent, the principal to sign off on them. Since they'll nix at least two thirds of the books the English department decided upon after several bloody internecine wars it will take at least another seven years before a full list can be agreed upon by every group and the teachers. At this point, the department head will retire and the new appointee will decide to take off a few books he hates and puts on a few personal favorites. repeat cycle another two or three years. Then just as the program gets off the ground an administrator decides they don't like one particular book on the list and slash the budget for the whole program in half. Said administrator then makes the shocking discovery that they now have a budget surplus. Many congratulatory noises are made and phones ring off the hook with congratulations all day as everyone in the administration building hears of this miracle. The superintendent has a box of excellent chocolates delivered to the now glowing administrator for his (or her) cleverness. Our hero will then decide the money from your book budget will fund the catering for the school board meetings and all expense paid trips to public school board conventions in Miami, Florida at least twice a year. The school board is delighted--and well fed--and looking at a wonderful free vacation, they determine that the administration staff works so hard they all deserve raises. However, the raises push the school district back into the red. Never fear! Our intrepid hero is here. They discover that they can afford the raises if they slash the academic competition budget for all the liberal arts at the high school. There is much rejoicing at the administration building.

Being as your fellow teachers have already experienced the above firsthand; they will advise you not to rock the boat, even if your boat rocking might result in the miracle of causing a laconic and overweight administrator to fall overboard they will bob unhappily back to the surface. This curious phenomenon is due to both the large quantities of gas and low density tissue found inside the typical administrator. They cannot be sunk, rather in the process of clamboring back into the boat they will undoubtedly capsize the entire vessel.


The pesky metaphors are starting to mix and soon they will begin to breed on their own. This is often true of metaphors because they are such randy bastards, even the women. Similes on the other hand are much more conservative, they're always restrained and well dressed to boot. It is a scandalous thing for a simile to breed like a metaphor.

This is why most school districts opt to buy 30 copies of an 80$ textbook. Everyone hates the textbooks but that's because the textbook company has endured 65 years of the above brutality of special interest demands on the national level, state level, and local level.

On the other hand public domain and Office Depot could solve your problems without ever disrupting the school or your fellow teachers with the community destroying danger of teacher-initiated-change. Your students can be expected to buy three ring binders, you could spend fifty dollars on paper, (you can get it pre three hole punched in LA) and then you could print out internet versions of Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Virgil, Ariosto, Wells, Hugo, Verne, Austen etc. Print double sided.

If your school district won't let you use the copier for that much copying, see if your school has Xerox, Konica, or whatever type of copier. Find out who the competitor is, then go to their office (with a cd of what you want printed/copied) and see if they'll demo their floor machines by making your copies (and if they're the good machines they can probably bind them, or hole punch them as well) for free. it's good for them to be able to run large jobs through the big copy machines, that's what they're built for, and the floor machines sitting idle all the time isn't ideal. Complain about how horrible your current machine is, mention its ancienct and you don't know why they haven't been replaced and then loudly marvel at the quality of the copies as well as the speed at which they were finished. You'll walk away with a free printing job and your principal will probably get a sales call. If they're smart they'll tell you to come back any time and to let ALL the other teachers know that they'll gladly donate some of the demo toner and paper to teachers who drop by their office. This benefits them because it builds a good relationship with the school and makes them much more likely to win the next bid when the school district decides to upgrade their copier machines. My dad sells copier machines, that's how I know all this and a school district is one of the best sales anyone can make.

I've gone on so many fun tangents writing this that I've completely forgotten what I meant to post originally.


feedback is important. Assign them something easy to read right away. Give them a weekend, ask for an analysis, but give them bare minimum guidelines and a 1000 word count. You'll get back a set of probably really wretched material. Grade them hard and very thoroughly, hand them back. Let all the Ds and Fs sink in then announce that this is the level you'll grade their major assignments on but that this grade won't count at all. They'll be so relieved they'll love you. Then you can start teaching them how to write in lecture and 'office hours'. This would probably start with how to organize their thoughts and how to focus their thoughts to create an indepth analysis. What writing snares to avoid (passive voice, run on sentances, fragments, avoidance of the semicolon and the dash, excessive commas, tendancy to 'trilogy' examples, authorial asides, random digressions etc). Basically everything found in my posts is bad writing. They'll also need to learn how to formulate a thesis. How to introduce it, how to defend it; how to structure a paragraph, how the paragraphs structure the paper, how the process of finishing a paper can force you to revise your thesis so that it matches your final paper. How to properly cite and quote, how to incorporate quotes seamlessly into analysis. How to never write a CONCLUSION to a short paper (if your memory is so bad that you can't remember the argument of a 2500 word paper you're not much of a reader or a teacher, nor does the writer think much of the reader's memory, apparently) but how to write an effective and compelling ending to your argument.

Analysis itself is most effectively taught by leading it in a group discussion setting where you can draw on your greater knowledge of the text and whatnot to create connections and delve into the text.

After students have experienced first rate group analysis of a text with an accomplished teacher their analysis in their writing will improve they'll start to see how to 'look' when you're writing an analysis

Take the first Chapter of Ender's Game for instance. You could spend a few paragraphs talking about the the storytelling tradition of ostracizing and isolating a hero to immediately set them apart; you could then brilliantly link this to the science fiction tendancy to reencode modern social problems so that we recognize them viscerally but don't respond according to cultural codes--in this case it's the ostracizing creation of the 'third' that causes government sanctioned segregation--you can lead this into a cursory mention to similar instances of government sanctioned segregation in history before arriving at the meat of the analysis: what is it about how the text approachs 'third' that we viscerally respond to? It show how humans form groups and communities. How we exclude and include, how we treat leaders and rebels and outcasts and pariahs and warriors each a little differently--and why. 'third' is the gateway invention that lets all these issues be discussed through the writing (characters thoughts and interactions, dialogue and events of the plot would be your textual examples). This should naturally lead into how the family is a microcosm of these communities--especially Ender's family--you could speculate whether or not communties (and isolation from) will continue to be important in the book--will it be the main theme since it is given such urgency and drama in the first chapter?

Related film screening for Ender's Game: Stalag 17

discuss how communities are important to the soldiers, perhaps how it even lets them mentally survive the prison camp. Question whether the response to the threatened sanctity of the community is disproportionate or necessary for the soldiers to retain their sense of identity as individuals, as men, and as soldiers. There's a lot of material you could mine here, Wilder was everybit as gifted as Card at encoding essential truths of humanity in a compelling and deceptively simple method of storytelling (ie they're not artsy).

Related film screening for Ender's Game for mature students: Taxi Driver.

Identity, isolation, the driving need for community and purpose whether it's wanted or not. So on and so forth.

On the other hand if you're going for creative writing rather than academic writing I've no idea how to go about teaching that. I'd probably force them to write a lot of different stories and poems. Poems paying attention to form, stories less so. I'd probably assign disruptive get-out-of-classroom activities that would force encounters with other people in order to discover story seeds that don't originate wholely in depraved teenage minds. This also would force a certain avoidance and solitariness out of people. Mad libs story hour, everyone adds a sentance round and round the classroom as long as it can go, pens away for this one, it's all verbal. hand out disposable cameras tell them to tell a group to concieve of a complete story told with their 36 still frames. take an academic concept and a popular concept discuss with the class the story tendancies of each, separately, and then meld them together in some creative way by having the students all start a short story that combines the two story possibilities. The Vietnam war and American Idol would be a fun comination.

[ October 06, 2006, 02:18 AM: Message edited by: Adam_S ]
Posted by Edgehopper (Member # 1716) on :
My one objection to OSC's writing on education is his take on math education. He's right that the average student doesn't need the parts of the standard progression after Algebra I and Geometry, but I'd still require a good chunk of math. For non-college bound kids, I'd make the math curriculum instead:

9th grade: Algebra I

10th grade: Geometry

11th grade: Topics in Practical Mathematics--a survey of combinatorics, probability, basic game theory, statistics, and other topics that people need in the everyday world. The average student doesn't need to know about synthetic division, but s/he does need to know how to read a graph in the newspaper, how to figure out what an investment can be expected to make, etc.

12th grade: Economics -- Not technically a math course, but we'll stick it in the math department because I trust them more than history teachers. Focus on microeconomics, things like the theory of comparative advantage, and other things needed to be an educated adult in the modern world.

For college prep folk going into a mathematical field, keep the normal tracks.

Then with math homework, assign useful problems rather than drills, once you get to middle school. If I were teaching, I'd make homework optional but make it clear that if you don't do the homework, you won't get any sympathy on the tests.

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2