This is not something I am writing on a whim.
Fair enough, yesterday I went through the trauma of supervising my seven-year-old son while he did his Italian Grammar homework. This was not only traumatic because I didn’t know the right answers. It was also traumatic because he was tired, bored, and doing all he could to get me to play with him, and genuinely distressed that I refused.
Once he’s done his day’s work at school, he wants to use his imagination. He wants me to tell him what clouds are made of, where more oxygen comes from since humans keep using it up, and why grown-ups have hairy armpits. (If anyone knows the answer to that last one, please submit your anwer below: my son is waiting.)
He also wants time to invent stories and tell them to me. He wants to use his soft toys and action figures to act out tales about making friends with people, about people being mean and how to deal with that, and about what it would really be like if we all turned into bacteria and lived inside somebody’s intestine.
He also wants time to be downright silly, for us to tickle each other till we can hardly breathe, to make ridiculous jokes and talk in silly voices, to have cushion fights. He wants to jump up and down on his bed, when I am in the other room, and he thinks I cannot hear the hideous twanging sound of semi-rusted bedsprings being stretched to hell and back so that his bum nearly touches the floor when he goes to sleep at night. Above all, he wants to hang out with his friends, running around among the trees pretending to be aliens and robots and superheroes, or playing football with some squidgy oranges they found lying about.
Yet, the government has decided that, instead, he should spend his afternoons the same way he spends his mornings: doing maths and grammar exercises, perfecting his twiddly Italianate handwriting that he’ll never use because we all write with computers when we grow up, and working on elaborating his nervous tic over the whole wretched thing.
Although I’ve already made it clear that my son is being deprived of the time he needs to grow up in varied ways, there is an even more important reason why I am against homework for primary school children. Let me tell you about my father.
His parents were teenagers when he was born, and they were both semi-illiterate. His father started work as a coal miner full time at the age of fourteen and his mother seemed to spend her life doing laundry and making pastry. When Grandpa read things, he would run his finger under the writing and mouth the words out under his breath, generally looking very perplexed. I remember getting birthday cards from them each year, written in a strange jumble of capital and lower case letters and all spelled wrongly.
Well, my father was a dental surgeon. He had the largest vocabulary of almost anyone I have ever known. There was almost nothing he didn’t know in the field of all the sciences, and world history, and geography. He was such a voracious reader that our house looked a bit like the public library. Primary school children were taught everything at school by the teacher when he was a child, and sent home when the day’s learning was done. Do you think my Dad would have ended up achieving what he did, if he had depended on his parents as his teachers for half of what he learned at primary school?
Please don’t get me wrong. I am fully in support of homework at secondary school. By the time people are in their teens they should be able to study independently, manage their time and workload, and be self-motivating.
What I am against is giving homework to primary school children. There is no such thing as a primary school child who can study without adult help. Giving homework to little kids simply means teachers are abrogating part of their teaching job to the parents.
For the children with educated parents, with a stay-at-home mother, that’s fine. No doubt this private tuition works out great for those children whose mother books them piano tuition when they’re five and fills their toybox with those real wood, aesthetically pleasing hand carved crashingly boring toys from The Early Learning Centre. It may be fantastic for the kids whose mothers bought giant earphones to play Mozart to their uterus while they were pregnant, thus optimising the development of their foetus’s mathematical capabilities during gestation. For kids from families like my Dad’s – why shouldn’t they get the same chances? Don’t they deserve the same start in life as everyone else? How many really clever children are going to waste?
We’ve gone back to the old days, when people were born into a certain socio-economic class, and could never rise out of it.
I get a lot of correspondence from my old university, which comes under criticism for the fact that very few of its students are from state schools, from working class families, and from poor neighbourhoods. Somehow, talking heads in the government think it is the university’s job to fix this. Instead, may I humbly suggest that we go back the primary schools? That’s where the problem is being caused.
Do you agree with me about this? I’d really like to know what you’d think.