Cease and Desist: A Homework Theory

I could write an entire essay on Jamestown, Virginia. It is not because I spent months learning about it in the 4th grade. It is not because I’m a history buff. It is not even because I secretly want to be an early American colonist.

It is because of what happened when it came time to turn in my history project when I was 10 years old. I asked my mom for help. In the middle of raising four kids and driving everybody to their respective sports and activities, my mom opted to hand me a model of Ft. Dearborn instead of Jamestown.

Ft. Dearborn was my older brother’s 4th grade history project. My mom had spent hours gluing and staining cardboard into scale model perfection. It was one of the most beautiful projects at the History Fair that year. Still, it lost out on first place to a working model of Chicago’s Great Ferris Wheel of 1893.

You just can’t compete with a dad who is a structural engineer.

So I turned in Ft. Dearborn even though I knew Jamestown was V-shaped and I was probably going to be outed as a perpetrator of fraud and intellectual theft.

Thankfully, my teacher played dumb, gave me a B- and jotted down a little red note that said, “Next time, don’t forget that Jamestown was a triangle!”

I think Mrs. Walters had a bunch of kids of her own and appreciated history-fair burnout when she saw it. True to my promise, I have never ever forgotten the shape of Jamestown.

Which leads me to my kids. Last year, I sat through a first grade science fair meeting where parents were instructed to not let their kids write on their project boards. Computer graphs were encouraged. Typed reports were preferred. Since when did the normal skill set of first graders include typing and graphing? Just last week, I participated in a parent meeting for the second grade Young Author’s project, which outlined using figurative language and analogy in the kids’ writing. Dan’s rough draft has heroically delivered on this directive and includes the line, “The guy smelled like poo.” Pulitzer Prize stuff right there.

I get it. These schools want the parents involved. But I am not a patient person. I dropped my teacher-certification option in college because I realized I don’t have what it takes to teach. My kids used to beg for their father when it came time to do homework because they knew mommy was going to yell. Better mothers than I describe themselves as their children’s “first and best teacher.” Not over here. My kids learned all their colors, numbers, and letters via “Baby Einstein” videos. That stuff is gold.

My focus as a mother is to get them to school. To oversee their character development. To make sure they practice their piano, brush their teeth, and open doors for old ladies. I just can’t re-do the second grade. I don’t have it in me.

I’ve started allowing my kids to do their own homework without help. I do glance at it to make sure it is all completed. I received the first CPS progress reports and so far, so good. The kids seem to be doing fine without a helicopter parent at homework time. They’re not getting straight A’s, but the grades reflect their own abilities, their own learning – not mine.

Am I just being lazy? A little bit. I also know that my mom spent way more time helping my older brother and sister with their homework, and they had a harder time in later years. I was left to my own devices at a much earlier age and figured things out. My brother and sister got better grades in grammar school (when my mom made sure they studied, completed their homework and aced everything). I was pretty much a C student until I got to high school, where I was put on the honors track and graduated with mostly A’s.

I’m not sure how CPS would feel about my cease-and-desist homework methodology. It’s not set in stone. I am open to revisiting my involvement should the need arise. Yet for now, I like the confidence the boys feel in “doing it themselves.” They are not waiting around for me to build Ft. Dearborn. Mostly because they know they’d just end up with a stick drawing of a colonist wearing a Davy Crockett hat.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I know I completed second grade. Now it’s their turn.

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