Friday, November 21, 2003
You can make a difference in children's lives
Driving toward home from the center of town, for several months I had noticed the words printed prominently on the First Religious Society's Wayside Pulpit, located at the foot of the Town Green. They read, "Your children need your presence more than your presents."
I was reminded of those words on Monday evening as I sat in the Concord-Carlisle High School cafeteria with almost one hundred parents who had come to hear an evening forum titled "Positive Youth Development in Concord and Carlisle: Preparing Great Adults for Tomorrow." The focus of the evening was to look at ways caring adults and organizations in the community and neighborhood can help youth build life-long skills and assets that contribute to a positive self-image and healthy development.
Speakers for the evening included CCHS Principal Arthur Dulong, Vice Principal Alan Weinstein, Alliance for Teen Safety Co-chair Joan Whitney and representatives from the Concord police, business leaders, and clergy. As each of the speakers made clear, it is not what we can do for youth but how we can collaborate with youth.
What did I learn from this evening? The most important idea I came away with was how each of us can make a difference in the lives of the youth in our community. "Everyone should reach out to a non-family kid," said Barbara Howland of the Alliance for Teen Safety, who was seated across the table from me on Monday evening. She explained how she had met several children from down the street at a neighborhood party on North Road last summer. Now when they pass by her house on their bicycles she takes the time to stop them and find out what is going on in their lives.
Young people need more adults in their lives than just their parents. This was stressed over and over again at the meeting on Monday night. Many of us who grew up in the '30s and the '40s lived in neighborhoods where mothers were at home and fathers had nine-to-five jobs. We got to know adults other than our parents who could play a significant role in our lives. Now with families where both parents are working out of the home, young people have fewer opportunities to interact with neighbors. It behooves all of us adults living in Carlisle to make more of an effort to reach out to our young people. Showing that we care can have a positive influence on their lives.
For more information on positive youth development, you may call Barbara Howland at 1-978-369-3113.
Homework is a pain. I guess I just accepted its inevitability when I was a kid. But sometime after the onset of adulthood, it struck me as really weird that we, meaning most of industrialized humanity, send our young off to school for a large chunk of their waking hours, and then have them do more work when they get home from their workday.
You don't see the inventor of homework enshrined on the dollar bill or on public buildings. I assume he or she simply skulked off into merciful obscurity. I'm not saying that homework is bad. It can serve two very useful purposes: it can underscore what kids are learning in class, and it can give parents a view into what their kids are learning and how they work. The problem occurs when it's used to take the place of teaching, when it doesn't meet the particular kid's needs, or, to put it plainly, when there's just too much of it.
Children in our middle and high schools often have two, four, and even more hours of homework nightly. So, in effect, they're working eight to 12 hour days. Oh, good. We're raising another generation to work long hours, bring home what can't be finished — and probably take it on vacation, as well.
Having observed this fact of life in our excellent schools for many years now, I was appalled last month when the Brookings Institution and the RAND Corporation issued a study reporting that the average American kid does less than an hour of homework a night. In case you missed it, these two august organizations were trying to refute the impression given in the popular press that kids are overworked and stressed. Their study is essentially a review of findings by several other institutions. The not-quite-explicit take was that we should stop bellyaching about homework. It didn't deal with whether homework is effective.
Well, I'm bellyaching. Most of those homework hours cannot be truly productive. Any parent knows that at some point in a kid's day, you start to see diminishing returns, that what is going on is not learning, or even reinforcement of learning, but rote processing. I even dispute the sacred notion that math needs to be practiced every school night and over the summer. Research has repeatedly shown that math does need to be practiced, but I simply don't believe that a child who is capable of grasping the concepts needs to do it every single night. If they don't grasp the concepts in math or any other subject, they need targeted help.
Why aren't six and a half hours of school each day enough? The answer is complex. How much and what kind of homework are part of a much larger set of questions we need to ask about the length of the school day and year and about curriculum.
Opponents of homework often say we're robbing our children of time to be kids. I'll go a step further. Let's not expect them to live like adults.
I appeal to teachers to think carefully about what they assign for homework (although I know many do) and, more important, what each child needs to keep moving ahead. To ask for customized homework, I know, is asking a lot of teachers with growing numbers of students, but I think it's necessary if we are sincere about making the most of our educational resources and raising healthier kids.
© 2003 The