As someone who often writes under a deadline, I have been using homework assignments to try to teach my kids the value of pacing oneself. I started college as the kid who finished all her assignments at 4am on the day they were due (I also used to suck on my used tea bags to avoid falling asleep in my morning classes – yeah, not something I want to bequeath).  But my junior year I took 24 credits and once i had thrown myself into that fire, I realized that without pacing and planning I’d never get through  the semester.

So I taught myself to be organized and I did things early, and I gave myself rewards: if I write 250 words of this stupid paper on the history of music in the 1600s I can go out on that date, if I finish my math, I can go to the Quad and hang with my friends. When my paper is totally done then I’ll party.

It gave me a terrific work ethic–one that is useful for a writer with kids.

My first grader recently came home with a homework assignment over a holiday that was ludicrous – the class was to do an entire week’s worth of homework in one day, including writing a story from the point of view of a beekeeper using ten vocab words, then writing each word three times, and finally writing ten sentences using these words. My girl is six. It’s the end of school so there are performances and recitals as well as just the excitement of summer.

I wrote a note to the school, saying that the assignment was too much. Instead of pledging to look into it, I got an immediate note in reply – if it is too much, just don’t do it, or tell your kid you will ask the parent for an extension. It’s just homework.

What are schools teaching our kids? If homework is just thrown at them with the expectation that they won’t do it if it’s too much, what kind of adults do we expect we will get?  I can offer a possible insight as many parents who are writers are also writing teachers – and their number one complaint is the kid that walks in on the day the paper is due saying “I need an extension!” and the reason?

“I didn’t finish the work.”

Then in the real world, 25 yr old college-grad Petra needs to have her part of the project in by Monday to the rest of her team can present on Wednesday morning, but she emails it in on Tuesday at 6pm. The team is furious, but she shrugs, “I got it in before the meeting.”

By college, the kids don’t even bother to try–they know they’ll get an extension. Society grouses at college profs for allowing the kids to get away with it, but I think it starts earlier. I think it starts in First Grade with schools that are not thoughtful about the amount and quality of homework that is assigned. I think that kids who are getting junk work and tons of it are being told by both their (naturally frustrated) parents and their schools that it doesn’t matter if they don’t do it–and that all they have to do is get an extension.

What do you think?