Academic achievement in an age of irresponsibility.

Author:Dichele, Anne M.
Position:Teaching children to accept academic and social responsibilities

My children think I am a terrible mother. You see, I rarely "help" them do their homework. I also rarely "help" them do projects for school, such as the Egyptian project my younger son was required to do last year. The day the Egyptian project was due, I accompanied my son as he carried into school his rendition of a wall of hieroglyphics ... It was good for a fifth grader, but it could not compare to the elaborate and stunning works of art that bedecked the classroom. My son looked dejected--clearly his work, though his, lacked the skill of his classmates' projects--skills that could only be attributed to adult help. (Or more accurately, adult work.) It was clear that the help these children received was far more than providing support and encouragement, as I had done for my son.

What are we teaching our children about academic achievement and learning when parents take on what should be the responsibilities of the learner? What are the implications for our children when parents do the work, then encourage their children to display it as their own? How much of this kind of thing is happening and why?

As a teacher trainer and reading educator for the past 18 years, I work with classroom teachers and graduate students who are becoming teachers. Their complaints echo mine--many parents, those at all socioeconomic levels, are not allowing their children to take responsibility for their work, or for their actions. Contemporary American culture has taken on protecting children from the consequences of their own actions so much, that we are raising children for whom being responsible for one's own actions and one's own work is anathema to good parenting. Why this change?

Years ago, I recall my own struggles with homework. I never dreamed of asking my parents for help. In the first place, my parents were largely uneducated, and therefore were not able to offer assistance. Secondly, I would not have thought to ask--they had their work (making dinner, cleaning house, paying the bills), and I had mine--school.

But unlike the culture of the past, many parents spend hours on end with their children under the guise of helping them with their homework. Many parents complain about the time spent doing homework with their children, and the pressure such demands place on evenings at home. Clearly, if parents are complaining about too much homework, they are doing too much for their children. But teachers, too, are partly to blame.

Many teachers presume that those adults at home will help a child if that child encounters problems while doing homework. But I believe the presumption that homework should be a joint effort of the student and adults is wrong-headed. By "helping" students with homework, the sense of competence that one could potentially gain by...

To continue reading