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Don't let homework get in the way of your education

Published on: November 01, 2006

Kids just wanna have fun. That's a no-brainer. And can you blame them? Gee, lemme see: Napoleon Dynamite or Napoleonic history? Foosball or fractions?

Unfortunately for us, our kids don't really like homework all that much; rather than jump into the grind in the industrious manner you'd hope for, Rachel and Riley see this "work" as a chore -- go figure. It's not that the twins are lacking intelligence. They're smart as the dickens, creative, inventive and occasionally even book-smart. They just don't see how book reports, math equations and spelling tests will pay off in the near future. And homework's an epic struggle, man.

Maybe that's our fault. Maybe we should be doing explosive science experiments in the living room, dividing cash instead of long division, and paying gummy bear rewards for an essay well done. But we're not professionals, for God's sake -- we're basically still children ourselves:moderately well-educated, lazy and realistic enough to know we don't need to understand chemistry or fractions to make it in this world. (I've got a flippin' calculator that would make Copernicus look like a mental midget.) What we need to know seems obvious: courtesy, contraception, democratic participation, dental hygiene and balancing the ol' checkbook. Spelling couldn't hurt, either. Vanessa and I are doing our own homework on homework. We have silent reading logs, journal entries, flash cards, vocabulary quizzes and book reports that would give Donald Rumsfeld a headache. It's too much already.

Professional advice ranges farther than Angelina Jolie on an orphan hunt. Give it a 45-minute time limit; it's their homework, not yours; stay involved; stay focused and stay positive. And my favorite, from Aristotle, that kids shouldn't even READ until age 11. (Guess we're right on schedule...) Ol' Ari also said that education should be a balance of reading, writing, gymnastics, music and drawing. No flash cards required.

Confucius taught the "Six Arts" in his classroom: ritual, music, archery, chariot-riding, calligraphy and computation. The subjects included speech, government and morality. The goal was to create well-rounded gentlemen (sorry girls -- no school for you for another 2,000 years) who spoke plainly, used their minds and carried themselves with integrity in all things.

Perhaps we should emphasize the stuff our kids are good at. Riley may be kindof lost when it comes to math, but the fella's a genius when it comes to cartooning. And Rachel's early obsession with fashion (inherited from her mother) has her making her own clothes and influencing pre-teen trends all over the city. Me? I'm introducing Riley to "The Simpsons" (ka-ching!) and entering Rae's designs for the next "Project Runway." They may not be able to add, but these kids are a GOLD MINE.

Schools today are "Teaching the Test" -- placing too much emphasis on material that appears on standardized tests such as the WASL and SAT. Seems like cheating somehow, and clearly doesn't give the students a wide breadth of knowledge: Ya don't see multiple choice questions on organic farming, woodshop, non-profit fundraising, HTML or how to fold laundry. (OK, we can teach that last one on the home front...) I spent six months in sixth grade memorizing every damn county in Washington state. Couldn't name five of 'em now. Learn. Cram. Purge. Forget. That's no way to prepare our kids for success. While we clearly need to gauge levels of comprehension, it would be nice to tailor education both around the kid (and, yes, that's gonna mean smaller class sizes and more taxes -- so bring it already), and a curriculum that meets the real world: international trade ("Visit lovely India -- it's where your job is!"); multi-tasking (texting while pretending to listen to your parents); a language besides ours (Hola!); corporate responsibility (health care is a right); staying within a budget (credit cards are evil), and some math and pharmaceuticals -- I mean, science.

Guess it's time to put my time where my mouth is. This year I'm volunteering to teach a school workshop on creative writing. I'll cover grammar, outlines and how writing doesn't pay squat unless you invent a magical wizard that can be turned into a movie franchise. And there'll be homework, all right: First assignment -- take all the crap out of your room and put it on eBay (a primer on writing snappy ad copy). As an incentive, the proceeds can go to pay for any new crap the kid may want. Second assignment -- an essay thanking your parents for helping with all that homework. Finally, a POP SPELLING QUIZ! What did you think? You were gonna get to college without being able to spell? That'll teach 'em.

The Accidental Parent is a column about a lifelong bachelor, Michael Stusser, who recently married Vanessa, the mother of 11-year-old twins -- Rachel and Riley.

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