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April 2, 2010

Walnut Creek writer, father, PTA president: We need to stop coddling our children

I ran into Walnut Creek writer and dad R.J. Lavallee at last weeks' Community Coordinating Council meeting, a gathering of PTA presidents and representatives from the schools in the Walnut Creek School District. The discussion was homework. The district is in the midst of drafting a new policy that should answer the questions: How much? What should it cover? Is it even necessary?

Lavallee seemed to be the lone voice in the room, saying he didn't mind homework being assigned on weekends or over holiday break. 

Gasp! Including one from yours truly.

In his latest essay, "Protecting Children, published on his website, Bent Spoon Media, Lavalle admits: "I had made a passing comment to the district superintendent that maybe I was too much of a hard ass, thinking kids almost don't have enough homework."

Like me, that meeting prompted Lavallee to reflect, not so much on the debate surrounding school work that's assigned to kids to do at home, but on the bigger questions it provokes--about  education, society, parenting, and family life in America.

"Bottom line, what do we expect public education to provide?" Lavallee asks. He goes on to say that he doesn't think that "public school is the place for [his sons] to learn right from wrong, or how to resolve conflicts, or how to be a child. ...

He continues:

 "Focusing on the expectations that parents have of today's public education system may help right a few of the ills in today's ailing schools. For me, I try to remember why public education was even created in this country. We are supposed to be preparing our children for life outside of the home, life as an autonomous person. Where I know my thoughts greatly diverge from some of my parenting peers is that I fully believe we have come to a point where we overly coddle our children. The modern concept of childhood – of sheltering children from difficulty, and immersing children in a sugary-sweet start to their upbringing – is very recent, and very Western, and in my opinion is adding to the slipping test scores in our system."

Lavallee also provides some interesting historical on the concept of public education in America, a notion that goes back to Thomas Jefferson, and on how some see public education as fulfilling a nation- and economy-building role in the United States.

Check out Lavellee's "rant" as he calls it, on homework and public education. You can also check out some of his other essays on parenting and kids and technology.  Lavallee is the author of a book on kids and technology, IMHO (In My Humble Opion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today's communication tools.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

He obviously doesn't have a life outside the school. His poor kids. They will resent him later in life. When you look back on your life what do you remember?

AKA Soccer Mom said...

I think it's cool when dads have time, because they are stay-at-home dads, or because they have flexible work schedules, to spend a lot of day-to-day time with their kids. And to get involved in the school community. At my son's elementary school, it was always fun to do see dads regularly volunteering in the classroom. If RJ is involved in the school, and with PTA, he's just doing what moms have been doing all along. You wouldn't assume they don't have a life outside the school, would you?

David said...

School should be one of the spokes in the wheel to prepare kids for the real world. However some are so coddled by their parents they cannot function without them, even as adults.
I was listening to an interview from a professor at Penn State, and he said parents are coming and talking to him about their children's grades. These are legal adults having mommy and daddy come to university and talk for them, how sad. The world is not fair and the sooner these kids learn that the more prepared they are. Besides have you ever noticed how there is no respect for those kids who still rely on their parents, even as adults.

Anonymous said...

8:48 -- huh?

Anonymous said...

While I agree about overly coddling children, especially with regards to making decisions on their own or doing things independent of their parents, I don't see how this relates to homework. I fail to see how parents who are speaking out about ridiculous take home projects or excessive hours spent at night are coddling their children. It is a question of balance. And, more importantly in my eyes, is the question that there is no very mixed evidence (or even negative evidence) that lots of homework actually improves learning, which is really what we should be looking at, shouldn't we?

Anonymous said...

" He goes on to say that he doesn't think that "public school is the place for [his sons] to learn right from wrong, or how to resolve conflicts, or how to be a child."
But than says that public education is "... supposed to be preparing our children for life outside of the home, life as an autonomous person."
Life outside the home includes decisions between right and wrong and conflicts- So i certainly hope that along with academics our children are receiving life lessons. Those will serve the children better than learning cursive and math equations that they will never use outside of math class.
Also-I don't think the comments by 8:48 had anything to do with RJ being a father- I think the same would be said if the article was about a mother's opinion. I could be wrong, but I didn't see it as a slam against stay home/involved dads. Kudos to all RJ does. Just seems a little "off" on some of his thoughts. But he's certainly entitled to them and to write about them too!

Anonymous said...

Homework is practice of the skills learned in the classroom. Practice is needed to become good at a skill. At times students have "extra homework" because they refused to work in the classroom. Instead they chose to talk, day dream, or generally waste time. The classwork should then be assigned as homework, along with their regular homework assignment. This is fair, and reasonable. If you don't like all that homework, stay on task in class. Students, and their parents, need to be partners with the teacher, and pull together to support the child's learning. Life is not always fair, and children today are coddled. Homework is just one example of such coddling.