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To Hell with Homework: No More, I Say, No More!

Susan Notes: This is good news because parents are revolting against homework. About time!

Surely Pusher Parents is a term worthy of notice.

i>Let's give our kids the freedom we ourselves enjoyed. Let's turn them loose in the ``great cathedral space'' of childhood, as Virginia Woolf once put it. Let's fly the flag of freedom and fun over our humble homes. Let's join our hands in solidarity and just say ``No'' to homework. Friends, parents,comrades-in-arms: The revolution has begun.

OTTAWA -"Bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled children yearning to breathe free, set free the wretched hoards of your teeming home!"

Too long have we stood by while our six-year-olds hit the books instead of the backyard. Too long have we watched ``reader responses'' rule out Red Rover. Too long have we hounded and harangued instead of heading out for hide-and-seek.

By 3:30 p.m. they've done their bit for The Man; let them run free in the mindless land of Monkeyball, let them roam in the realm of of road hockey. Heck, maybe some will even take up reading for fun instead of cramming for reports.

I am not alone in my call to arms far from it. Parents across North America have started to rebel, going public with the dirty little secret that Johnny hates homework, and what's more, his parents hate it, too.

Parents have already staged homework strikes in the U.S., and if the buzz in Canadian schoolyards is any indication, we are ready, aye, ready for our own wildcat strikes.

And not a moment too soon, from the sounds of it. By age six, children are doing almost 30 minutes of homework every single night, according to an exhaustive study of homework in elementary schools in North America by thebUniversity of Michigan. By age nine, kids are doing almost 45 minutes a night, five nights a week.

But there's worse: Pre-school education has become so high-octane that there's now such a thing as flunking out of kindergarten. News reports say that in the state of Florida alone, some 13,000 kindergartners bombed out last year.

And if that doesn't make the hair on your neck stand up, how about this: At Christmas, a Dickensian device called the Time Tracker was a ``surprise hit of the holiday season,'' according to the New York Times.

Marketed as ``perfect for homework assignments and test practice,'' the Time Tracker looks like a mini-traffic light, and has an electronic voice that says, ``Begin,'' and, ``Time's up.'' Its purpose is to prime kids to perform better on standardized tests.

Recommended ages: four and up.

``It's obviously not the type of thing kids would want for themselves,'' admitted one product development manager. But ``we've had a very positive response from parents.''

Ahh, there's the rub. So many of us are ready to rebel. But we're up against a formidable foe: the Pusher-Parent, that small but influential subset of grownups who believe with evangelical fervour that you're never too young to start driving yourself.

These are the education extremists behind the boom in tutoring schools. Nearly 40,000 Canadian kids have toiled through worksheet after worksheet at one of the most prominent such schools, the Kumon Math and Reading Centres.

Now there's even such a thing as Junior Kumon, which teaches pre-schoolers early reading and addition skills, and how to count to 200.

Some of their students may still be in diapers, but apparently you're never too young to start honing that competitive edge.

But why wait until they're born? Why not start right off the bat, with a little one-on-one fetal tutoring? No point in wasting all that time idly gestating.

In a memorable story a few years ago, one especially overwrought father credited his use of in-utero counting drills for his son's precocity later in life.

``I would say `Zero, one (tap), two (tap, tap) three, (tap, tap, tap).' Up to 10 and back down to zero. Then I'd do the alphabet and do-re-mi, the musical scale.

``I wanted to give him the basics to our language and our culture before he got out, so he'd have a running start.''

And the poor kid will need that head start, from the sounds of it: ``One of my goals was for (him) to have his own business by the time he was six,'' his father said. ``I'd like (him) to be a millionaire by the time he leaves home . . .''

Luckily for him, the boy turned out to be the prodigy his father was counting on. But the father did let one telling remark slip:

``About a year ago (my son) said he remembered his experiences in the womb, my tapping. The reason I believe my son is not just making up a story is that he said he was afraid the first couple of times.''

Yes, he should be afraid. Very afraid.

As long as Pusher Parents prevail, demanding heaps of homework and relentlessly raising the bar, the rest of us will be forced to follow suit, quietly simmering with resentment as our kids lug home assignment after assignment.

And we will be condemned to half-heartedly haranguing our kids when we know as well as they do they should be romping in the backyard or pursuing some private childhood passion, or even just settling in for an evening of Scooby-Do reruns.

No more, I say, no more! Let's give our kids the freedom we ourselves enjoyed. Let's turn them loose in the ``great cathedral space'' of childhood, as Virginia Woolf once put it. Let's fly the flag of freedom and fun over our humble homes. Let's join our hands in solidarity and just say ``No'' to homework.

Friends, parents, comrades-in-arms: The revolution has begun.

— Kelly Patterson
Ottawa Citizen


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