The Gender Politics of…Elementary School Homework?

I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll be keeping this brief. After all, this blog-post is about how I don’t have a lot of time.

I work. My husband works. Both of us full-time, nine to five, while living in Ottawa with our two sons. One of our sons is in grade two. This means that last year he was in grade one. Pedantic? Sorry. Still with me? Good.

Grade one began and we as a family were buried with a huge nightly homework load for our then-six-year-old. Six-year-old! Although the official word from the school was, and is, that we shouldn’t be spending more than 20 minutes per night (every night, by the way) on the homework, the reality was much more like 45-60 minutes per night, at best. At worst, it was 45 minutes of whining, coaxing, weeping, procrastinating and deflecting followed by another 45 minutes of actual work. We get home at 6pm. We then cook supper. Then we eat supper. By the time homework ends, we’re 90 minutes in, the dishes may or may not be done and it’s time to get ready for bed.

Quality time? That’s for under-achievers, I guess, or for those organized enough to structure some unstructured together-time. Sports? Well, we jam that into some more organized, uber-structured and expensive weekend activities. Cuddles? Scheduled for precisely seldom. Time to for connectedness to your kids? That’s what the homework is for!

The school also dictates strongly recommends that one parent sit with the child and help with/be involved in/reinforce importance of/be ultimately accountable for the homework assigned and its successful completion. How thoughtful of them, no? I mean, honestly…when would we ever connect with our kids if not mandated to do so by strangers who have no clue whatsoever? Sheesh.

Look, I used to be a high-school teacher. I understand better than most how important homework can be to reinforcing concepts learned during class-time. What I don’t understand is why it has to be imposed at such a young age. Nor do I understand how the so-called modern family is expected to have the time for both homework and ummm…SANITY. Or do I? You see, a balanced and healthy family life does have room for homework, small children and their parents…as long as one of those parents does not work outside the home.

If I were a stay-at-home mom, I could pick up the kids at 3pm, run an errand or two, stop for a coffee and still have time to make it home in time to help the boys with their schoolwork and cook a nice supper. At which point, husband would come home and we’d eat a leisurely meal together relaxed in the knowledge that the remaining two hours or so before bed-time have been cleared of stress-provoking and sometimes argument-causing homework. There’d be time for a bike-ride; a walk, maybe. Even- dare I say it- some good old lazing about. Damn that selfish compulsion of mine for self-realization! If not for that, we could ALL just relax.

Yes, the responsibility for our son’s successful completion of homework- and by extension his success in academics- and our cohesion as a family, it seems, lies squarely with me- his mother. Or at least that’s what the homework expectations seem to dictate.

If we’ve established that the homework situation I’ve described is untenable unless one parent stays at home; and if we know that the mother- by leaps and bounds- is most likely to be that parent, then we cannot escape the implied expectation: that mothers- that I– must sacrifice my fulfillment for that of my child.

Can someone please help me understand why we can’t BOTH be fulfilled?

I’ll wait right here for you answer.

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One thought on “The Gender Politics of…Elementary School Homework?

  1. Sing it! I don’t even have kids yet, and can’t imagine fitting them into our crazy schedule, let alone homework. Get home at 6pm, cook supper by 7, eat, dishes, bed at 9pm and up at 5 a.m.

    Eff the system!

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