Not long ago, a report was published suggesting that parental involvement with homework does not increase a child’s likelihood of success. Finally, a report I could get on board with. Of course it’s hard to follow through when your son’s interest in homework is limited to reading graphic novels or studying geographic landforms in Minecraft. In reality, homework causes a lot of stress in my household. The most recent example is no exception.
My friend’s daughter arrived home and announced she had a homework project on ways to reduce stress. She was to create a box filled with items which help her relax and wind down. Literally, a stress case.
Notice how I said it was my friend’s daughter who brought home this homework? The thing is, my 10-year-old son is in the same class. A few days pass and still there is no mention of it at our house. In the car on the way to school I catch his eye in the rearview mirror, and seize my chance. “Do you have a project on stress relievers?”
“Yes.” He said.
I wait for elaboration. None comes. Finally, I ask, “When were you going to start that?”
“Oh, it’s not a big deal. I’ll start it soon.” His voice trails as his gaze moves back out the window to the passing clouds.
I feel my blood pressure rise, slow and steady, like mercury.
Apparently, his answer to the question of how to reduce stress is to not worry about mundane issues--like homework. The irony of the situation is not lost on me.
The truth is, my son adopts this laissez faire attitude toward most school related pursuits. Recently he came home with what he called his “study sheet” for an upcoming social studies test. I gazed upon a crumpled scrap one might find strewn at the bottom of a bus shelter. Barely legible handwriting blemished the otherwise untouched page.
I try, really I do, to tame my Tiger-mom roar. “Is this the best you can do? How are you going to study with this?” He is unfazed. Remarkably, he came home the following week and produced the test result: A-. I’m not sure whether his mark reflects some memorization trick he learned from a YouTube video, or a failure of the marking system for said test. Regardless, the general trend is that my son’s marks rise and fall in step with his interest in the subject matter. If he likes it, he applies himself. If not, meh...
Not surprisingly, there is an inverse relationship between my son’s anxiety level and my own. On more than one occasion I have wondered out loud “Why am I worried about your schooling when you are not?” Why indeed? I already passed 5th grade once. Yet in another ironic twist, while the curriculum seems more lax than it was when I was in school, this second time around is proving much harder.
My friend’s daughter, being one who designs to concern herself with homework, carefully thought out the items she would include in her project: a book, her gymnastics outfit, bath salts, a chocolate bar. (My kind of girl, I must admit.) I suggested she put my son in her stress box, as evidently he has discovered the elixir to cure the ailment.
My son’s lack of enthusiasm for school work notwithstanding, this homework did strike me as counter-productive--like the serpent eating his own tail. Isn’t the best way to lower anxiety amongst 10-year-olds to not give them homework on how to lower their anxiety? Did I mention this was for health class?
Is this homework another sign of the sad state of public grade school education? Or, as I began to reconsider, does it actually hit the mark? After all, dealing with stress is a required skill for young people today. Swim team, piano lessons, karate, tutoring…and that only takes us to Wednesday. Did some curriculum developer realize that the main skill set kids need is the ability to manage the daily pressure of childhood?
In most cases, my son’s inattentiveness angers and annoys me. In this case, however, his true nature leaves him in good stead: Maybe the way to relieve stress is to not get stressed in the first place. If the goal of this homework is to find how to deal with pressure, he has passed already.
At the end of the week, I pop my head into my son’s room. “How’s your stress-case going?”
He looks up from his Lego. “It’s done.”
I open my mouth to ask him which items he chose to include, but stop myself. “Perfect.” I say. I smile, then turn and walk down the hall.
This, I’ve learned, is worth an A+.