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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
October 6, 2011

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Homework and Perry's "Mistake"

It's homework season once again, and I grieve for our children, whose hours of freedom and creativity, whose time with their parents and siblings and friends, are stolen by the mindless machinery of our ignorant education system.

I don't really blame the teachers. They are provided with bad research and idiotic policies concerning homework -- it takes effort and an ability to judge between scientific and statistical studies in order to be sure that homework really is a complete, utter waste of a child's (and a teacher's) time.

Since our teachers are themselves a product of the American educational system, it is hardly a surprise that they have no idea how to do this.

Besides, there are so many helicopter parents who become irate if their children are left with a free moment to enjoy themselves or, say, think. "What kind of school is this? My child has gone three days without any homework! We want him to excel! We want him to get into a good college!"

In vain would an educated teacher explain that she has made good use of class time, and the student in question has completed all his work and therefore did not need to take anything home.

In vain would the teacher explain that homework for its own sake is about as sensible as continuing to run around and around a track long after the race is over.

For parents like this seem more concerned with being able to brag to their friends about their kids' achievements than actually providing a childhood that will prepare the children to be happy, productive citizens.

Children need free, unstructured play time. Occasional homework in high school is to be expected; in earlier grades, any homework at all, even half a minute, is child abuse.

I was visiting with friends the other night. Their delightful eight-year-old daughter was eagerly reading a book she had chosen herself. But it was her bedtime. "She loves to read, but she doesn't have much time for it," her father said.

Why? Because she has an hour a day of homework. In third grade.

In third grade I was in California schools when they were widely known to be the most effective schools in the country, and quite possibly in the world. I had no homework whatsoever. Zero. Nada.

Instead, I came home from school the long way -- goofing off with friends, playing in orchards and creek beds, digging tunnels and forts in the back yard, walking or bicycling all over the neighborhood. I checked in with my parents so they knew where I was, but other than that, my activities were my own to choose.

When I got home, there were occasional chores to do, but mostly I could do what I wanted. That meant playing games with the family, or setting up a train layout with my brothers and sisters, or -- bliss! -- curling up with a book and getting so engrossed that I didn't even hear the call to dinner.

After dinner, there was often a game of softball or cowboys-and-Indians or tag or hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids, till it got dark and we started hearing the calls from mothers and fathers.

Through it all, I had an amazing (to parents today) array of choices. At the time, I didn't realize my future educational opportunities were being stunted by the fact that I didn't have to spend an hour a day grinding through useless homework, "learning" subjects I had already mastered during school.

I didn't know how deformed my childhood was by the fact that we kids all played without adults blowing whistles or making us stick to their rules and schedules.

I thought it was OK to be happy.

Oh, yeah -- without spending any serious time on homework, ever, I got into the only college I applied to, and got the highest scholarship they offered.

And don't tell me that I'm the exception and other kids need the homework and the structure. The serious research shows conclusively that in every grade, the performance of children who are assigned homework is functionally identical with the performance of children who are given none.

Homework is good for nobody.

So now I ask the parents who actually enjoy the company of their children, who like seeing them happy: Why are we putting up with this nonsense?

Why are we allowing the school system, in their arrogance and ignorance, to reach into our homes and ruin our family lives by stealing precious hours of our children's lives?

I can hear some people bleating right now: "But if the children are given free time, they'll only play videogames or text each other."

There's research on that, too. Playing videogames actually improves children's intellectual performance much more than homework does -- that is, it improves it at all.

As for texting each other -- it's called "social life." We primates need it, and texting is, in case you didn't notice, writing.

But even if there are children who waste their free hours or get in trouble, that's the parents' business, not the schools'. And even if there are a few parents who want their kids to do homework for hours a day, why should that mean that all children have to be forced to do meaningless timewasting drivel?

Who am I kidding? Guilford County Schools are the same boneheaded organization that thinks "enrichment" means "busywork." That's right -- the only difference between honors classes and regular classes is that they make the honors-class children do more hours of meaningless busywork.

They still move through the curriculum at exactly the same pace as the students in regular classes, because they all have to take the same tests at the end of the year.

"Enrichment" like that is like fertilizing your lawn with Round-Up. You just make good students hate their lives.

Here's a thought: Maybe the reward for being an excellent student should be less homework! Wouldn't that be cool? If you master the work in class, maybe instead of having more work piled on, you could go home and do whatever you want!

Because the research is in on that, too -- hours of play and free time actually help kids retain what they learned during school that day. There is a limit to how much anyone can learn on any subject in a given day. Everything above that limit is down the disposal anyway, so why bother?

You would stop seeing a doctor who kept prescribing medicines that you didn't need and that didn't work anyway. There is a law requiring us to keep sending our children to school every day. But there is no law stating that the schools have any right to intrude in the home lives of our children outside school hours.

The irony is that if you, as parents, told your children that you forbid them to do homework, your children would complain. Not because they like homework, but because their teachers would penalize them or embarrass them for not doing it.

That's why we need to act collectively. We need to elect school board members who know how to read and evaluate research, and who then educate themselves about the uselessness of homework.

We need school board member who will fire administrators who establish insane, childhood-stealing policies -- especially policies that take as their premise the absolutely false notion that schools have even a micron of authority over children after they get off the school bus.

What our kids do at home is none of their business. It's time we collectively put a stop to this power grab.

Isn't it funny that people who get irate about the way government wastes our money -- and takes too much of it -- don't say a thing about the way another branch of government (for that's what the public schools are) wastes our children's time -- and takes too much of it.

*

Back when I wrote about politics a lot more, mostly in support of President Bush during the era when the leftwing press was frothingly insane in their loathing of him, people would ask me, "Why are you still a Democrat? Why don't you become a Republican?"

So I thought I'd help you see why, even though I have to hold my nose about some of the absurd policies and actions of the Democratic Party today, I still can't bring myself to switch.

In the Republican debate in Orlando a few weeks ago, Rick Perry's performance apparently enraged or disappointed a lot of the Republican faithful. Afterward his numbers plummeted, while Herman Cain's and Mitt Romney's rose.

I was fine with the outcome -- I thought of Rick Perry as the best thing that could happen to Obama in his pursuit of four more years of whining arrogant incompetence.

Besides, I've always liked Cain, even though I think he would get a bit more realistic about his plans and goals if he ever had to govern something.

But then I started hearing about why people were deserting Perry, and I had to shake my head and say, once again, Who are these people, and how can I keep them from ever getting control of my government?

Now, maybe Perry's numbers dropped in part because his attacks on Romney were so incompetent and incoherent. Maybe people realized that everything good about Perry's economic record in Texas comes from the fact that he's governor of Texas, which is doing fine for reasons having nothing to do with Rick Perry.

But what I kept hearing was that the main reason Perry stumbled was because he actually defended Texas's policy of charging in-state college tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants. What cost him, people are saying, is that he said to anyone who opposed that policy, "I don't think you have a heart."

Apparently, if you're a true-blue Republican, you have to believe that the children of illegal immigrants should be punished forever and ever, by not getting the same chance at an education as the children of citizens.

Never mind that these are children who did not choose where they would live, or whether to come illegally into our country. Never mind that, legal or not, these children are still residents of our country and we all prosper if they get an education so they can get well-paying jobs instead of remaining desperately poor -- a breeding ground for crime and welfare.

I mean, isn't the anti-immigrant hysteria all about how these dark-skinned Spanish-speaking people don't learn our language, go on welfare, and commit crimes? Wouldn't getting an education for their children go a long way toward making sure they learn our language, don't go on welfare, and don't choose a life of crime?

But let's just forget the rational arguments and think a little bit about who we are and what America means. Is it really the belief of significant numbers of Republicans that America will be a better place if we, as a society, punish children for their parents' misdemeanors?

Now, there's a thought. Maybe it would work! Suppose that instead of losing your license when you're convicted of driving drunk, your children were taken out of school for a year!

Or if you get too many points on your driver's license, your children's grades for that year would be dropped a full letter grade in every class, with no possibility of appeal or explanation.

Oh, isn't that fair? You think it's wrong to punish children and interfere with their future just because of their parents' law-breaking?

Then you must be a Republican In Name Only ... because apparently true-blue dyed-in-the-wool Republicans refuse to support a presidential candidate who thinks that the children of illegal immigrants should get the state-resident tuition rates for the schools in the state they reside in.

Rick Perry appealed to the Christian Right, I'm told. These are, or so I heard, believers in the Bible as the word of God.

Now, admittedly few people spend much time reading the book of Ezekiel. Especially the long, tedious section where he is recounting the Lord's plan for how the temple should be rebuilt in Jerusalem.

But I think it's worth pointing out, when we're discussing how to treat the children of non-citizens in America, what the Lord said to the people of Israel as they were dividing the land near the temple site among the tribes:

"So shall ye divide this land unto you according to the tribes of Israel.

"And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you, which shall beget children among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.

"And it shall come to pass, that in what tribe the stranger sojourneth, there shall ye give him his inheritance, saith the Lord God" (Ezekiel 47:21-23).

Now, this seems a clear principle to me, that God tells his people to share their inheritance with the children of strangers who dwell among them.

I'm quite aware that those of you who, as Perry said, have no heart, probably are already composing elaborate explanations of why God really means the opposite of the plain language of the scripture.

After all, we live in the culture that actually interprets "Love your neighbor as yourself" to mean that we should love ourselves first, the absolute opposite of what Jesus plainly meant.

So don't bother writing down your specious arguments, or if you do, don't send them to me. Because, you see, I'm actually a Christian, and so I don't feel any need to twist scripture until it justifies heartless and stupid policies.

You see, like Rick Perry, I actually believe that Jesus meant it when he said, "I am the way," and that his Way includes "suffer little children to come unto me" and "it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones" (Luke 17:2).

If you really believe America is or should be a Christian nation, why not start with how we treat the children of strangers who sojourn among us -- even if their parents didn't get permission before coming here and working hard to sustain our economy?

It's just weird that Republicans are dumping a candidate that I detest -- because of the one thing he ever said that I think makes perfect sense.

There's much that I loathe about the Democratic Party today. But when I think of changing parties, I have only to look at the Republican Party to remember why I became a Democrat back in the days when Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the Democrats' best thinker.

Sadly, dead as he is, Moynihan is still the Democrats' best thinker. But at moments like this, I have a hard time believing that the Republican Party is any smarter.

Oh, wait -- Governor Christie decided to keep his word and let his duty to his state take precedence over ambition. And Paul Ryan and John Boehner are staying in Congress.

There are Republicans with good sense. They're just not running for President.


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