Having a life

I’ve always believed in public schools, even if some conservatives in Florida don’t. I’ve been skeptical of our system of school grading, high stakes testing, and quasi-privatization – ushered in by Bush the Smarter. Now picture me this week: considering the idea of pulling my daughter out of public school. It’s eating me up inside.

So how did I come to this place, just six weeks into my daughter’s first year of middle school? I like to think I’m a little level headed when I need to be. I don’t think I’m prone to rash decisions, lurching from one reaction to another. I know six weeks doesn’t sound like a fair shake, not when so much changes from elementary to middle school. The gist of it is: I think they’ve gone way overboard on homework.

Beth isn’t new to homework. She’s in gifted classes, which sometimes involved quite a bit of homework even in elementary school. We all figured this year would mean more with the leap to middle school, and the special (advanced) program she was starting. The odd thing is, her gifted classes aren’t the ones with the most homework. It’s the regular classes that are loading it up. And Beth isn’t the only one. Other parents tell us stories about their kids (not in the gifted classes) staying up as late as they do, dropping out of all their extracurricular activities, because homework in middle school is all-consuming.

I can’t shake the feeling there’s something very wrong with this picture. Part of me wonders if it’s the funding scheme ‘ole Jeb set up, pitting school against school in a war of FCAT scores. I wonder if there’s a pressure on schools to work students as hard as possible, to gain an advantage over other schools, without regard for wether it’s in the long term interests of the students. I understand homework is important. It’s a fact of life. Most of us have to work, many of us hard at times. In some ways having a lot to do now could be good preparation for later. But does she really need to learn how to cram in an all-nighter at eleven (years old)… in sixth grade? Am I wrong to think my daughter should still have time to be a kid every now and again? At this rate she’ll get her first ulcer before I do. It seems wrong on so many levels I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop typing tonight. Fuck it, I’m not sleeping anyway.

I want to believe the proponents of our current system had the kids’ well-being in mind when they put it together. But you want to know something? I see a system that provides more and more proof the “free market” isn’t a panacea. Not when good students become a means to an end; or for that matter, anything other than THE end.

You want to hear the real kicker? The sales pitch for private middle schools around here always seems to start with: “we make sure our students have no more than x hours of homework every night.


  1. Hi Julie. I hear you. We had a call into Beth’s school from the beginning of the year that wasn’t answered until last week… when they finally filled the position. It would have been nice to know it was vacant.

    It tugs at my heart to hear about Thomas. I’ve been really lucky in many respects. I went through several majors when I was in school, which included math, education, and social sciences (which focused on a lot of writing). Plus, my dad did work in physics and computer programming… and did enough talking at home to get us kids at least a minor. Even with Beth being gifted, I don’t know where we’d be if I didn’t have the time or background to serve as another teacher at home.

    I couldn’t imagine how hard it is on single parents before. Now, with all the work we’re doing with Beth, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when both our kids are in school… if I was the only one it’d be impossible (or seem an awful lot like it).

    Anyway, it’s good to hear from you Julie. I wish I had some new insights to share/help. I really hope things turn around for Thomas.

  2. Hi John –

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Thomas is 9 and now has homework on the weekends on top of the 2-3 hours every night.

    I have expressed my discontent to the Pinellas Education Foundation and every School Board member (current and candidate). Their answer seems to be this new “site based” education system to teach students based on relevancy rather than the FCAT. By the time they get this thing figured out, hundreds of students will have dropped out from frustration.

    It makes me sick that I can’t even understand some of the stuff he brings home. And the worst part is, I have to be a quasi-teacher and that just isn’t my forte’. I’m to the point of tears………my 9 year old just can’t understand the writing concepts he’s getting and he can’t get extra help because of their “pacing” calendar. In other words, they don’t have time to slow down. For the first time, Thomas is bringing home more C’s, D’s, and even now F’s. They are setting him up for failure and my heart is breaking over it.

    I wrote his teacher a note to call me today using the acronym ASAP. I haven’t heard from her yet. I’ll be interested to know when the call will come. No child left behind doesn’t apply to average kids. Only if you have been labeled in the bottom 25% or gifted. Frankly, I think you are lucky to have a gifted student. She can at least get some help.


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